Friday, August 1, 2014
Last updated: 4 days ago

Vancouver Fashion Week gets its strut on

Courtesy of Lachlan McAdam

Hotel basements, runways marked by duct tape and the RCMP shutting down a fashion show while models are still walking. It’s not a bad Paris Hilton movie, just the unfortunate history of fashion weeks in the third worst-dressed city in the world—Vancouver.

Vancouver Fashion Week (VFW) opened its tenth anniversary of the spring/summer season yesterday at Masik Studios in False Creek. It runs until Sunday night, with over 50 local and international designers showcasing their work. But if you’re looking for a glamourous, star-studded affair, you won’t find it here.

VFW deems itself “a global platform for designers, buyers, media representatives and sponsors,”  but is positioned too late in the year for fashion buyers, who usually complete the spring season in October. Industry professionals usually scoff at VFW, which has traditionally been ridiculed as a venture designed to profit purely from having the established title of Fashion Week.

Jamal Abdourahman created Vancouver Fashion Week in 2001, and ran the underground production with a staff composed entirely of volunteers. Ten years later, unpaid interns are still running the show, and some are fighting back.

A cohort of anonymous interns formed the blog Vancouver Fashion Weak “to stop the producer of VFW from exploiting students and recent graduates for their well-meaning free labour, as well as exploiting emerging and established designers with sub par production,” according to one post.

“We have created this site because we support local and international designers and their efforts in creating real art, and do not want them to be cheated by the producer of VFW,” the post entitled “Scam Alert” continued. The blog contains hundreds of comments, mainly from anonymous sources, depicting general disorganization and poor working conditions. Abdourahman could not be reached for comment.

“We are a big enough city and globally recognized enough that doing a high school quality runway show in the basement of a crappy hotel on Robson Street is not good enough. It is embarrassing,” said Paul Melo, a Vancouver photographer, in an interview with the Vancouver Sun.

Especially when compared to Toronto Fashion Week and other larger events, VFW lacks money. Without high profile sponsors or support from the city, expensive ticket prices (starting at $75 for a day pass) are inevitable. With interns and models training one another, it’s not possible to attract any well-known designers or industry professionals to VFW, which would be a crucial step to improve their credibility.

VFW isn’t the only fashion show that’s been problematic for Vancouver’s image. British Columbia Fashion Week was founded in 2004 and found some success, until it was shut down by the RCMP mid-runway show in 2009 due to allegations of credit card fraud.

Vancouver Men’s Fashion Week (VMFW) opened its first season last month. VMFW was held in a crowded club with a runway sectioned off by duct tape, and the “week” consisted of one evening of shows by amateur models and designers.

However, there is a glimmer of hope for Vancouver’s disintegrating fashion image. Opening its third season last month, Eco Fashion Week is a celebration of sustainable design that has grown to be the heart of Vancouver fashion events.

Vancouver isn’t the most fashionable city in the world, but it is one of the greenest. The three day event, which focuses on featuring environmentally friendly fashion, is more couture than granola. It grew from the small but committed group of independent designers in Vancouver who are using local, organic and recycled materials.

Will Vancouver Fashion Week be able to live up to their name this year? Follow The Ubyssey’s coverage of VFW as we offer up different perspectives for each night online at ubyssey.ca/culture.