Saskatchewan Fashion Week (SFW) is going out in style.
Over the past eight years, the provincial showcase has accomplished what its organizers set out to do — get Saskatchewan’s creative industries working together by creating a spirit of collaboration, entrepreneurship and pride in the community.
“It was important for us to be a large centre for that for a while,” explained SFW president and co-founder Chris Pritchard.
But that need no longer exists, he said.
“Today, our entrepreneur-obsessed culture continues to grow, disperse and dilute. We realize we are at a peak moment, and that we don’t need to be this massive single event anymore. We recognize this as an opportune moment to close our doors as is, on our own terms, and let new ones open, and are excited to pass the torch and support all the new things that are developing and watch the movement continue forward,” Pritchard said.
The final Saskatchewan Fashion Week show — a combination of artist collaborations, fashion design, film and music — wraps up May 11 at the Soundstage in Regina.
Saskatchewan Fashion Week was spearheaded by Pritchard, his cousin and fellow hairdresser Candyce Fiessel and retailer Chelsea Petterson. With the help of a group of hardworking volunteers, who shared their passion, they transformed an idea into an epic event.
“It was an open call to whoever turned up. It was a friend of a friend, or a co-worker’s family member, etc.,” Pritchard recalled. “You know, everyone knows at least one person that is just incredible at something. Well, we ended up getting everyone’s incredible friend in one room. Everyone brought such an intensity and high level to the project and we all fed off of that. It was contagious.”
“Those kitchen table conversations and networking connections can build visions beyond our beliefs,” Fiessel said. “Collaboration is key. Breaking down the walls of competition and working together is a movement I hope we continue to see.”
Saskatoon fashion designer Laurie Brown — who went head-to-head with three of the country’s top designers and took home the $10,000 prize on the Canadian TV reality series Stitched, which is shown on Slice — has participated in Saskatchewan Fashion Week every year except the first.
“After my first year, SFW quickly became my favourite,” said Brown, who repeatedly wowed audiences with her runway finale collections. “The incredible teams of talented artists now at my fingertips felt like hitting the jackpot.
Brown’s designs will close the 2019 show. The production team’s willingness to listen to her “wild ideas” and help bring her creative designs to life has been like living a dream, she said.
“In honour of the event, my runway collection will be a retrospective of my six years on the runway, reinventing the big show-stopping pieces,” Brown said.
What has been her favourite SFW moment? “I’d have to say when (Regina fashion designer) Dean Renwick had the live graffiti artist on stage. I also really loved when the live band was incorporated into the show.”
Dr. Roberta McKay and Elmer Brenner have supported Saskatchewan Fashion Week since its inception.
“Right at the beginning, we were sponsors because we thought it was a great idea,” McKay said.
“It was almost like seed money the first year,” Brenner said.
Longtime supporters of the local arts community, the Regina philanthropists saw an opportunity to expand their reach.
“For some reason, fashion designers aren’t seen as part of the arts community. They’re seen as business people,” McKay said. “But they have as much artistic talent as people in other parts of the art world.”
“The fact that you were interested in fashion had nothing to do with it,” Brenner teased McKay about what prompted her involvement.
“Fair enough,” conceded the fashionista with a laugh.
McKay’s grandmother was a milliner, her aunt was a tailor and a furrier, and her father was the manager of the menswear department at Eaton’s department store, which had a tailor. “So grew up in this world,” explained McKay, who learned to sew at a young age.
To encourage new talent, McKay and Brenner established an award for emerging designers, which provided financial support, and last year offered an opportunity to train with veteran fashion designer Renwick.
Lisa Marie and Gregg Schwartz have been the model co-ordinators for Saskatchewan Fashion Week from Day 1.
“We felt it was important to help the fashion industry and grow the event to what it is now,” explained the couple, former international models who now run Edge Agency.
A highlight for them has been “seeing models’ reactions to being one of those chosen to walk for designers and actually seeing them walk the runway their first time,” Lisa Marie said.
Each year, more than 80 models have participated in Saskatchewan Fashion Week.
Teams of hairstylists and makeup artists work feverishly to prepare the models for their walk on the runway. Among them is internationally acclaimed makeup artist Sara Lindsay, who brings a wealth of experience to the event, having worked at London Fashion Week, as well as New York Fashion Week. The Regina-based entrepreneur’s numerous accolades include being named Canada’s top makeup artist at the Canadian Hairdressers Mirror Awards.
Lindsay has been the SFW makeup co-ordinator since the event began.
“It has been an amazing experience, coming together as a creative community,” she said. “I’ve met so many up-and-coming artists, as well as worked alongside many veterans.”
“Everyone comes together just for the art of it, for the community, without ego, just for the good of the event and what it stands for, which is collaboration,” Lindsay said. “It’s been a lot of work. It’s been a lot of fun. And I think it’s really made an impact on the creative community in Saskatchewan.”
The success of Saskatchewan Fashion Week has been due to a melding of creative and business expertise.
“Planning Sask Fashion Week, we’ve always had a portion of the team obsessed with the creative side, and also a team of people equally obsessed with the business side,” explained Pritchard. “The two sides constantly and respectfully learned from each other. Some years we would realize it was important to tighten things up and focus on the business side — structure, policy, execution — and other years we would recognize it was important to exercise our creative muscle and focus on disruption, rebellion and innovation and keeping an edge. It’s all about balance.”
Fiessel said she’s sad to see the end of this annual celebration, but doesn’t see it as a closed door. “I believe the collaboration and excitement will continue to shine in new ways, where even more diverse industries are showcased as contributors. We are an audacious, entrepreneurial city. If anything, it motivates me more to get on the next big collaboration.”
Pritchard, too, hopes others will follow their example. “We hope that all of our hard work proves that this kind of thing is possible here, and hopefully will inspire others to get out there and try something themselves, too, and contribute to the fabric of this province.”