Fashion is often seen as both a desired reality but also a delusion of grandeur. Beautiful and awe-inspiring, it has a way of persuading and tempting us with its elegance and irresistable allure. Like a skillful couturier, the industry weaves commerce with philanthropy and constructs the diverse and welcoming fabric of a community. Available for us to tailor to our own individualities, the individual’s interpretation of fashion plays a prominent role both at McGill and in Montreal.
Fashion as an industry is highly lucrative. A commercial behemoth, the establishment brings in an annual revenue of $1,200 billion USD, as reported by the International Textile Manufacturers Federation (ITMF).
In this way, the fashion industry is home to a diverse group of young and passionate designers. 20-year-old Renee Wang is a fine arts student studying Fashion Design at Parsons The New School For Design in New York. Wang has interned for DKNY and worked as a stylist’s assistant for Elle Magazine Russia edition. To her, the business aspect of fashion is an irrefutable truth.
“If I were to describe the industry in one word, it [would be] ‘money.’ [This] is an industry dealing with millions of dollars,” Wang said. “It is a growing market, [and] people are caring about how they dress more and more.”
Of course, this phenomena is not unique to the fashion capital of New York. Here at McGill as well, several clubs have taken notice of fashion’s unique capacity to gather attention and capital, as well as to advance more than just corporate interests. Runway fundraisers deliver in thousands of dollars each year, and have quickly become a platform for students to acquaint business with philanthropy.
In 2008, SynesthASIA was founded by three directors who created annual charity fashion shows in Montreal. The trio’s mission was to raise funds and combat Asia’s social issues—namely poverty, gender inequality, and environmental degradation. Throughout the years, SynesthASIA has seamlessly weaved together humanitarian aid with artistic expression; the club’s name is a play off the word “synesthesia,” representing the diversity of fresh talents that colour Montreal.
“We have worked with American Apparel, French Connection UK, ModaSuite […just] to name a few,” Bell said. “Fashion is definitely crucial to the SynesthASIA identity.” Evidently, this endeavour has been wildly successful; in only three years, SynesthASIA has contributed over $25,000 to charity.
This tactic is not exclusive to SynesthASIA. The Commerce and Administration Student Charity Organization (CASCO) takes business modules out of the classroom and applies them to their annual dance and fashion show. The group’s goal is to raise money for The Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation and highlight social responsibility. Last year, CASCO grossed over $14,000 in one evening, and received the Best Philanthropic Event of the Year Award at both the Management Undergraduate Society (MUS) Awards, and the Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) Awards.
In terms of fashion’s contributions, however, both clubs stress that dollar signs are only the tip of the iceberg in Montreal.
CASCO Executive Directors Majd Steitieh and Ruth Talbot expresssed that fashion has a peculiar charm in attracting an audience and inspiring cohesiveness within a community.
“Fashion and the cause work side by side […] to encourage people to come to our event because [it’s] not a classic night out. Fashion has become part of our show […. because it’s] visually effective [and] helps expand our audience. And the great thing about fashion is that [it’s] dynamic and ever-changing, so the community will only get larger and stronger as it attracts more people,” Steitieh and Talbot wrote.
Bell also saw the runway as the integral link between art and the community. “Fashion [connects] all forms of fine art, [and allows] an entire community to feel included. [It] increases engagement,” Bell said.
On that note, Bell, Steitieh, and Talbot all agreed that fashion strikes a perfect balance between flash and substance. By getting people interested in fashion and charity, organinzations have been able to establish a sense of community, especially at a school like McGill. Over the years, this has created a space for individuals to express themselves. More and more, fashion has emerged through students, bloggers and designers as an outlet for self-expression. It has become something we can create and re-work each day to construct an image unique to ourselves.
Kira Ludmer-Kott is a fashion blogger on Campusfashionista.com who specializes in reporting trends within McGill and around Montreal. To Ludmer-Kott, items you choose to sport are an immediate proclamation of your identity.
“The clothes I wear, the accessories I choose, and the shoes I put on not only say something about my style, but also [about] who I am,” Ludmer-Kott said. “People say that first impressions are most important; so why not dress everyday like it’s your first impression?”
For McGillians in particular, fashion is omnipresent and pervades every facet of campus culture. We no longer wear clothes; we wear fashion. Conveniently, it only takes a five-minute walk on Saint Catherine Street to see this in action.
Ludmer-Kott emphasized that this phenomena is true city-wide, and can be extremely contagious.
“Montreal is such a great place to play with fashion. We are truly a city that likes to express itselt,” Ludmer-Kott said. “[McGillians] are affected by the fashion that surrounds them; all it takes is seeing one person wearing something you find nice [for you to] go out and try something like it.”
Nevertheless, fashion isn’t exactly a utopia devoid of flaws or shortcomings—rather, the industry is cutthroat and mercurial. Fashion can be an intense love-hate relationship. Critics of the industry have complained that fashion’s transition from ‘just clothes’ to ‘individual statement’ is superficial, focusing solely on profitable glamour and outer beauty.
To this, Ludmer-Kott explains that it is difficult to draw the line between wearing clothes and having it judged as a statement.
“I don’t think any of us have a choice but to let the clothes on our backs define us,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, I realize that there is more to a person than the clothes that they wear. [But] when I look at someone, their clothes tell me a story about who they are.”
To anyone who deems fashion frivolous, Ludmer-Kott presented the famous words from The Devil Wears Prada: Even a minute decision like selecting a shade of blue “represents millions of dollars and countless jobs, and it’s comical to think that you could make any choice which exempts you from the fashion industry.”
Wang echoed this sentiment and emphasized that fashion is very much about hard work from behind the scenes.
“Consumers [often] take the designers’ effort for granted,” she explained. “A dress that seems minimal may take up to weeks to make. [Consumers habitually] neglect the amount of effort it takes to pattern-make the dress and give the best fit to the body while maintaining simplicity.”
To Montreal-based fashion designer François Beauregard, renowned for his minimalistic and classic designs, this was all too familiar.
“I work all the time,” Beauregard remarked. “[Sometimes it’s] 45 days in a row, non-stop. So you can imagine, […] every day you need to be on the [go….] There’s always something to change.”
For Beauregard, fashion is shaped by the individual, who, in turn, is transformed by the industry. “I don’t look at fashion [as] it used to
be." Said the designer. "[Before,] it was almost a religion. [Now fashion is] just fashion, it’s very superficial. [But I have learned to] appreciate difference[s]. I don’t [concern myself] too much [with] what others do anymore. Fashion has made me more confident [in] myself and in my own work.”
Despite the vast abstraction of in industry as a whole, Wang however, had no trouble summing up what fashion often means to people vested in the creative process.
“Fashion is attitude." She said. "It has no limit.”