The biannual fashion showcase kicks off Monday under makeshift tents at David Pecaut Square, steps from the downtown theatre district, with a new name on the marquee as World MasterCard takes over title sponsorship of the event. The company will also continue its Fashion Week-affiliated retail program, Stylicity, which works in partnership with local businesses.
Maybelline will handle styling duties behind the scenes as the new makeup sponsor. The cosmetics brand plans to bring the on-site and backstage experience to the home viewer, presenting live streaming of 20 fashion shows on a dedicated YouTube channel.
Fashion Design Council of Canada president Robin Kay, who is also executive director of Fashion Week, said an additional 200 seats have been added to the runway room — and the general public will find it easier to buy tickets, which start at $25 a show and $175 for a day pass.
Those without access to the 3,716 square-metre "fashion tent city" will be able to peek in on the models having their hair and makeup done backstage through a window at the venue.
"There's a lot of passersby who this will affect and be very interesting for. And so it makes our industry stronger in all of the aspects from stylists to photographers to makeup artists," Kay said. "The more that people can get a little taste of it, the more powerful the industry becomes in this country."
Glen Baxter, host of CTV's "In Fashion," said consumer access to Fashion Week is what distinguishes Toronto's event from those staged in other international style capitals.
"A difference between Toronto and Milan, Paris, New York and London is how exclusive those events are," he said. "It's completely off limits to the public, it's reserved solely for buyers, retailers and the media, whereas in Toronto, consumers, the general public, can attend and buy tickets."
"I think they can accommodate 1,000 people in those bleachers, and a lot of them are just people who have an interest in fashion or want to go out that night and catch Joe Fresh," he added. "That's a huge difference."
Kay said it's the "ultimate" for a Fashion Week calendar to have a cross-section of both emerging and established talents. As such, the roster for the 26th season is loaded with up-and-coming designers alongside established fixtures on the fashion scene, many of whom are making waves outside of Canada.
Set to make its Canadian debut on opening night is luxury fashion house Pavoni, co-founded by Montrealers Mike Derderian and Gianni Falcone, whose glam dresses have been worn by the likes of Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert.
Jordan-born, Montreal-raised designer Rad Hourani, who launched his namesake label in Paris, will mark the fifth anniversary of his brand at the event.
Toronto-based Cara Cheung, who launched her womenswear line last year, Vancouver designer Eva Chen, and Oppio, a Canadian-established sportswear line designed and manufactured in Italy, are among the other new names on the schedule. Stephen Wong and Kirk Pickersgill will beef up the menswear content with their Ezra Constantine label, while Lucian Matis brings his Matis line to the runway.
Edmonton's Sid Neigum and Montreal-based Martin Lim, Melissa Nepton, Soia and Kyo and Travis Taddeo are also slated to show collections.
Fashion Week mainstays, including womenswear brands David Dixon, Joeffer Caoc and Pink Tartan, menswear label Bustle and affordable apparel brand Joe Fresh, will again be unveiling their lines.
"The calendar is being looked at as a really generous slice of the fashion pie," said Kay. "You're getting a very healthy exposure to a variety of fashion throughout the week on-site."
Even with the ability of designers and labels to connect directly to consumers through the web and social media, Baxter said Fashion Week events still play a critical role.
"Social media and bloggers play a huge part, but you have to give them something to write about, to tweet about, to blog about."
Fashion Week runs from March 12-16.