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Behind The Scenes At Toronto Men's Fashion Week

02/29/2016 03:20 EST | Updated 03/01/2017 05:12 EST

From February 20 to 26, I volunteered for the fourth season of Toronto Men's Fashion Week (TOM*) and helped out on the model relations team. It was as intense as it was incredible, and the seven days spun before my eyes like a top.

Every night after my 14-hour day, I laid awake, my brain reeling, trying to process the day's non-stop events: the conversations, the schedule, the faces, the names and what would happen tomorrow.

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Like the rest of the 300-plus volunteers, models, executives and anyone else involved with TOM*, I may have had 20 hours of sleep for the whole week. The third day in, the whites of the eyes of all TOM*-associated people were glazed red and remained that way throughout fashion week. Eye drops abounded.

We became increasingly dehydrated, undernourished and sleep-deprived. On the morning of day seven, I had to work creatively with cosmetics to counter the now blood-shot and pierogi-eyed reflection I saw in the mirror. A photographer friend who works with musicians says this is what being on tour is like. Now I understand why musicians use drugs.

Along with rest of the TOM* crew, we worked on 18 runway shows ,including MensFashion4Hope, featuring local celebrities like model and Fashion Santa Paul Mason, as well as our charming and good-natured Toronto city councillor Norm Kelly, who rocked the runway in support of the Kol Hope Foundation for Children at Sick Kid's Hospital.

Though I was smack dab in the middle of some very talented menswear designers, I regret that I was only able to step out from backstage to watch three shows, the first on Wednesday night.

My ears pricked up when I recognized Jimi Hendrix blaring through the sound system. I followed it to the stage area and was lucky enough to witness Hendrixroe's electrifying runway show.

This Canadian line does great clothing cuts with injections of bright colour and cool details, and I like the way they present their clothing. Designers JEM and Rainbow Sun Francks asked the usually straight-faced models to show their personalities while they walked, so the models were allowed to smile and express themselves.

This and the energy of Hendrix's "Purple Haze" that pumped through the room, got the audience up and cheering -- it was awesome. If you ask me, this is what a runway show should look like.

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Men! Men! Men!

Some people may think it intimidating to sit in a room full of young, handsome, six-foot-plus models for a week, but as a men's image consultant who works with and contemplates men a lot of the time, I found it quite natural. Ultimately, they're a bunch of guys doing a job that happens to look glamourous on the outside, but in reality, takes work and a lot of time in some very un-glamourous spaces.

Most of the models are in their twenties (some younger) and many of them are in university. TOM* happened to fall at mid-term time, so some models were writing exams during fashion week. Others work part-time in shops and some own small businesses; there are actors and hockey players as well.

Many models live at home with their parents, and many have been brought in from other places and are staying in AirBnB rooms and on couches. The TOM* models may be beautiful, but they're real people who lead normal lives and face the same challenges as anyone else does. They just happen to photograph extremely well.

I was struck with the diversity of models that TOM* used for the runway shows -- not only ethnically, but physically. Different builds, face shapes, natural energies and expressions suited the varied styles and cuts of the menswear collections.

There were masculine, gladiator-type men; pretty, svelte men; long-hairs, short-hairs; local men; French, Asian, African and European men; even men of mixed ethnicities. All lovely and a pleasure to work with. The hard part was matching three-dozen names and faces and keeping them straight.

Dedication

With so much happening moment to moment, each day blurred into the next. I became exhausted and stupid with fatigue. Eighteen very different designers and 17 castings. Rehearsals, model calls, dressers, hair and makeup; delays, cancellations, bad weather and various other fires to put out made this a very hectic week.

The volunteers and people behind TOM* made many sacrifices and we put ourselves through hell. Most of us were just too tired to attend the slew of fabulous fashion week parties (damn). But we did it, and we did it because we are dedicated to a common cause.

We committed to be a part of the creation of a spectacular, world-class event to support Canadian menswear design and open a window to established and emerging Canadian designers for the world to see. We developed relationships and made new friends and connections, and we reveled in our work.

I am lucky and proud to have been a part of TOM* FW2016 and I'd shout it from the rooftops, only my voice has yet to recover. Looking forward to doing it all again next season.

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