05/04/2015 11:39 EDT | Updated 05/04/2016 05:12 EDT

Toronto designer Matthew Gallagher wins TFI New Labels contest and $25,000 prize

TORONTO - A collection inspired by the work of famed Canadian artist Alex Colville helped Matthew Gallagher land top honours at the TFI New Labels contest.

The emerging womenswear designer behind Maison Matthew Gallagher was awarded a $25,000 cash prize during the annual contest organized by the Toronto Fashion Incubator.

TFI is a non-profit, small business centre that offers support and mentorship to budding Canadian fashion designers and entrepreneurs. The organization's concept has been adopted by cities worldwide, including New York, London, Paris, Milan, Melbourne, Auckland and Amsterdam.

Montreal-based designer Valerie Tolila of Vaiken, high-end streetwear brand Benji WZW and Toronto-based womenswear brand Jennifer Torosian were the other contenders vying for the New Labels crown.

Gallagher recalled seeing a picture of a Colville painting featuring a mother and her two children. He used the woman portrayed in the image as inspiration for his own creative journey with his fall-winter collection.

He started to imagine the mother having aspirations of Hollywood stardom and dreams about what life as a starlet would be like which he translated into his glamorous range of garments.

The line featured a mostly muted palette of cream, grey and blush hues. Feminine tops in silk, wool and chiffon fabrics were showcased alongside embellished apron skirts, cut-out skirts and dresses, pullovers and bolero jackets in wool boucle and elegant outerwear.

Gallagher rounded out the presentation with a trio of dramatic all-black looks, notably a crepe column gown with crystal detailing, and a black ostrich, chiffon and crepe apron skirt.

"I wanted to let the fabrics speak for themselves," Gallagher said after the event concluded.

The Milan-trained Gallagher said he was living in Italy and participating in an internship when he got a call from Toronto-based designer management company The Collections asking if he wanted to show his line.

Gallagher made his debut at Toronto's World MasterCard Fashion Week in March of 2013, and cites inspiration from old movies — like the films of Alfred Hitchcock — as style influences in embarking on his fashion career.

In addition to the $25,000 cash award from TFI supporter and philanthropist Suzanne Rogers, the 28-year-old designer will also receive an editorial feature in Flare Magazine.

Gallagher said he hopes that the exposure from his upcoming editorial and the monetary prize will help him to further propel his business.

"Because I'm so new, and I'm just focused on custom right now, the money for an emerging designer can just go for everything. ...

"There's not one particular thing ... you just need money in general to sustain (your business)."

The TFI New Labels event also saw Ryan Alexander Smith awarded $10,000 for a design inspired by animated character SpongeBob SquarePants.

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