With this season’s unpredictable weather, it was a blessing to have a bright blue sky at last night’s Urbani_T event in Toronto. A “public playground” for Canadian culture, the festival launched its very first day of a 3-day event, taking over Nathan Phillips Square with live music, art installation, fashion talks, pop-up shops and a gorgeous runway in the middle of the pool of water that houses Toronto’s infamous skating rink in the winter.

This new event was put on by Groupe Sensation Mode. For the past 20 years, they have been creating experiences for the public and industry to come together and celebrate urban culture. They are known for conceptualizing and producing the largest fashion events in Canada, including the Fashion & Design Festival that happens every August in Montreal. They aim to serve as a local showcase for artist creativity and talent, driven to represent and harmonize Canadian fashion, culture, tourism, and business.

This isn’t the first time Groupe Sensation Mode has been in Toronto. In 2007, they presented the Fashion & Design Festival in Dundas Square, hosting 25 shows over three days, with live DJs and featuring some of Canada’s biggest fashion retailers.

This year, the festival has downscaled in terms of the number of shows, but the quality of brands and attendees is just as impressive. Last night, to kick off the event, a live DJ blasted beats until 11 pm, selecting music from all different genres that had the public moving and grooving as they walked by to see what the spectacle was all about. The night started with a talk hosted by Donna Bishop with Sage Paul, Canadian designer Hayley Elsaesser, and artist Adrienne Wu. Shows included a fashion show from SIMONS, DYNAMITE, and Playground (featuring more than 20 of Canada’s most established and promising designers) and performances by Little Dada and Clairmont The Second.

Today’s festivities are just as exciting. Earlier, Manon Lapierre from La Petite Bette hosted a discussion about being a foodie, and tonight will host another discussion called “the expat.” We will also see another DJ set from 5-9PM, as well as a fashion panel with Gracie Carroll, Afiya Francisco, and Lolitta Dandoy. The iconic Jeanne Beker will also be in attendance, chatting with the exuberant Calli and Sam Beckerman about their vision of fashion. Tomorrow, bring the whole family along for a day of fun – the Design Exchange is hosting an upcycling workshop from 12-4PM, and there will be two speaker events: Lolitta Dandoy will be talking about Montreal style, and Grece Ghanemand Judith Maria Bradley sit down to discuss how great style is ageless.

Although the public attendance last night was sparse, Urbani_T proved to have great potential. As one of the only intersections of fashion and culture that Toronto has, the festival was able to bring together the public and the industry from all corners of Canada to represent the best of our nation’s talent. The runway was decorated with emerging brands, sported by a diverse crew of models. There was a live art demonstration on a sleek red sports car, a booth dedicated to fashion students at the Suzanne Rogers Fashion Institute and attendees had the chance to be introduced to some of the fresh labels coming out of Montreal.

The festival is the right step forward in investing in our country’s culture, supporting local creators to ensure Canada holds its place on the world stage. Shops like Shopgirls in Parkdale supply exclusively Canadian designers. It is places like these that are truly making an impact in the cultural economy and provide a hub for citizens to appreciate the art that is made around them. Plus, through the work of Groupe Sensation Mode, Montreal, which is known to have a leg up in its cultural pursuits than the corporate Toronto, has extended its hand to join forces with Ontario’s capital to truly establish Canadian fashion in the lives of our citizens.  It’s safe to say we’re on board.

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Jane Bradshaw

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