The Making Of A Fashion Festival: the Evolution of SFDF
Saskatoon has gone through two booms: one in the early 1900s when pioneers moved to the prairies in droves, and a recent renaissance that we’re still enjoying. If you haven’t seen the many articles in national papers and magazines profiling our culinary, art, theatre, and music scenes, you must be a social media hermit only now poking your head out. Fashion, too, has come a long way in the last few years. Gone are the days of Alberta shopping trips or cross-border binges because Saskatoon is now home to big-name stores as well as boutiques that cater to the au courant. But the most exciting revolution in our style scene has been the organization that celebrates and promotes our amazing local designers, and that is the Saskatoon Fashion and Design Festival. This Sunday’s free-to-the-public POSE runway event at River Landing marks SFDF’s fifth anniversary and the milestone deserves some individual congratulations. I mean, who decides to BUILD A FESTIVAL? And how do all the moving parts get coordinated as it grows year after year? Today, we’re taking a peek into the “making of” SFDF, as a few of its key players tell us what makes the city’s premiere fashion festival tick.
It makes sense to start at the beginning and that was the meeting of co-Founders Mandy Pravda and Jacqueline Conway. Before they crossed paths, the ladies had already made strides in their fields. Mandy had built a name for herself as a brand and event specialist. Jacqueline had earned her Marketing Degree and studied fashion design in Montreal, coming home to Saskatoon and connecting with and assisting designer Rebecca King. “Around that time,” says Jacqueline, “the idea of a fashion week was beginning to sprout in Saskatoon as there seemed to be more and more designers living here and producing clothing lines.” She met Mandy and they began producing events together with the original group of fashionistas and volunteers. “The goal of forming SFDF was to really create a hub for the Saskatoon fashion community,” explains Jacqueline. “There were pockets throughout the city and our vision was to bring people together to collaborate, promote and produce events to showcase what Saskatoon design had to offer. “ Peek through the above gallery to look back a little on Jacqueline and Mandy's journey together.
The Festival began in 2012 with one show: POSE at River Landing. Rockabilly-inspired designer Melissa Squire was one of the first artists featured and although SFDF now puts on other fab events at which she showcases, POSE still has a special place in her heart. “I love that it's outside—along the river is the best backdrop you can ask for! It really showcases the beauty of the city, it's free for everyone to enjoy, and the crowd builds organically which helps widen the reach of the local artists involved. Plus, I love how POSE is choreographed,” she explains, speaking of the in-the-round rather than a straight runway, “It's such a nice change of pace for a show.” Right from the get-go, Melissa says the SFDF ladies were great to work with. Click through the above gallery for a sampling of Melissa Squire's work at SFDF over the years.
As a model in that first POSE show, I knew what was happening was groundbreaking for our city. Sure, we’d had mall fashion shows before, but I’d never seen full sets of locally designed clothing. And the moving parts were many, from professional hair and makeup (SFDF partnered with Capelli that year and has since also connected with CHEL, Angles, and this year, Visions, as well as the city’s top Makeup Artists) to dancers, designers, models, backstage catering, and crowd engagement. Scroll through above for a bit of POSE through the years.
That first year, the pop-up shop was off-site but has since moved to be on location, giving spectators a chance to buy pieces they fell in love with from a designer’s set. Scroll through above to see the evolution of the SFDF pop-ups.
After the first POSE, like-minded people wanted to help grow the Festival and that meant there were more even people to organize at the next events. From door greeters, handing out swag bags, assembling swag bags (which are always killer!), to helping to set up and clean up, there are a lot of things to get done and that’s why Volunteer Coordinators are key. Lauren Martell, a Marketing major at the Edwards School of Business at the U of S is one of the Coordinators who came aboard last year. “It’s a challenge to ensure that everyone is where they need to be and when they need to be,” she admits. “However, I enjoy working hard to see the pay-off of a smoothly running festival and that everyone is having a great time.” Lauren credits the many return volunteers in making her job alongside Co-Coordinator Sunjita Kapoor, easier. Lauren and Sunjita also orchestrate the swag bag sponsors while Jacqueline and Mandy secure major sponsors for the whole of the Festival, a necessity for the events to exist. Like any good relationship, the value is reciprocal. Explains Lauren, “SFDF lets the sponsors make connections with a niche group of clients.”
SFDF’s collaborative nature led the team to partner with other businesses and organizations. In 2013, SFDF lent their expertise to Choc la’Cure and to Midtown Plaza for their first In Fashion event (which has since proved to be an annual success), they showed a French-inspired set at FolkFest, as well as hosted events at Era and AKA Gallary.
2013 was also the first SFDF Runway, held in fall. The dazzling event was held at Mercedes-Benz and served to really put SFDF on the map for a wide audience.
When you think of a fashion show, you think of models, and you might wonder how they’re chosen. That is the realm of SFDF's Model Coordinator Claire Underhill. Claire grew up watching her savvy, stylish mom run an event planning company so it was a natural inclination to build her own career as a wedding and event planner, and to work with SFDF. “I remember seeing a posting about a fashion festival happening in Saskatoon,” recalls Claire, “and without really knowing much about it, I just showed up at the venue and asked to be put to work. Then I kept coming back, taking on larger roles each year, and unconsciously building relationships within the YXE fashion community.” When I ask Claire what she looks for in a model, she doesn’t hesitate. “In a word? Diversity. Every year I am blown away by the amount of talent and beauty this city holds. We look for new faces, but don’t neglect the individuals who have supported us from day one. We believe it’s important to have models that look outside the traditional cookie cutter model look, and pride ourselves on that. Whether that includes your body type, race, or hair colour, we encourage diversity in all aspects.”
Since SFDF’s goal was to unite Saskatoon’s fashion community, Jacqueline knew her like-minded sister Nicole Romanoff would be on board from day one, but she probably wouldn’t have guessed the scope of what Nicole could contribute along the way. “I've been so lucky to be involved with so many aspects of the festival including grassroots marketing, sponsorship, planning, organizing, social media, blogging, and even modelling,” tells Nicole. She says that year after year, the Festival leaves her feeling inspired by the community, not just with fashion but with creating in general. “The Festival is more than a fashion show, and I wish it was around when I was young because it shows youth that careers and opportunities in fashion can and do exist in the province of Saskatchewan!” Nicole, who is also a professional photographer, is currently the Blog Editor, which buoys Festival events but also has its own life.
As the SFDF Blog Editor, Nicole works to create unique content, assists other blog contributors by offering opinions and inspo, and keeps the blog aesthetic consistent and professional. She also formats content and does promotion on all social media outlets. “But the fun doesn't stop there,” she laughs, “My favourite part of being the SFDF blog editor (other than wearing sunglasses pretending to be Anna Wintour at my desk all day), is having the opportunity to collaborate with the team of contributors and seeing the end result go live!” Flip through above to see some of my favourite photos taken by Nicole from recent SFDF blog features.
A Festival that celebrates so many diverse artists still needs to have a cohesive image, and that’s where creative direction comes in. As Stylist for SFDF, Kate Matthews’ background has the perfect mix of biz and creativity. After getting her Commerce degree, she worked in the music business for 10 years as an artist manager, brand consultant and wardrobe stylist. A few years into that, Kate was offered a fashion internship at ELLE magazine where she worked on shoots, pitched stories and ideas, wrote articles and interviewed designers, models, and celebs. “After working at ELLE,” she says, “I developed my niche as a wardrobe stylist and brand consultant and also started working in TV. My dream work day is on a photo or film set working with kind, intelligent, creative people!” And that’s exactly what SFDF offers for Kate. “What Jacqueline and Mandy do in developing the fashion community in Saskatoon is remarkable. They foster a supportive, inclusive, innovative environment and I think that's really important in creating a community around an art form like fashion.”
Kate’s job as Stylist is to make SFDF’s ad images speak to the whole range of the designers' styles. “Coming up with the creative direction for the SFDF campaigns is a bit like doing a puzzle!” exclaims Kate. “I take what I’ve seen in the collections for that season—add what our local designers are creating—plus what's going on culturally and artistically around the world and in Saskatoon. It's really a collaborative effort between the Festival Directors, myself and the beauty team. The trick is to put all of that together in a way that is both artistic and marketable—and then you cross your fingers that it resonates with people!”
This year, tying together the many directions of designs was another unifying factor: using only one face for the Look Book (shot by SFDF's Official Photographer for 2016, OCM's own Erin Crooks). That face was fifteen-year-old Hannah Dawn of Edge Agency. And though I asked her what her one favourite piece was that she’s worn for SFDF, she said she couldn’t choose. “I fell in love with every single outfit I had on, but my absolute favourites were the jumpsuit from Two Fifty Two boutique, the entire Hillberg and Berk look, the amazing tulle skirt by Laurie Brown, and Dean Renwick's white dress with the super cute Hillberg necklace!” The 2016 Look Book shoot was a long day but Hannah insists it flew by because of the team’s positive energy. Plus, she adores her job. “I love everything in modelling,” she says, “from the people I get to meet and work with like designers, makeup artists, hair artists, and other models to all the fun clothes I get to wear, to that rush of adrenaline and excitement before I step out on the runway.” Scroll through the gallery to see Hannah in action for SFDF.
Over the past years, Jacqueline, Mandy, and their growing team of volunteers have seen their goals come to life: they wanted to create a historical fashion exhibit, they did it; they wanted to work with Mercedes-Benz and produce a high-end runway show with world-class entertainment and designers, they did it; they wanted to create a free fashion event that engaged the community into a growing scene of artists and designers, and they did that, too. So what’s next for SFDF? Jacqueline gives us the insider info: “We will now be producing our SFDF Runway event in the fall, coming November 4 to 6 at the Delta Bessborough Hotel (another one of our dreams!) and will be creating opportunities for professional development for the fashion based creative industries.” Moving forward, SFDF’s focus will be on helping designers turn their creativity into viable businesses, and that's the kind of forward thinking that's made SFDF a success thus far. So cheers to these ladies and everyone else behind the scenes who work hard to see these big goals achieved! Here's to another five years and far beyond.
Click here to visit the SFDF site for more information on this Sunday's free POSE event at River Landing.