TORONTO - Designers typically want to distinguish themselves from the pack, but within Canada's fashion community, they're also quick to step in line and work together for a greater good.
As curtains came down Friday on the latest edition of Toronto's LG Fashion Week, more than two dozen designers and labels shifted focus from their own lines to bring one-of-a-kind African print garments to the runway for the closing night Dare to Wear Love gala.
Brian Bailey, Izzy Camilleri, Wayne Clark, David Dixon and bridal designer Aileen Ng of Avioanni were among the roster of talents taking part.
The second annual event featured some of the country's leading designers and emerging talents, who each had six yards (about five-and-a-half metres) of cotton print fabric sourced from the continent to be transformed into custom creations.
Familiar faces and voices from the screen and stage, including singers, journalists and on-air personalities, joined professional models in strutting their stuff on the catwalk.
The vibrant creations spanned the spectrum from cocktail numbers to extravagant floor-skimming creations, while men's looks included button-down shirts with matching fedoras and a suit and bowtie.
Actress and former "Corner Gas" star Tara Spencer-Nairn kicked off the festivities in a bubble-hemmed printed blue dress coat created by Nada Shepherd. Singer Keshia Chante modelled a voluminous creation designed by Adrian Wu pairing houndstooth print with the African fabric.
Donning a design from Peach Berserk, Wendy Mesley of CBC News peeled off a short-sleeved hi-low number with bright pink tulle underlay which featured a picture of Africa on the back to unveil a dress featuring a Warholian-like image of Stephen Lewis with the words "Stephen Lewis Rox" emblazoned on the back.
Dare to Wear Love is the brainchild of designers Jim Searle and Chris Tyrell, founders of Toronto label Hoax Couture. The goal is to raise funds and awareness for the Stephen Lewis Foundation and its work to support grassroots initiatives in the fight against HIV-AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.
Searle says they were thrilled with the results of the inaugural event. But in addition to spreading the word about the cause, he hopes Dare to Wear Love will also achieve success in its secondary goal — to promote and celebrate Canadian fashion.
While the works of the designers were the central focus, organizers broadened Dare to Wear Love beyond a traditional fashion showcase with live music from Madagascar Slim and singer Shelley Hamilton and a dance performance from Laurence Lemieux of Coleman Lemieux and Company.
"We want people to come away entertained and uplifted from this event," Searle said in an earlier interview. "It's all about promoting and celebrating Canadian artists and Canadian culture.."
Designs featured in last year's show are available through an online auction on the Dare to Wear Love site, running until Nov. 2. There are plans to do the same with this year's creations.
Searle and Tyrell came up with the concept following a chance meeting with foundation executive director Ilana Landsberg-Lewis at a dinner, where she talked to the design duo about the work of the foundation, notably its efforts related to the Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign.
The initiative helps raise funds to support grandmothers in Africa who are taking care of grandchildren left as orphans because of the HIV-AIDS pandemic. It helps with housing, food and school fees for the kids. The work of the charity has hit home in particular for Tyrell, who was orphaned at a young age and raised by his grandmother.
Searle said offering support to individuals in need in Africa is a cause which has clearly resonated with a lot of individuals, including the designers who stepped up to give of their time and creativity.
"We live in, essentially, the greatest country in the world I think to my mind. And the worst day we have here is, you know, in our lives, is probably the best day they have over there," he said.
"We almost have an obligation to do something. Maybe it's not for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, but for people who need our help and most of these designers get that. All of them get it. That's why they participate."
Dare to Wear Love:www.daretowearlove.com