By  on November 23, 2005

Canadian fashion weeks gain popularity as the industry prepares for the 2006 trade show season.

MONTREAL — This fall saw the continued growth in popularity of two fashion week events in Toronto and Montreal, and the increased exposure may provide a boon to the Canadian trade show market as designers and retailers gear up for the 2006 season.

More than 15,000 people attended the 10th edition of L'Oréal Fashion Week, held Oct. 17-21 at a new site on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. According to Robin Kay, president of the Fashion Design Council of Canada, which organizes the week, attendance was up by 150 percent.

"The show has grown because sponsorship has grown and there is more public sector interest," said Kay. "We've also outgrown media coverage in the sense they now expect us to be good and we tend not to disappoint."

As usual, some of Montreal's top designers, including Morales, Mackage, Denis Gagnon, Parasuco and Andy Thê-Anh, participated in L'Oréal Fashion Week before showing again the following week in Montreal.

For the March edition of L'Oréal Fashion Week, Kay plans to bring in foreign designers, either from the U.S. or Europe, to give the event added credibility.

"It will make them more aware of Canadian designers and Canadian designers can see what they're up against," said Kay.

With a new organization behind it, Montreal Fashion Week also appears to have found its groove. Sensation Mode, an agency that has arranged the Montreal Fashion and Designer Festival, a summer street celebration open to the public for the last six years, took over the organization of Montreal Fashion Week just two months before the Oct. 24-28 event. The resulting MFW featured 34 designers, double the number that attended the previous installment, held in March.

Among the changes instituted by Sensation Mode was moving the event to October from September, based upon the recommendations of many designers and major Canadian buyers. Sensation Mode also coordinated the signing of a major sponsor, P&G Beauty, a division of Procter & Gamble, which became a necessity after government aid for the event was slashed from $200,000 to $120,000.With one MFW under its belt, Sensation Mode is confident the 10th edition, in March, will continue to grow, said Chantal Durivage, co-president of Sensation Mode.

"We had over 200 media and buyers for this show and we'll have a lot more time to prepare for the March show," she said.

Despite the success of other industry events, Canada's only trade show dedicated to women's accessories and fashion items, the Mode Accessories Show, is looking to rebound after a difficult 2005. The Mode Accessories Show normally holds two shows a year, in Toronto and Calgary, but a scheduling conflict forced the show to host just one event in Calgary in February.

"We had a June show in 2004, but dropped it this year because it was too early for some participants," said organizer Alice Chee. "We [also] had a September date lined up, but it was too crazy for some people, because there are a lot of rep shows at that time of year."

In addition to the Feb. 5-6 show at the Calgary Stampede Roundup Center, a June show is being reinstated for Calgary at the Telus Convention Center June 18-19.

The Mode Accessories Show will also hold a Toronto event, scheduled for Jan. 29-31 at the Doubletree International Plaza Hotel. The show is already sold out, with 228 returning exhibitors signed to attend, representing a 97 percent renewal rate. The remaining 3 percent of spaces are being filled with applicants from a waiting list. Attendance at the Mode Accessories Show is expected to match the 4,000 buyers who showed up in August.

The National Snow Industries Association has moved its 2006 trade show to February from January. The event will take place Feb. 12-14 at Place Bonaventure in Montreal. The decision to move the show date was made based on feedback from suppliers, sales representatives and retailers, given during a series of town hall meetings, ad hoc meetings and from surveys, according to Anna Di Meglio, president of the NSIA.

"The NSIA is here to serve the snow sports industry and provide them with the right environment to accomplish their business," she said. "Consequently, the consensus from our research was a February show."The NSIA Snow Show is the largest of its kind in Canada, showcasing brands from more than 200 of the industry's leading suppliers, and attracting delegates from more than 800 retail stores across the country.

The Alberta Fashion Market women's trade show in Edmonton has merged with the Alberta Men's Wear Agents Association, which produces the branded Trends the Apparel Show. Trends will now incorporate fashions for men, women, juniors and kids, as well as streetwear and skatewear, workwear and denim. It will feature 225 exhibitors and draw an anticipated 1,000 retailers to the Northlands Park Agricom in Edmonton, March 9-13.

For the first time in more than a decade, Canada will have a truly national women's wear trade show when FashionNorth The Womenswear Show makes its debut March 19-21 at the International Center in Toronto.

The decision to introduce a women's wear trade show follows on the heels of two successful editions of a men's wear show, also organized by FashionNorth and produced by Meteor Show Productions.

"A significant number of exhibitors at the men's wear show convinced us that we should do something similar in women's wear, and some exhibitors will have booths at both shows," said FashionNorth producer Ralph Weil.

About 32 exhibitors were signed up by mid-October, and Weil was hoping for between 100 and 120 exhibitors to occupy 200 booths over 75,000 square feet of space. Those numbers are higher than the 100 exhibitors who filled 180 booths covering 50,000 square feet at the first men's wear show in February.

"I've been told I'm unrealistically pessimistic with those numbers, because we already have the exposure of two men's wear shows behind us," said Weil.

Like the previous men's wear show, Weil plans to have a keynote speaker for FashionNorth The Womenswear Show, and will send complimentary airline tickets and hotel accommodations to about a dozen American buyers. Organizers at the Ontario Fashion Exhibitors Market are also expecting big things. More than 2,000 buyers attended the last market in September, forcing organizers to consider more space for its next show, to be held March 25-29.

"We also have a waiting list of over 80 exhibitors, compared to our existing 160 exhibitors," said show organizer Serge Micheli. "We currently occupy 140,000 square feet at the Toronto Congress Center and would like to boost that to 175,000 square feet."Micheli is also working to add seminars for the March show, and has already lined up Tom Shay, a retail solutions specialist from St. Petersburg, Fla.

Canada's largest international trade show, the North American Fur & Fashion Exhibition, takes place April 30-May 3 at Montreal's 200,000-square-foot Place Bonaventure.

"The show is a little earlier than usual, because we're expanding more into the accessories market and a lot of buyers who are in New York around that time can come to Montreal to make their trip more cost-effective," said NAFFEM organizer Alan Herscovici, who is also executive vice president of the Fur Council of Canada.

NAFFEM also hopes to increase its international profile by attracting a stronger European delegation, particularly from Italy, Spain and Turkey.

Only 5 percent of the 4,000 buyers at last year's show came from overseas, while 54 percent were from the U.S. and 41 percent were Canadian. Just 10 percent of the 200 exhibitors were from overseas, compared with 40 percent who were from America and 50 percent from Canada.

In addition, the fur council is rebranding and repositioning Canadian furs with a "Beautifully Canadian" marketing campaign. It is also working on a tribute to American designers for their strong support of the show over the years.

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