Sid Neigum

TORONTO — Canada’s fashion industry and celebrities united Thursday to celebrate the sixth annual Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards at the Fairmont Royal York hotel here.

Sixteen awards were presented, including Model of the Year for Chilliwack, B.C.-born Tasha Tilberg; the Joe Fresh Fashion Innovation Award for tech star Focals by North, and Accessory Designer of the Year for Toronto’s Dean Davidson, who made headlines earlier this year when Meghan Markle wore his Signature Midi Knockout Studs during several public appearances in London.

Marie-Ève Lecavalier and Lucite jewelry designer Corey Moranis took home the Swarovski Award for Emerging Talent in fashion and accessory design, respectively, with each receiving 10,000 Canadian dollars and a year of mentorship with industry leaders.

“Today there is an abundance of great young talent coming out of Canada. That’s why CAFA remains committed to offering mentorship and financial opportunities to help new designers take their brands to the next level,” said CAFA president Vicky Milner.

That mission’s importance isn’t lost upon established stars like Sid Neigum, the Womenswear Designer of the Year, or Christopher Bates, the Menswear Designer of the Year.

Known for his sculptural take on women’s fashion, Neigum is still appreciative of the “boost in visibility” that comes with the award. “I was joyful about this nomination,” said Neigum, who presented his first collection in Toronto in 2011 and has since gone on to dress celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Jada Pinkett Smith and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau.

Bates, too, anticipates an “increase in momentum” for his brand.

“There are many talented Canadian designers doing great things here and abroad,” Bates said. “Once you get past any ‘Great White North’ stereotypes Canadian fashion isn’t associated with any preconceived expectations, which is a great opportunity for a designer to establish their own signature aesthetic.”

Indeed, wielding a unique voice was a unifying trait among CAFA’s special honorees for 2019, including photographer Douglas Kirkland, “Thierry Mugler: Couturissime” curator Thierry-Maxime Loriot, and Brother Vellies founder Aurora James.

James — CAFA’s International Canadian Designer Award winner — launched her African-inspired line of footwear and accessories in 2013 to preserve that culture’s shoe-making craft, as well as create artisanal jobs in Morocco, Kenya and Ethiopia.

“We’re now into the seven figures. But I started Brother Vellies because I was fatigued by fast fashion,” said James, whose brand is exclusively available in Canada at Hudson’s Bay.

Now with her first store in Brooklyn, N.Y., and a booming global reach thanks to social media, James said, “Being from an ethnically diverse country like Canada made me more culturally aware. That’s a big part of Brother Vellies’ DNA.”

That quality also influenced the career of Loriot, CAFA’s 2019 Vanguard Award honoree.

“I never wanted to do the expected,” said Loriot, who also curated 2017’s successful exhibition “Love Is Love: Wedding Bliss à la Jean Paul Gaultier.” “I don’t do exhibitions for fashion insiders. I do it for ordinary people who want to get into a great story,” Loriot said.

Kirkland received CAFA’s Outstanding Achievement Award. Over the last six decades Kirkland, 84, has captured Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Brigitte Bardot and other Hollywood icons on film. Now longing to shoot Michelle Obama, Kirkland said, “Starting in Canada was a plus for me. It gave me perspective.”

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