View Slideshow

The first national women’s wear show in 15 years makes its debut.

MONTREAL — With the first installment of the FashionNorth Womenswear Show in the books, Canada finally has a new national women’s trade show. The event, held March 19-21 at Toronto’s International Center and produced by Meteor Show Productions, the same organization that puts on the highly successful FashionNorth Menswear Show, is the first national women’s show in Canada in more than a decade.

As expected, the initial FashionNorth Womenswear Show was a modest affair with about 70 exhibitors, but show organizers are hoping they’ve created something they can build on for the second edition, taking place Sept. 17-19 at the same venue.

“It was the first national women’s show in at least 15 years and, because of that, it kept a lot of people at bay,” said show president Joseph Nutzati of Bod & Christensen. “But for every exhibitor here [in March], five or six others said they would definitely be here in September. And don’t forget, when the [Fashion] Coterie started out, they only had 22 exhibitors, so we feel pretty good.”

The September show should see a significant increase in both exhibitors and visitors, according to Ralph Weil, president of Meteor Show Productions, and show producer of the women’s wear event. “A lot of people have asked for show information, and we actually received three thank-you letters from exhibitors, which is almost unheard of in this industry.”

Although small in numbers, the first show managed to attract some big names, including Buffalo Jeans, Bod & Christensen, Gimpex/Hide Society, ITA, Lipson Shirtmakers, Rudsak, Nygård International, Report Collection and Paula Lishman.

But in September, unlike in March, FashionNorth will be butting heads with the Ontario Fashion Exhibitors Market, which will be held at the same time at the nearby Toronto Congress Center.

However, Joan Brachman, owner of boutique L’Engage de la Mode in Toronto, who will attend FashionNorth, believes there’s room for two shows because they appeal to two different markets.

“FashionNorth is medium to high end, whereas OFE is low to medium. I know there are some higher price points at OFE, but I question how many orders they wrote.”

This story first appeared in the May 24, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The first stop on the busy second-half schedule is the FashionNorth Menswear show, which has enjoyed a growth spurt since launching in February 2005, going from 77 companies and 160 collections and 1,100 buyers, to 130 companies and over 330 collections that drew close to 1,500 buyers this past February, according to Weil.

“We outgrew our old space of 65,000 square feet and are now up to 90,000 square feet in a different building. We can still grow, but not as quickly, and only up to a maximum of 110,000 square feet.”

The fourth edition, scheduled for July 30-Aug. 1 at the International Center in Toronto, should be about the same size as last year’s show, or maybe slightly larger, said Weil, who is still lining up a keynote speaker.

Aug. 7-9 is the date for another sold-out Mode Accessories Show, which features 230 exhibitors over 58,000 square feet at Toronto’s Doubletree International Plaza Hotel. The event, the largest of its kind in Canada, has a two-year waiting list of about 180 exhibitors, according to show organizer Alice Chee, who has been scouting larger locations for the past several seasons.

“I will have to change both the date and location to get what I need because there’s nothing available in August, which means I’ll probably lose some buyers for the first two years.”

And with so many on the waiting list, Chee is concerned someone might start a competing show.

“I know some on the list participate in other gift or craft shows, but our show is known as the show to be part of in Canada. I’m trying desperately to bring in new exhibitors to add new blood, but we only had three cancellations in January.”

Attendance at Mode Accessories continues to grow; the January show attracted nearly 5,000 buyers, close to the same number Chee expects will attend in August.

According to Chee, popular styles at the show will include leggings of different patterns and textures worn on top of tights, which are making a comeback.

“Long, fingerless gloves above the elbow are also big, along with bold pieces of jewelry, including chandelier earrings. And the color brown, which is the new black, is being replaced by gray. But the transition color is graphite or taupe.”

With more than 140,000 square feet of exhibition space, the Ontario Fashion Exhibitors Market is one of the largest apparel trade shows in Canada, featuring more than 155 exhibitors taking 600 booths at last March’s show at the Toronto Congress Center. The show, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, is also the longest-running event of its kind in North America, according to organizers.

OFE routinely attracts about 2,000 buyers, including a handful from the U.S., and executive director Serge Macheli is expecting a similar turnout at the next show, scheduled for Sept. 16-19.

He’s also trying to line up a guest speaker. In March the guest speaker was Tom Shay, a well-known industry expert across North America who pointed out the 10 fatal mistakes small businesses make that usually put them out of business.

Like other Canadian trade shows, OFE is looking for more space to accommodate a growing waiting list, and the September show could be held in a 170,000-square-foot hall in the same venue.

“We’re going through a transition period with a new board and we’re looking to do something new and different in September,” said Macheli.

Both L’Oréal Fashion Week in Toronto and Montreal Fashion Week have enjoyed some recent success in attracting international buyers and press to bolster their respective profiles. And talk of joining forces to offer a single national high-profile event has all but disappeared.

LFW, taking place Oct. 16-21 at Toronto’s Liberty Grand, has supplanted MFW as the premier fashion week in Canada, both in the number of participants and media exposure. It routinely attracts the top Canadian designers, including Paul Hardy, Arthur Mendonça, David Dixon, Denis Gagnon, Mackage, Pat McDonagh, Renata Morales, Pink Tartan, Preloved, Andy Thê-Anh and Ula Zukowska, among others, who strut their collections for more than 18,000 attendees, including 530 media members, according to tracking company Comwaters. In addition, the LFW Web site (torontofashionweek.ca) gets more than 500,000 hits per day during the event.

“They say it takes five years to build a brand,” said Robin Kay, president of the Fashion Design Council of Canada, which organizes LFW. “I’m pleased to say that after 11 seasons, L’Oréal Fashion Week has arrived.”

After a couple of struggling seasons, MFW appears to have found both its sea legs and Procter & Gamble as a title sponsor through at least 2008, a development that bodes well for the 11th edition this October. Although dates haven’t been announced, MFW usually runs the week after LFW.

With more financial backing, MFW managed to attract a handful of American buyers, one from the U.K. and two representatives from MAGIC International, to its March installment. The MAGIC reps were present to assess whether Quebec designers had the talent to sell in the U.S. and if there should be a dedicated section for Canadian designers at MAGIC’s biannual shows in Las Vegas. Among the lines that appealed to the reps were Rudsak, Andy Thê-Anh, Denis Gagnon, M0851 leathers and handbags, and Kamkyl men’s wear.