According to a 2000 Fashion Magazine feature on Robin Kay, she's long had an ability to spot trends and stay ahead of them. This is a woman that launched several successful retail outlets under her own name, and even jumped ahead of the enviro movement selling fashionable, eco-friendly knitwear using fabrics with naturally occuring dyes.
Since losing control of the retail shops (which now operate as RK Stores), Kay has become even more influential, reigning over the Fashion Design Council of Canada and guiding Toronto Fashion Week.
In the six years since I've lived in Toronto, that event has never looked better than it did this season.
Looking back over the transcripts from my own 2006 interview with Kay, I read very lucid, coherent comments from a woman with direction and understanding. She spoke of years spent getting to know the parts of the whole, and using that newfound enlightenment to show appreciation for the pieces that make it all work.
I remember feeling she genuinely was concerned with ensuring that models and agencies got credit for their involvement. Finally, I thought, she's getting it.
She didn't. In fact nearly every pledge she made last year to improve conditions for models was disregarded. The shows in March were no better.
Despite that, when a petition started circulating two weeks ago demanding the decapitation of the FDCC, I still was not prepared to put my name to it.
For one thing, I'm not a member of the council, and can't see where it's to my advantage to join. It doesn't serve the interests of models, and as the anonymous petitioner(s) correctly stated, it does have to be a grassroots movement from members that would unseat Kay.
That having been said, I do feel it's important to share my observations from fashion week, so those who are in a position to decide can have a bit more information.
My first comment is this: having tents at Nathan Phillips Square was a great idea. It reminded me of New York's Bryant Park, and there was undeniable buzz in the high-traffic area surrounding City Hall. If this really was Robin Kay's doing, she deserves enormous credit. For years, media, designers and fashion devotees have complained about the dullness of the fashion-week-by-the-lake. This year was really, really good.
Following the opening night, featuring Joe Fresh and Project Runway Canada, I was feeling energized by the environment and the quality of the shows. Sure, the highly buffed runway was lousy for the models to walk on, but mistakes happen and it was fixed. Robin Kay had made her customary speech, thanking attendees, and making special mention of her appreciation to the photographers that get all the great shots that show up on websites and in publications around the world.
Here's where the problems began. Tuesday afternoon, as I went to pick up my media pass, I watched as Kay berated photographer David Hou for bringing a hot dog and fries inside the tent. She didn't just ask him to take it outside – she blew up at him, heatedly, repeatedly telling him to get out while he packed up his kit to oblige. She then dragged aside the on-site security and not-so-subtlely scolded them for letting food in.
Then, to really make her point, she decided the tents weren't open after all, so despite having picked up my media badge from the helpful and prepared volunteers, Hou and I were thrown out and made to wait another 30 minutes for the doors to re-open. (I never did get my media bag, which is the only reason my wife lets me disappear for the week).
Oh, but wait, there's more. Following her front-of-house tirade, Kay proceeded to the runway room where she ripped into the photographers (one of whom was there for Modelresource) marking off their territory in photo pit. "Who are you people," she angrily demanded. "You come in here and start marking up the place?" For those that don't know, taping off spots in the pit is what photographers do every season. Kay's little explosion was quite a follow-up to her loving speech of the night before, wouldn't you say?
There are rumours I can't substantiate of other moments throughout the week where Kay's behaviour was somewhat less than I would expect of one that holds such an esteemed position, but they are just rumours so I'm not dropping them here. You'll have to wait for the video.
There was another incident I did witness, and it left me both amazed and disgusted with Kay's antics. I will also leave it off this site, so as not to identify the targets of Kay's untimely and unwarranted wrath.
I'm not calling for the end of Robin Kay. That's not in my scope, and as I stated earlier she may in fact deserve a lot of credit for the vast improvements this season. There was a point a few years ago when I would have threatened to give up on fashion week if I had seen the kinds of garbage I just witnessed. I've developed a thicker skin however, so as long as the models are involved I'll deal with the abuse. What designers choose to do is up to them.
Last season's recap