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We round up highlights and standout style moments from the biggest night in Canadian fashion.
The fashion industry, and its related events, can get a bad rap for being cold, competitive and exclusive. This was decidedly not the case at the 2023 Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards on October 14. Hosted by drag superstar (and friend of FASHION) Brooke Lynne Hytes, the CAFA Awards 2023 gala was everything movies about fashion tell us the industry isn’t: loving, encouraging, inclusive. And really, really fun.
Marking its 10-year anniversary, the 2023 CAFAs celebrated the best talent in Canadian fashion design, styling and more, and what the attendees observed was a room full of colleagues and peers cheering each other on with unabashed pride. From Jully Black’s stirring speech to present a Changemaker Award to Knix founder Joanna Griffiths (which prompted a ballroom-wide standing ovation) to Heather Diamond Strongarm’s emotional win for the Fresh Face of the Year Award bestowed upon an up-and-coming Canadian model, we loved to see the camaraderie and genuine emotion that permeated the room. (And the Canadian fashion, of course.) Read on for some of the evening’s most heartwarming highlights and jaw-dropping style moments.
Brooke Lynn Hytes was the hostess with the mostest
Listen, keeping a room full of hungry, thirsty fashion people entertained for a solid three hours is no easy feat. And the former Drag Race contestant made it look downright easy. From the gag-worthy wardrobe changes (I lost count at eight ensembles, each one more snatched than the last) and the flawlessly executed Devil Wear’s Prada-inspired opening skit and the cheeky jokes, Hytes had the audience enraptured. 10/10 no notes!
Aurora James’ spontaneous speech
The former April 2023 FASHION cover star accepted the Vanguard Award from the iconic Joe Zee with a speech that was poignant and funny — and entirely ad libbed. (We could see the teleprompter — she was indeed blank!) James, who is the creative director/founder of Brother Vellies and a vice-chair member of the CFDA, founded the non-profit advocacy organization the Fifteen Percent Pledge in 2020 as a call to action challenging companies to commit to increased diversity and representation. “I founded the Fifteen Percent Pledge three years ago to create greater equity for Black entrepreneurs,” said James. “Since then, we’ve signed on 29 Pledge takers– some of the biggest retailers across fashion, beauty, and the design space– and are in the process of reallocating nearly $14 billion in revenue to Black founders. This work isn’t easy, but it is very important.”
Lauren Chan’s homecoming
Decked out head to toe in the colour of the moment, red, Canada’s beloved Lauren Chan (and one time FASHION intern!) drew hearty cheers when her win for Model of the Year was announced. The newly minted Sports Illustrated model, Hening founder, and inclusive fashion champion noted in her acceptance speech that it took her years to even refer to herself as a model (“I always put a moniker, like ‘plus-size,’ in front of it,” she said), adding “That insecurity can really be boiled down to the fact that I do not look like what I grew up seeing as the beauty ideal in fashion,” calling the award a sign of “progress.”
Dorian Who’s inspiring win
There were a few misty eyes in the Fairmont Royal York ballroom when designer Dorian Who accepted the award for Emerging Talent, Fashion, presented by Meredith Shaw. “This country gave me freedom of expression and inspired me to create my own brand. To be the voice for the oppressed and to give courage to women that their dreams are possible no matter how crazy they seem,” the designer said of her move to Canada in 2015.
And the award for most creative ensemble goes to… Sarain Fox in Canada Goose
Anishinaabe activist and storyteller Sarain Fox presented the 2023 Outstanding Achievement Award to Canada Goose CEO Dani Reiss. And she did so decked out in a white quilted gown that was indeed comprised of two Canada Goose parkas zipped together — plus a few nips and tucks here and there. “I had to hand sew all of the alterations in my hotel room just hours before the show began,” Fox writes in an Instagram caption. “I think that was my favourite part. Once upon a time clothes and fashion were my full time, so it was a good reminder of that dream.”
Below, we round up some of the best-dressed attendees and honourees at the 2023 CAFAs — and trust us, it was hard to pick.
Photography by George Pimentel