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Prairie Design On the World’s Runway

Published: 03/26/2012

Mark Fast is a Winnipeg fashion success story, but he is only one of a new wave of Manitoba designers who are winning international praise and a host of celeb clients. And for whom, Winnipeg or Manitoba serves to inspire their designs.

Fashion designer Mark Fast grew up, as Italian Vogue magazine quaintly put it, in "Winnipeg, a Canadian village close to a forest." Well, the editors at Vogue Italia should brush up on their geography; Winnipeg isn't a village, and where in Canada isn't close to a forest? Nonetheless, the magazine's description of our city sounds fairy tale-like, and such a place to serve as inspiration for a young designer wanting to go out into the world and design romantic, urbane dresses.

Mark Fast, who actually hails from Selkirk, a small town outside of Winnipeg, is now one of the undisputed big names in international fashion. Based in London, he has his own line which he shows at London fashion week, and a diffusion (lower) priced line which he shows at New York fashion week. He also designs for the biggest names in show business such as Rihanna, Ciara, Avril Lavigne and Nicky Minaj, to name a few. For mere mortals, his new line of shoes in collaboration with Aldo is coming out this spring.

Kanye West was one of many big names in the front row at Mark's show during London Fashion week in 2012, but Fast has he feet on the ground and keeps in touch with his Winnipeg roots, coming home for inspiration as well as a home-cooked meal.

That Winnipeg has so much fashion saavyness shouldn't be a surprise. From early days Manitoba's raison d'être was fur trading. In more recent history, we were North American's manufacturing centre, the birthplace of Canadian outerwear icons such as Richlu Outerwear and Raber Glove.

Winnipeg street style inspires Julie Pedersen, the Elm Creek-born model-turned-designer behind Muckies, a line of mukluks that that are unabashedly urban and fashion conscious. It was her own need for a pair of winter boots that spawned the idea for Muckies. The boots are adorned with whimsical appliqués and trinkets and she uses bright-coloured suede rather than the traditional reindeer skin. Pedersen's Muckies have been scooped up by the likes of Fashion TV's Jeanne Beker. Britney Spears wore a pair during a concert in town. Anna Paquin commissioned a pair while shooting a film in Winnipeg.

We're not all winter wear-just like we're not all winter. Manitoba summers are hot, sunny and always close to a sandy beach. Grand Beach, an hour north of Winnipeg has been named one of the top beaches in Canada by Canadian Geographic magazine. In high summer it can be confused with Miami during Spring Break with its wall-to-wall bikinied teens. All of which have been inspiration for Winnipegger Kim Slezak who makes one-of-a-kind couture bathing suits under the brand KLAS Clothing. Her swimwear is described as vintage boho chic. She uses 60s and 70s fabric found in hidden corners of local fabric stores. Slezak says comfort is also a key element of her high-style suits, whose fans include several members of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' legendary cheerleading squad The Blue Lightening.

Dconstruct is a line of eco-friendly, architecturally inspired jewellery started by Winnipeggers Sean Rieco and Lisa Pointon-Rieco. Sean, a lover of modern architecture was building a house in Winnipeg, and while pouring concrete got the idea to do a piece of concrete jewellery for his wife. The bracelet was an immediate hit, and from there the duo started exploring different architecture materials. Their minimalist bracelets, pendants and earrings made of resin are sold in the best museum shops and hundreds of boutiques across North America. Each piece is handcrafted, and manages to be both urban, modern and eco-friendly. Recently, Dconstruct jewellery was part of the VIP gift bag at the Academy Awards.

Authenticity is a key trend in fashion, and it doesn't come more authentic than Manitobah Mukluks, an Aboriginal-owned company started by brother and sister team Heather and Sean McCormick. Manitobah makes stylish versions of the footwear that Manitoba First Nations and Métis have been wearing for centuries. Mukluks were traditional footwear because the suede boots were warm, sturdy and flat-they weren't likely to damage a birch bark canoe. Their boots have been spotted on the famous feet of Kate Moss, Megan Fox and Marisa Tomei, and were featured in O: The Oprah Magazine.

CrownCap, a Winnipeg manufacturer of hats since 1934, is an example of how the city's manufacturing history is taking giant steps into the contemporary fashion world and celeb-o-sphere. From railroad caps to beanies to aviator fur hats, these chapeaux are known for their sturdy craftsmanship. Nathaniel Cole by CrownCap is a luxury line and one of the selected gifts in the VIP swag lounge targeting Hollywood luminaries at a past Toronto International Film Festival. 

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