Mass Exodus celebrates 25 years

Over 250 models have been cast to walk the 150-foot runway at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) for this year’s Mass Exodus fashion show, marking the show’s 25th anniversary. It has come a long way since the first student show — or exhibit rather — in 1988, which was housed in an empty warehouse off Queen Street.
This year’s Mass Exodus is a two-day event, with an exhibit tonight leading up to Thursday’s runway event. The show is comprised of the final collections of the graduating Ryerson fashion design students, and the final capstone projects of the graduating fashion communication students.
Run by third-year fashion communication students, this large-scale runway show wasn’t always as extravagant as it is now.
It began with a series of small-scale runway shows and exhibits in the mid-1950s. In 1988, the concept of Mass Exodus was first introduced by Peter Duck, a professor in the school of fashion at the time.
Laura Adams, founder of The LA Consulting Group, was the head of advertising for the first ever Mass Exodus show and editor of the first Mass Exodus magazine — which was essentially a catalogue highlighting the particular talents of each student, like a portfolio would.
“It was a lot smaller,” says Adams. “We really needed to get out there and show people what we had done and what we were capable of.”
The show may have been smaller, but there were a lot more fashion departments invloved in the production of the show itself, including retail management, apparel design, apparel production management and visual communication.
The venue that was chosen to host the event was an old empty warehouse just off Queen Street — “the space initially felt raw and rugged,” says Adams. The students revamped the empty space, covering it in fabrics and painting the space to suit the show. They then brought in mannequins, which donned the designs for the showcase. The exhibit-styled fashion show was open for a couple of days for an invited audience of more than 400 representatives of the fashion industry.
“The industry is sharing a lot with the students where years ago it wasn’t quite as much like that,” says Adams. “You didn’t get that same kind of crossover, so we were trying to sort of bridge that gap of pulling industry in to see what we were doing.”
But the first Mass Exodus wasn’t an official runway show. It was more of a display consisting of mannequins that showcased the clothing and merchandise. There were, however, a few models walking around dressed in the clothing. But it was nothing in comparison to what Mass Exodus has become now.
“It’s changed a lot,” says Adams. “Nowadays it’s a lot about the designers and who’s coming out and what they’re doing, while we were trying to incorporate — and I know they still do this — all of the different departments within the fashion program. So the magazine was huge and the installation was huge.”
Kirthiga Rajanayagam is the producer of the current Mass Exodus runway show.
“We are setting the precedent for future years, while reflecting on the shows that have come before,” she says.
As the producer, Rajanayagam manages the committees and all aspects of promotion, production and communication. She says that this year, the Mass Exodus team moved away from the idea of a themed show and strived to create a platform that brought the show back to the graduating students who were showcasing their collections and capstone projects.
“We’ve come a long way from elaborate sets and staging techniques,” says Rajanayagam. “But that doesn’t mean this year doesn’t hold any surprises for our set either. Our year is about reflecting on the history of Mass Exodus as well as the MAC at The Gardens — our new venue this year — while moving forward in a constant state of growth.”
The creative visions of each graduating fourth-year design student’s collection was also promoted this year. They each got the “real-world” opportunity of choosing their own hair, makeup and models for their collection so that the final product was unique to each respective design student. But they still had the option to use the casting, hair and makeup committee to help assist in casting models for design students to choose from.
The collections that will be shown this year will also be judged by supermodel, motivational speaker and telelvision personality, Stacey McKenzie. She is the guest curator and will be choosing the collections that will be showcased during the evening show. Her judging criterion is to see whether these collections reflect the guiding principles — heritage, diversity and innovation.
Adams will also be attending the show this year for the first time since her own, in 1988.
“Oh I can’t wait,” she says. “I’m astounded that it’s gotten that big and the Mattamy centre is huge — it’s a very large venue. There’s a big reception after the show. It’s a big event, which is nice to see.”
While the show is a culmination of graduating students’ work, it goes beyond campus. The show brings fashion industry professionals but also attracts a variety of guests, including high school students.
According to Rajanayagam, there’s no other fashion show like Mass Exodus.
“Mass Exodus has continually evolved and always reflected the times,” says Rajanayagam.
“You know in Hollywood when they say, ‘lights, camera, action?’ Well, get ready for a show and an unforgettable experience.”

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