Ryersonian reporter Sarah Mariotti takes viewers behind the scenes at last Thursday’s ICON x RU fashion show. (Sarah Mariotti, Nicole Brumley and Kayla Douglas/Ryersonian)

By Kayla Douglas and Sarah Mariotti

Students in Ryerson’s school of fashion collaborated with Consent Comes First (CCF) on Thursday night to show an aging industry just how fashion shows can be done in the #MeToo era.

“I love fashion, but it’s everything that I hate,” said co-coordinator of the show Zacharie Fransvaag-Dinelle. “The fashion (industry) is really kind of scary … most times if you go to casting calls, there’s no changing rooms. You get poked with rulers and tape measures (while) you’re completely naked. You have no real choice, because if you want be a model … you’re going to have to do this.”

Fransvaag-Dinelle and his FSN 706 Fashion Event Planning classmates accomplished just the opposite of that harmful atmosphere during their ICON x RU event at the Buddies in Bad Times theatre last week. Along with CCF, which provides support for victims of sexual violence, the students created a show that looked outside of a basic runway in order to empower survivors of sexual assault – models and non-models alike.

For starters, there were change rooms. There was also a spoken word poet who discussed what it’s like to overcome sexual assault, a show by artists from Ryerson’s school of performance, a photobooth, a wall covered in hand-written empowering messages and even cookies with “Consent Comes First” iced on them.

Most surprising, though, was the clothing itself. All the models were wearing denim. There wasn’t a single uncomfortable puffy coat or snakeskin shoe in sight.

The story continues after the photo gallery of some of the models on the runway. All photos courtesy of Kayla Douglas. 

“We went with denim to symbolize consent and to symbolize unity,” event stylist Azmina Syed said. “We wanted to touch on something that was uniform for everyone to wear to show equality.”

For Fransvaag-Dinelle, the choice to wear denim was simple: it’s versatile and flatters everyone.

And just like there’s no one way to wear denim, there’s no one way to be assaulted, according to CCF manager Farrah Khan.

“There’s a whole history with women, non-binary and trans people being told, ‘Oh well you were wearing this so therefore it was OK that they (assaulted) you,’” Khan said. “Social justice and fashion go together. They’re not separate.”

Syed said the all-denim looks also paid homage to a controversial sexual assault case in Italy from almost 20 years ago. The judge ruled that the complainant could not have been raped because she was wearing skinny jeans – it would be “impossible” for potential assailants to remove the tight pants if the victim was struggling.

And according to Khan, the concept of consent is just as important within the fashion and modelling industries.

“When we’re talking about fashion, consent is a part of that conversation, be it the model’s choices on clothing and being able to say, ‘I don’t feel comfortable wearing that outfit,’ or being able to have autonomy over their bodies and how they’re treated,” Khan said.

To keep the theme of consent going, all the models were allowed to pick out which pieces they felt most comfortable in.

And for second-year University of Toronto student and model Emily Saso, walking the runway at ICON x RU was a far cry from photoshoots she’s done in the past.

“Working (at this event) from the start, it was all about feeling comfortable in what you’re wearing. Everyone was asking, ‘Do you feel good, do you feel like this (outfit) is you?’ A lot of shoots I’ve done in the past, people don’t ask you that,” Saso said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction to have the models feel empowered. I think if models feel empowered, it will inspire people seeing that media to feel more confident in themselves as well.”

Some of the positive notes posted by event-goers. (Kayla Douglas/Ryersonian)

For the other event co-coordinator, Kaela Gordon, having a show about consent that revolved around empowerment was essential.   

“(Sexual assault) is almost looked down upon. Sometimes people (see) survivors … as something negative that’s happening in the world,” Gordon said. “But to have an event like this, it’s to look at the positives of what people can overcome and what can happen after something bad has happened.”

Although ICON x RU was technically done as a class assignment, it meant so much more than a grade for Gordon and Fransvaag-Dinelle. As the future generation of the fashion industry, the co-coordinators want to use the event as an opportunity to push for difficult conversations in the runway world.

“I really hope that people get an idea that the … fashion industry doesn’t have to be so dark. It can be more uplifting and it can be more fun,” Fransvaag-Dinelle said. “(The industry) can have these conversations and I would love to see more designers talk about issues through the lens of fashion.”

This is a joint byline. Ryersonian staff are responsible for the news website edited and produced by final-year undergraduate and graduate journalism students at Ryerson University. It features all the content from the weekly campus newspaper, The Ryersonian, and distributes news and online multimedia, including video newscasts from RyersonianTV. Ryersonian.ca also provides videos, images, and other interactive material in partnership with the School of Journalism.

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