The Belle of The Liberty Grand

By Tracy Seki

Fashion Week Fall 2005 was held March 14-19 at the Liberty Grand Entertainment Complex and at various smaller venues around Toronto. During its four days, 32 of Canada’s well-established and up-and-coming designers showcased their Fall collections to the fashion industry.

There was much ado with the new talent, but a lady who is considered one of Canada’s cornerstone fashion designers proved experience always shines through. After four-plus decades, Pat McDonagh continues to earn her reputation as one of the most creative designers today. She is well-known in the fashion industry, highly regarded by her peers and clients, and deserving of her status as an established icon in the Canadian fashion industry. Her Fall / Winter line drew spontaneous applause throughout her show and finished with a standing ovation from the industry professionals and the fashion trend-watcher’s crowd.

McDonagh has a sparkle and British-style humour and wit that are a delight. Her personality and classic style are traits that are integrated into her designs that have been described as edgy, feminine and timeless. From fantasy gowns, professional suits, casual and evening wear, her designs appeal to women 19 to 80 years old .

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Irish-born, but educated in London and Paris, McDonagh has a past that is as colourful and inspiring as her creations. In Paris, as a starving student with a 17-inch waist and 33-inch hips, she was discovered and supported her education from the other side of the runway, as a model. She was considered an ugly duckling, shunned by the other models and was never able to walk properly on the runway. Although it was challenging, she would persevere and move forward as she did throughout her career. Her “teeny tiny steps” on the runway soon became her well-known trademark walk.

From one side of the runway to the other, McDonagh quickly gained recognition and respect as a couturier in the 1960’s. Managing her business and family, the mother of three flourished in the 1970’s, showing her lines in the fashion capitals throughout the U.S. and Europe. She has won many awards, dressed celebrities such as Diana Rigg in The Avengers series, The Beatles, HRH, the late Diana Princess of Wales, actress Deborah Kara Unger (Crash, The Game), actress Maria DelMar (Blue Murder) and most recently actress Wendy Crewson (Air Force One, Corrinna Corrinna). Miss Canada will be wearing Pat McDonagh when she competes for the title of Miss Universe in Thailand this year.

In the past two years she has undergone some bad twists and breaks. And that’s literally – leg, hip and back. One incident McDonagh describes herself “falling off her Steve Madden shoes” in Vancouver. Another time she managed to find the only hole under the red carpet that resulted in a pirouetted fall and a ‘trip’ to the hospital. The next morning headlines read “Why is this woman smiling…?”. But keep on smiling she does — managing to maintain her hectic pace with vigour and enthusiasm that continues to produce standing ovation lines, season after season.

Surprisingly, the Canadian fashion media does not provide a lot of support for the ‘time-honored’ Canadian designers who have survived the years and helped to establish national and international recognition for the Canadian fashion industry. Apparently, to be newsworthy to the Canadian fashion media today “one must be from the U.S., Europe or one of its emerging talents.” That’s not to say the up-and-coming shouldn’t be given the attention, but this is an unfortunate common issue in today’s society where the experienced are ignored or shoved aside without respecting their contributions and knowledge.

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Unfortunately, a similar attitude is also practiced with some of the major fashion retailers such as Holt Renfrew and our leader in Canadian retail, The Bay. At one time McDonagh was given an area dedicated to her collections in stores across Canada. Buyers had the independence that allowed creative merchandising within their departments. There was more individuality as the buyer considered themselves responsible for ‘their boutiques’ offering their customers a variety of unique selections. But times have changed and Pat McDonagh lines are no longer found in these mainstream retailers. Now real estate issues and the buying trend reports dictate the buying rules, resulting in mass merchandising and sadly, a loss of the boutique style uniqueness.

However, this works to an advantage for McDonagh’s extensive private clientele (many who live in our community). Today’s independent thinking woman who wants to stay away from the ‘mass merchandising’ and show her individuality can find the “out of the mainstream” designer styles for any occasion. Outfits are custom-tailored to their body and personality. Clients experience personal attention in a relaxed studio environment.

For Pat McDonagh, Fashion Week continued on. In her comfortable, antique-laden Front and Spadina studio, McDonagh and her team prepared for an intimate showing of her Spring and Fall lines for a few clients who couldn’t attend her Fashion Week show. But with her popularity and demand, once the word was out, it turned into two maximum-capacity shows. And again, there was applause, applause, applause.
Pat McDonagh’s studio is located at 11 Clarence Square in Toronto. Appointments can be made for private viewings by calling 416.596.8724

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