Robin Kay sits back on a white leather sofa at the Fashion Design Council of Canada’s headquarters in Liberty Village and sighs.
“The gods are laughing,” Kay quips. “Fashion Week is sort of plunked into the holy wars between Passover and Easter,” she explains of the timing of the latest Toronto Fashion Week, beginning on Sunday, which she reigns over as president of the FDCC.
Kay is in the midst of the frenetic final preparations for the event’s 22nd season — which runs until April 1 — where Canadian designers will unveil their fall 2010 collections. It’s also the event that buyers, media, celebrities and fashionistas flock to twice a year.
Since leaving the world of retail and taking over the FDCC’s top job in 2000, the 60-year-old mother of three has been instrumental in boosting Toronto’s fashion profile across North America and abroad.
Along the way, she’s also helped launch the careers of many Canadian designers, including Thien Le. And under Kay’s influence, Toronto Fashion Week has become the second largest fashion week in North America, following New York.
But her success has come with its fair share of controversy. Branded by some as a tyrant, Kay is notorious for having a fiery temper. Of her detractors, who call her a tyrant, she says, “There are people that support you. There are people that don’t support you. And then there’s the ones that support you and don’t. Almost every move I make is marked and questioned.”
Whatever people’s opinions of her, no one can deny that Kay has grown fashion week from a disjointed series of venues scattered around the city and attended by a few hundred people to a unified single venue, attracting thousands.
“There’s a real calling card for the industry now that it’s known very well outside Canada,” says Kay of fashion week. “It’s really nice to see everyone hysterically happy and showing up for it. There’s just a lot of magic. I love that.”
Kay has always created a theme for each event, next week’s being The Power of Style. “I like to have a theme because a it brings everybody together and it’s identifiable,” she says. “Fashion is to be taken seriously.”
Of the secrets to her success, she remains coy. “I’m not ready to reveal the secrets,” she murmurs. “Once I pass the torch, maybe I will.”
Come Sunday, when the lights come up and the first models hit the runway at the Allstream Centre at Exhibition Place, Kay — who’s credited with the ability to spot trends and stay ahead of them — will already be planning the next event: October Fashion Week. “My eyes are really upon what can be better for the next season,” she says.
• This year’s theme is The Power of Style