Toronto Film Festival Fashion: Red Carpet Players and Stylists to Follow, Plus the Parties to Hit

General atmosphere during the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival - Getty -H 2018
Brian de Rivera Simon/Getty Images

TIFF has become the place for awards-contending actresses to make a first fashion impression. This year's fest is also a swirl of parties and swag celebrating Canada's homegrown fashion brands, on the rise thanks to the Meghan Markle effect.

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Sept. 7-17, is not just the most expansive of film festivals, where Hollywood's top Oscar-contending titles premiere; the 10-day Canadian movie marathon now also ranks as one of the most fashionable, too.

In recent years, TIFF’s red carpet has moved out of the shadow of Venice’s to became the place where actresses can emerge both as awards season contenders as well as fashion darlings by displaying directional looks during the epic round of photo calls, press conferences and decadent late-night parties.

Lupita Nyong’o may have started TIFF's fashion rise back in 2013, when she wore a daring pair of hot pants while promoting Twelve Years a Slave. Her experimental, elegant garb made TIFF the place where the red carpet’s traditional dress code turns into something refreshingly surprising.

TIFF 2015’s Brooklyn premiere inaugurated Saoirse Ronan’s grown-up glamour as she worked a pair of cream palazzo pants, which her stylist, Elizabeth Saltzman, had to cajole out of Chanel because the Irish actress was still an unknown fashion quantity.

A year later, a Prada-clad Ruth Negga was deemed a “style icon in the making" by Harper’s Bazaar, after conjuring a 1920s-era flapper at the Loving premiere.

TIFF 2017 kicked off Nicole Kidman’s fashion comeback -- she sparkled on Lion’s red carpet in an arresting midi-length Nina Ricci dress, Margot Robbie’s outing at the HFPA and InStyle party, pumping I, Tonya in a sharp, Swarovski-embellished Saint Laurent black velvet minidress, helped her up her fashion status and nab Chanel’s current Coco Neige campaign.

Off the red carpet, Toronto’s recent coming of age as Canada’s style capital is thanks to the flourishing of several homegrown brands, the ascent of its former resident, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (née Markle) as well as the chart-topping dominance of local rap star treasure, Drake. There’s also Karla Welch, the Toronto-born Hollywood power stylist famed for lending a laid-back edge to Ontario’s mondo pop star, Justin Bieber.

Near TIFF’s headquarters, the slick, steel and glass Bell Lightbox, there has been a profusion of recently opened stores including the Hudson’s Bay Company, Nordstrom Toronto Eaton Centre and Saks. All of this has given new style luster to the festival, which is now in its 43rd year. Here’s a rundown of what to know about TIFF 2018:

Canada Has a Red Carpet You Can Cuddle Up With:

Just asCanadians are famed for being nice and their Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, for being super cool, TIFF's winning reputation resonates casual ease. The vibe is epitomized by TIFF’s trademark red carpet which, though deeply cherry-hued, is distinctively edged with bands of cream, emerald green, yellow and black. The stripes evoke the iconic cuddly wool “point blanket” produced since the 1700s by the festival’s sponsor, Hudson’s Bay Company.

The Style Stars to Watch:

TIFF’s post-Labor Day kick-off period marks the film industry’s equivalent of “la rentrée,” as Parisians describe the city’s post-summer holiday reawakening. The time-off period seems to have an energizing effect on TIFF’s fashion scene as it has evolved to be known as the most eclectic of all festivals. “There’s a lightness to it, a relaxed feel and an ease that defines the dress code,” explains stylist Micaela Erlanger. “You don’t have to be beholden to a ballgown for a premiere. But that’s not to say you can’t go big.”

Erlanger is styling Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany for TIFF 2018’s anticipated premiere of Karyn Kusama’s crime thriller Destroyer. Maslany’s co-star, Nicole Kidman, will be in the hands of Julia von Boehm. And while every major look is under wraps, Erlanger predicts that designer cruise collections will predominate. “Major luxury brands [Gucci, Valentino, Prada and Saint Laurent] usually hold back special pieces from cruise for TIFF,” she explains.

The best red carpet watching can be done via the Instagram accounts of stylists who are masterminding the big appearances. So view @micaela and @juliavonboehm for Maslany and Kidman, respectively, at Destroyer. See @leithclark for Keira Knightley’s TIFF outing with Colette.

View @kateyoung for Natalie Portman’s duo of TIFF premieres - The Death and Life of John F. Donovan and Vox Lux. @karlawelchstylist will be the window on Elizabeth Moss’s look for Her Smell. And, for, Carey Mulligan in Wildlife, see @petraflannery. The @nicky_yates will illuminate a big reveal of Claire Foy who will embark on the last stop of her festival victory lap, now that her film First Man has premiered to raves at both Venice and Telluride. See @cristinaehrlich to find out how Penélope Cruz pulls off for her appearance alongside her husband, Javier Bardem, at TIFF’s international premiere of Everyone Knows.

The Swag:

No festival would be complete without promotional merchandise – a.k.a. swag - and what makes TIFF’s particularly covetable this year is that its lineup of gifting suites are hosted by Canadian brands which originated the insulated, layered and voluminous proportioned protective gear which brands like Balenciaga, Calvin Klein’s 205W39NYC, Sacai and Vetements have all coopted for winter.

While TIFF’s red carpet should be a balaclava-free zone, its celebrity VIPs can go to town and stock up on all manner of heavy-weather gear including coveted Canada Goose parkas. Sorel’s “function-first fashion footwear,” for autumn/winter 2018 can be found at its timed-for-TIFF pop-up boutique operating nearby the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Montréal outerwear brand, Mackage, is making the most of its famed association with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, by gifting some TIFF notables with a limited-edition of the bordeaux-hued Baya Moto jacket. This classic leather biker jacket became known as one of the Duchess Meghan’s “power coats” after she propelled it to sold out status by flaunting it during her first public appearance with Prince Harry at Toronto’s opening ceremony of the 2017 Invictus Games.

The Stylish Local Guest:

She is known as Canada's Gwyneth Paltrow. Jessica Mulroney is Duchess Meghan’s stylist and it is at her Moore Park, Toronto home, that Prince Harry’s better half recently enjoyed a “secret” three-day bonding sojourn. On day six of TIFF (September 13 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.), the statuesque Mulroney teams up with Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine to co-host The Style Social – a shopping evening at Hudson’s Bay Company celebrating the department store’s launch of MR by Man Repeller. That’s influencer Medine’s shoe collection.

Where to Sparkle Like Markle:

Duchess Meghan’s preferred jeweler, Birks (think Canada’s equivalent to Tiffany & Co.), is among a lineup of luxury names lending their clout to promote women’s participation in film during TIFF 2018, where just 34 per cent of the movies are directed by women.

First, L’Oréal brand ambassadors, Andie McDowell and Amber Heard will command the stage at The Worth It Show (Globe & Mail Centre, Sept. 7 at 2 p.m.). This conversation will elevate Share Her Journey, TIFF’s five-year film equality movement. Now in year two, Share Her Journey will gather female industry bigwigs - including Sundance Institute executive director, Keri Putnam, and director, Amma Asante - for a Saturday morning rally on “Festival Street.” (Think TIFF’s equivalent to Cannes’ La Croisette but instead of luxury boutiques and a beach there are vibrant orange picnic tables.)

Saturday night will see a host of female-empowerment themed pow-wows. A special screening of This Changes Everything in which Tom Donahue "explores the insidious and systemic sexism in Hollywood through the voices of marquee celebrities" will take over the rooftop at Bisha Hotel thanks to Vanity Fair’s Krista Smith, The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and sponsor, David Yurman. At Mongrel House that night, Maggie Gylenhaal, the newly minted artistic advisor to Autograph Collection’s Indie Film Project, will announce how Virginia Woolf’s feminist essay, A Room of One’s Own, inspired her to focus the hotel brand’s Screenwriter in Residency Award on women who were shortlisted for the 2017 Black List. Finally, on day four of the festival, Birks will join forces with Telefilm Canada to honor six accomplished females who work in front of and behind the camera at its annual Birks Diamond Tribute to the Year’s Women in Film (Sept. 10, 5-7 p.m).

The Hot Fashion Doc: 

Maria by Callas: In Her Own Words- one of 43 documentaries on the TIFF 2018 slate - will surely elevate the fashion icon status of the legendary soprano, which has been often overshadowed by the reputation enjoyed by her great rival, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Though Maria by Callas is not a fashion documentary per se, its director, Thom Volf, lends a lingering, meditative pace – evoking his experience as a fashion photographer - to craft an intimate sartorial spectacular, which is stunningly portrayed through archive footage.

A feast for the eyes, Maria by Callas reveals both the torturous love triangle which the diva endured - as her affair with shipping tycoon, Aristotle Onassis, carried on after he married Jackie - plus the painstaking expertise which went into the prima donna’s making, from her custom-made Alexandre de Paris wigs to her Cartier jewels as well as her bespoke on and off-stage wardrobe by Elvira Leonardi Boueure--or “Biki of Milan.” This Milan couturier – who was the granddaughter of conductor, Giacomo Puccini - played Hubert de Givenchy to Callas’s Audrey Hepburn and, in 1952, famously convinced the superstar to embark on a two-year slimming regime from which she successfully emerged as one of the world’s most beautiful women.

The Hot Costume Spectacles:

TIFF is the starting block for all manner of Oscar nominations including the Academy Award for Best Costume Design and this year boasts a bevy of films which should emerge as frontrunners including a trio featuring wardrobes conceived by Oscar winners and nominees.

Leading the pack is four-time Oscar winner Milena Canonero whose flair for color lends a striking flourish to the period wardrobe of the comedy western, The Sisters Brothers. (Jacques Audiard’s first English language film). Jacqueline Duran - who clinched 2012’s costume Oscar for Anna Karenina - lends painterly splendor and sharp tailoring to Mike Leigh’s 19th-century British battlefield epic, Peterloo. First Man sees Mary Zophres reunited with Damien Chazelle (she earned one of her two Oscar nominations for La La Land), as she lends a sporty retro jauntiness to this tale of Neil Armstrong’s quest to become the original man on the moon.

As for the dark horses in the best costume design Oscar race, they could include The Crown’s Jane Petrie, for her medieval handiwork on Outlaw King - an epic about the Scottish monarch, Robert the Bruce - Andrea Flesch - whose masterly outfitting of Keira Knightley in authentic period dress and corsetry for her role as Colette’s title character may spark a Belle Époque style revival - and Erin Benach. Renowned for crafting the bomber jacket Ryan Gosling flaunted in Drive plus the flashy wardrobe for fashion horror, The Neon Demon, Benach has updated the fourth remake of the all-time great Hollywood musical, A Star Is Born.

Newcomer Avery Plewes can take the credit for TIFF’s most entertaining costume picture – namely, Jeremiah Terminator Leroy. Her striking wardrobe is integral to this fascinating comedy drama portraying Laura Albert (Laura Dern), tapping into Bay Area fashion bohemia to create the infamous disguise Savannah Knoop (Kristen Stewart) sported as her literary alter ego, JT Leroy.

The Party Moves Uptown:

TIFF’s annual bash hosted by InStyle and the HPFA - the highlight of Saturday night’s jam packed party schedule (there are 11 scheduled and counting) - will see its co-host, the magazine’s editor in-chief, Laura Brown preside over a stunning new venue: Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel.

The hotel occupies Toronto’s 10th tallest building and though it is a bit of a distance from the TIFF Bell Lightbox, it looms above Toronto’s chic luxury shopping zone, Yorkville. Canapés are masterminded by Gian Nicola Colucci the Four Season’s executive chef who arrived in Toronto by way of Lidia Bastianich’s flagship restaurant, Felidia and Venice’s Hotel Danieli. Sunday sees the launch of High Holiday services – with an 8 PM evening gathering celebrating Rosh Hashana - held for TIFF attendees amidst imposing surroundings – the neo-gothic Windsor Arms Hotel (Sunday September 9, Monday September 10, 8 PM.)

Itinerary Recap:

L’Oréal’s The Worth It Show, Sept. 7, 2 p.m., Globe & Mail Centre.

Share Her Journey Rally, Sept. 8, 10 a.m., Festival Street.

This Changes Everything, Vanity Fair & David Yurman, Sept. 8, 6:30 p.m., Bisha Hotel Rooftop.

Maggie Gylenhaal, Garden Dinner Party & Cocktails, presented by Autograph Collection Hotels at Mongrel House, 160 Queen Street, Sept. 8, 7:30 – 9:30 p.m.

InStyle HFPA, Sept. 8, 10 p.m., Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, 60 Yorkville Avenue.

High Holiday Services, Sept. 9 & 10, 8 p.m., Windsor Arms Hotel.

Birks Diamond Tribute to the Year’s Women in Film, Sept. 10, 5 to 7 p.m., The Atrium at Ricarda’s, 134 Peter Street,

The Style Social, Sept. 13, 5:30 – 8:30 p.m., Hudson’s Bay Company.