"We’ve been meaning to do Toronto for a long time," said Rosie Parasuco backstage after sending out a strong show of pimped out, Western and rock ’n’ roll-influenced separates designed around a core collection of lightly rinsed denims.

Indeed, participation at Toronto Fashion Week, which ran Sept 20-25, was at an all-time high. The general sense is that young, as well as established, brands from across the country have come to recognize fashion week in Toronto as an opportunity for fast promotion and for building up one’s business in what increasingly appears to be Canada’s premier center for commerce. And as a mark of how the calendar has expanded, there were as many shows off-site this season as they were on the official Liberty Grand grounds of fashion week. The growing list of sponsors ranged from L’Oreal Paris and Nokia to the Movado Fashion Group and the tony Drake Hotel, the venue for the Toronto Fashion Incubator’s event, which brought together 21 young designer lines.

Yet for all the buzz generated by bigger-name designers, including Parasuco, POW by Andy The-Anh, Denis Gagnon, Morales, Arthur Mendonca, and David Dixon, few collections offered clear themes with designers sending out a variety of hemlines, fabrics and colors for spring.

As models freshly shorn strolled down the runway in perforated-like cotton suits, sleeveless sheer tops, striped shirts, and relaxed trousers with striped pocket detailing, the BUSTLE collection seemed more like an ode to soccer idol David Beckham’s off-field metrosexual style than cabana wear.

Après sport was almost certainly on the mind of Kaadiki’s Haithem Elkadiki, who showed cock and camel-printed tees, pale green tops with an appliquéd keyhole neckline, pants with uniform stripes, and red cotton-linen cropped jackets worn over sleeveless shirts with silver mesh track pants and flip-flops.

Veteran womenswear designer David Dixon opened his show with a mesh-like black hoodie sheathing a tank top and coppery capris. But the collection soon took on a graphic focus, with metallic coin and diamond-patterned laced separates.

Designer Arthur Mendonca’s peach and avocado green floral prints, resembling dabs of lipstick rendered in concentric patterns, created a sense of flow on bias dresses with handkerchief hems. They also played off an otherwise sporty, city-slick collection of cropped pant suits, delicate silk henleys, pleated shorts and pants with grommeted belts.

"It’s all about movement," said Montreal-based designer Renata Morales post-show of her ivory satin grouping of mandarin-collared keyhole neckline tops and high-waisted pants, basketwoven-style Lycra bias maxidresses and gold trousers, and double-breasted trenchcoat constructed with alternating weaves of satin ribbons and floral prints. The look? Portobello Road-meets-Seville as in crochet and lace-over-satin dresses with trumpet hems, or a moss-green jacket made of floral cotton and bleached lace with sequined detailing.

Newcomers Melanie and Kristina Bozzo’s dance-inspired debut of skinny cropped blazers, black silk cap-sleeve tunic dresses, tanks with yellow, pewter and white diagonal folds, pleated v-neck tops with cummberbunds, and pencil shorts with tiny cuffs for Common Cloth also highlighted a trend toward light separates and technique.

Denis Gagnon’s collection of pearl-toned and pale yellow paper-thin leather jackets with multiple collars, bib-vests worn over tanks, sleeveless shirts and tunics for men, and gauzy dresses layered over sequined separates was no exception. Montreal-based Gagnon used finely ribbed cotton mostly on separates, but to cutouts on the body he added tulle and placed seams that ran against the curves of the body. He also sourced underground comics and introduced a "nasty kitten" motif via embroidery on tops and underwear.

Asian influences were dominant in streetwear-based Revolve’s berry-toned stretch poplin mandarin-collared zip-front jackets, tops and wrap tanks and at Wonderlust, where pink and blue hibiscus prints were shown on off-shoulder belted kimono-cut jersey minidresses. The line also offers satin bombers and cotton sateen baggy cropped pants with a high ribbed waist.

House of Spy also showed wrap halter tops in green or lilac silk chiffon with polka dots. Although the youthful line ranged from bubblegum-pink knit tops with star motifs to army green tees with ruched sleeves and stretch cotton pants in cadet blue and earth brown (evoking a slight utilitarian feel), it offered one unique twist to the season, with resort-style matte stretch satin halter tops and stretch twill pants fastened with walnut wood rings.

– Tim Yap, Toronto Correspondent, Sportswear International