A step up for local designer Taran Cheema at Vancouver Fashion Week (w/gallery)

Published: August 29, 2013
Vancouver Fashion Week

Vancouver designer Taran Cheema with some of her creations Vancouver, August 28 2013. Gerry Kahrmann / PNG


It’s a long road ahead for aspiring fashion designer Taran Cheema.

But the 22-year-old Vancouver native and recent graduate of New York City’s Parsons School of Fashion has already been given her first “step up.”

Vancouver Fashion Week producer Jamal Abdourahman caught a glimpse of Cheema’s senior collection from her graduating year at Parsons and immediately knew he had to sponsor her and show the collection at the upcoming fashion week, which kicks off Sept. 16 at the Chinese Cultural Centre downtown.

“It’s not going to be easy trying to get my name out there,” said Cheema, a former VFW intern, adding that she’ll probably head to London, England, for her masters before she can land a job here.

“(But Vancouver Fashion Week) chose a couple of designers that they’re willing to sponsor, so I’m grateful to be one of them.”

“It’s a step up . . . (and) it’s definitely a networking opportunity — having to intern for them, I know how many people they invite for their fashion shows, like bloggers and media.

“I’ve been working really hard on this collection (and) it’s really great to hear that people are interested and want to know more about it.”

According to Abdourahman, he “couldn’t believe” that the bold and colourful couture photos he saw on Facebook was the work of the recent graduate. “It’s beautiful, beautiful work,” he said.

At VFW, Cheema will showcase five looks — each one consisting of three bright, colour-blocked garments, all draped over the model in layers.

“(My collection has) a lot of colour, it’s very geometric shape-based, it’s very futuristic, it’s a lot of colour-blocking,” said Cheema. “Initially when people see it they get confused, but I think once they realize the layers, it’s something magical.”

The collection, along with most of her work, is inspired by her Sikh ­heritage.

“The way the garments are put on is unique — they’re kind of wrapped like a sari, or a turban,” she said. “It’s more meaningful if I bring my culture into it and I’m always drawn back to it.”

Having grown up in a Sikh household, Cheema says she always finds herself incorporating henna designs, beadwork, or the bright and beautiful colours often associated with her culture in her designs.

Showcasing young, local talent like Cheema is the goal of VFW, said Abdourahman. “This is what we want to accomplish. Vancouver Fashion Week is meant to highlight and create a platform for designers — local designers,” he said.

“When it’s someone from home, from here . . . it’s extra special.”

Sara Roka

Designer Sara Roka. Handout

Abdourahman also makes a point of showcasing local success stories, such as North Shore-raised Sara Roka, who now runs her own label out of Italy.

“(I’m) not a success story yet,” Roka said humbly from her home just outside of Venice.

The Kwantlen Polytechnic University graduate interned at high-end labels such as Michael Kors and Valentino before creating her own Sara Roka clothing line in 2009.

While building a life in Italy seems glamorous, “it’s not so easy,” she said.

“It’s a tough world. As far as choices and designers, there’s just too much stuff out in the market.”

But even considering the struggling European economy, Roka says it’s still much more difficult to become a designer in Vancouver.

“There’s a big push as far as acting or singing — there’s a 50 per cent law with music on the radio and there’s a huge push with creativity as far as acting goes — but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of incentive for designers,” she said.

“You can’t make boutiques have 50 per cent Canadian designers.”

But Roka says the West Coast fashion scene is moving in the right direction with VFW, which didn’t even exist when she left the country in 1998.

“Now we’re the second largest show in North America from New York Fashion Week,” said Abdourahman, who started the event in 2001.

Having extended its reach to include international designers, VFW has gone from a two-day, four-designer event to six days featuring up to 16 daily shows.

And while the extravagant show is global in scope, the heart of it is local — which is why Abdourahman is so eager to share Cheema and Roka’s “unique stories.”

“It’s not something you see everyday,” he said, “They’re amazing talent and designers.”



Taran Cheema's designs for VFW

Picture 1 of 6

Jamal Abdourahman, organizer of Fashion Week, and local designer Taran Cheema with some of her creations Vancouver, August 28 2013.Gerry Kahrmann /PNG

Sept. 16: Opening gala and sneak preview of designers’ collections, 7 — 11 p.m.
Sept. 17: Opening day, runway shows begin with local, international designers, including Sara Roka and Shelley Klassen of Blushing Designs, runway shows 5 — 8 p.m.
Sept. 18: Emerging, Canadian designers, including four students from LaSalle College design students and local designers Evan Clayton and Dandilion Wind Opaine, runway shows 5 — 8 p.m.
Sept. 19-21: Local and international established designers, including Ha Sang Beg, Veejay Floresca and newcomers Noe Bernacelli from Lima, Peru and local upstart Indiverve, runway shows 5 — 8 p.m.

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