A Conversation With: Michael Zoffranieri, a name to watch in Canadian fashion
Michael Zoffranieri is a name you should remember: the man behind ZOFF is an up-and-coming Canadian fashion designer with multiple collections, shows, and productions in his portfolio. You would never guess the Ryerson School of Fashion alum only graduated last year; his collections have shown in numerous Ryerson-produced shows (including The Wearable Art Show, Mass Exodus 2016 and #SPLICE16), FAT’s Toronto Art and Fashion Week, and the International Canadian Fashion Showcase (to name a few!).
Glossi Mag chatted with the young designer on his first piece ever, producing a knock-out runway show, and his exciting opportunity with Toronto Fashion Incubator.
How did you know you wanted to get into fashion design?
I believe it was Grade 10, and one of my art teachers had told me they were starting a sewing club. I thought, “Okay, why not try it out.” When my teacher brought out the sewing machines, I got really excited! In that moment I thought I really want to do it.
A few months later one my teachers recommend I do a co-op, and she said I should apply to work with this designer, David Dixon. I didn’t know who that was, I thought it was just someone in the mall. She was like, “No, look him up.” At that point it just pushed me further to understanding what fashion in Canada is about, and it made me more excited about pursuing this path.
What was the first piece you made?
It was a pajama shirt – we had to do a top or bottom. I still have it and I wear it sometimes. It’s kinda horrible [laughs]. It’s cute to look at and remember the process: we went to the fabric store with the sewing club, and we decided on the material. I thought two metres was way too little but it was actually way too much! We got to choose little buttons… it was very interesting, I really enjoyed it.
Speaking of choosing fabrics and buttons, what is your favourite (and least favourite) fabric to work with?
I really love a good hand-beaded article. I love doing it myself or having it pre-beaded and being able to alter it. Lace is one of my favourite fabrics. I really love silk wool, it holds a great jacket shape, it’s a high-end fabric. It comes into collection after collection.
What I hate are the finishes you have to use with certain fabrics: satin faced organza. It’s just super slippery – great fabric, but it’s a really big pain to work with.
This past November you co-produced a show called INCEPTIO – tell us about that.
As the producer of a show, your initial thought it: who is the audience? So we first thought that INCEPTIO would be for industry, and family & friends. That’s what we stuck to. Very simple. Focused on the clothing and the artists within the show. Then you take it one step further: how can we enhance the presentation of the collections? With INCEPTIO, the biggest thing was how can we push the idea of documenting fashion? So we had a double-runway, where everyone has a front-row seat. It garnered a great outcome through social media, and the use of our hashtags. We were able to get some great shots! It was one of our biggest shows to date.
What does it feel like to see your collections on the runway?
Finalizing. Whether it’s a three-month production or a six-month production, it’s nice to have that end and move on from the project. I don’t like the fact that projects can go on for years, so it’s nice to have that moment of finalizing. I like that aspect of the fashion world.
ZOFF has a very “be you” attitude, and the models you use have this alternative vibe: does this play a role in how you design clothes for consumers?
The models that I get to work with, they’re very interesting because they’re models that I’ve met in the past, and we’ve collaborated together before. It’s interesting to see their take on the clothes and get their opinions. I feel like in a lot of fashion situations the models just pop in and out for a fitting, for the show, and I like the fact that I’m not 100% in that realm yet – I still get to create a collaboration with the models.
That said, I don’t envision the model in the clothes first, I envision the woman, or people who identify as female. At the same time, I still think that the woman I design for isn’t necessarily thinking about being unique. It’s a woman who likes to dress herself in beautiful clothing, who likes to treat her body with the utmost respect and adoration, and wants to protect that, but also shine. It comes out as being unique, but that’s not really my first intention.
How do you balance creativity with commerce?
This collection was more consumer-based: simpler shapes, cost-considerate should it go to production, as well as changing perspective on the fabric choice. There are some really great polyester fabrics I got to work with. The goal was to create something a little more accessible to the everyday consumer. It’s important to understand the balance between commerce and creative, as a designer that should always be on your mind.
You’ve been teasing us with your FW17 Steel Signoras collection, which you submitted for TFI’s New Labels competition – what can you tell us about it?
Have I been that blunt about it? I tried to hide it in the hashtags! [laughs] I told myself not to post anything till after the first round, and then after I made it through the first round, I realized, “Yeah, I can do this!” I can push myself, I’m proud of myself for doing this, and I wanted to share a little tidbit. I’ve now made it to the third round, and onto the final judging and hopefully the New Labels show on March 9th!
Steel Signoras is my FW17 collection: the concept is that I’ve been raised by powerful women, and that these women are strong in tough situations and happy situations, and many situations that most women might crumble under. I admire them for that. At this time in the world we need powerful, inspiring images, and I’d love to share the stories that I have with the women in my life.
Who would you LOVE to see wearing a piece of yours?
I’m a big ‘Little Monster’ so of course I would love to say Lady Gaga. Meryl Streep would be fantastic. I envision her in some of the pieces. Jessica Chastain as well, I love her character, what she brings to the stage. And my mom – it’s been a long-time coming, I have a few projects I have to make for her, so I think I should focus on my mom first.
What else is next for ZOFF in 2017?
I’m starting to refocus my vision of ZOFF and a lot of it depends on work projects coming up; I would like to see where the opportunity I have with Toronto Fashion Incubator is going. I really hope I make it to the New Labels show. I’m going to work towards that. At the end of the day, that opportunity will dictate how I focus the business in 2017. In the same breath, I want to take on some creative projects, creating custom garments for clients, because I do think that’s how you connect with the consumer, and that’s always where I like to focus.
Follow Michael Zoffranieri on Instagram.