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Life in the Fast lane: Canadian designer Mark Fast returns home after turning heads in London

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Mark Fast at Ame, flanked by two models in his designs (Photo by Karon Liu)

With such magazines as Rolling Stone, ID, In Style, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and nine editions of Vogue (Korean, Japanese, Chinese, American, British, Italian, Russian, Greek and Spanish) featuring his designs, it’s odd that Manitoba-born knitwear designer Mark Fast doesn’t get more mainstream attention in his home and native land. But that could change shortly.

The 29-year-old was fêted at the Rubino brothers’ new restaurant, Ame, in Toronto on Friday night—a splashy homecoming party following recent successes overseas. Fast, who has lived in England for the past eight years, caused a stir during London fashion week when he chose three plus-size models to wear his form-fitting knit dresses; his stylist quit, saying that the models “didn’t have the walk down as well as the more experienced slimmer girls.” His clothes have recently been spotted on pretty young things, including Gossip Girl star Leighton Meester, and he won a coveted sponsorship from the British Fashion Council to show at London fashion week in February. “All of my ideas came from here, and I don’t want to be hidden away in London forever,” Fast told us on Friday. “Someday I’d like to get a place in Vancouver.”

Wearing a loose untucked shirt and baggy black pants, with wavy blond hair and a cherub face, Fast looks more like a surfer than someone working in fashion. He’s sitting on a low bench trying to make himself heard over the music blasting throughout the restaurant as media and industry types mingle in the bar area. Flashes occasionally go off, though the photographers are disappointed that Canadian model Coco Rocha couldn’t make it due to a late flight. In the back, bloggers congratulate Shinan Govani on his book, and Fashion Television’s Glen Baxter chats with models dressed in Fast’s creations. It’s a peculiar scene for someone who was living in a small town outside Winnipeg a little more than a decade ago.

“There was a subculture of ravers and Goths,” Fast recalls of the local teen fashions. “We had our own sense of style—buffalo chic, or rather bohemian.” He says he has always wanted to be involved in the fashion industry in some way, though he wasn’t a kid who made his own clothes; his mother was the resident seamstress and a source of inspiration for Fast, who would watch her sew at home.

The budding designer moved to Toronto to study patterns and garment making at Seneca College’s Newnham Campus for a year before moving across the Atlantic to get a BA and MA at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design (he graduated last February). Fast’s name is now among the school’s famous alumni: Stella McCartney, Paul Smith, John Galliano and Zac Posen.

As for his signature knitwear, he began experimenting with the medium at the suggestion of a tutor at Saint Martins. “All you have to do is inject contemporary yarn into traditional stitching,” he says of his clothes. “I could take the usual sweater and inject a Lycra yarn into it to completely change it.” Fast says he also gets his ideas from old photographs and movies by such unconventional filmmakers as Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam.

“I could say a bunch of worlds like ‘strong’ and ‘brave,’” he says when asked to describe the woman he designs for. “But I design for just about anyone who appreciates good quality and craftsmanship.” His ideal celebrity model? Tilda Swinton.

With that, he gets up to talk to the dozens of other people hoping for a moment of Fast face time before he flies back to London the next day. But this won’t be the last time Canadians will be hearing of him; he has a few (unannounced) local projects lined up and sees the sartorial sparkle in Hogtown. “You can always find pockets and subcultures of great fashion here. Sometimes Toronto can be more fashionable than London.”