While more than 1,000 A-listers, stylists and fashion editors mingled at a tony cocktail party at The Carlu in Toronto, the six finalists for this year’s Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI) New Labels Fashion Design Competition were backstage, frantically making last-minute tweaks to their runway presentations. After six months of preparation, which included numerous judging sessions, the young designers were set to reveal their fall 2007 collections.

The goal of the design competition, which is held by the TFI and sponsored by ELLE Canada, is to discover and mentor emerging designers so that they are able to successfully launch their lines in the marketplace. The winner also takes home a $25,000 prize package. “All of the finalists showed extremely well, and each demonstrated a promising future in fashion design,” says Susan Langdon, executive director of the TFI. “The judges had a tremendous time choosing the ultimate winner!”

And the winner is… QuelQues Filles

Background Kelly Dowdall, 23, and Sarah Nicol, 23, met as students at Toronto’s Seneca College. (They both graduated from the fashion arts program in 2005.) The New Labels show was the platform for the design duo’s first-ever collection.

Runway-ready “I started sketching designs and silhouettes as soon as I was old enough to draw,” says Nicol. “Granted, my early childhood renderings weren’t exactly pretty, but I’ve always had a passion for it.” “I actually wanted to be a NASCAR driver,” Dowdall says with a laugh, “but after high school I realized that wasn’t going to work, so I went with Plan B!”

Love story “Our collection — Mi Amor, A Victorian Love Tragedy — is based on a book I read as a child: The Nightwood by Robin Muller,” says Nicol. “The illustrations are so mystical and romantic, we wanted to bring them to life in our clothes.” Their designs — voluminous cashmere tulip skirts, theatrical burgundy velvet jackets and form-fitting olive silk bustiers — are flirty and whimsical.

I am woman “The Quelques Filles woman is confident, stylish and fashion-forward,” says Dowdall. “She isn’t afraid to experiment.”

Fan club “I’ve always been a huge fan of Izzy Camilleri,” says Nicol, who has been working as the Canadian designer’s assistant for the past two years. “She has incredible talent. I admire her a great deal!” For Dowdall? “Kimberley Newport-Mimran from Pink Tartan. She is successful, but she still manages to have a family — personally, I find that very inspiring.”

Image courtesy of Paul Toogood