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Checks, tie-dye, baby dolls: It’s all at London Fashion Week

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Sylvia Hui and Gregory Katz, The Associated Press


Published Tuesday, February 19, 2019 12:09AM EST

LONDON — From young talents like Alexa Chung and Simone Rocha to London design veteran Jasper Conran, London Fashion Week showed off a diverse range of womenswear ideas for the upcoming autumn and winter season with a busy day of catwalk shows Saturday.

The spectacle is bringing much needed colour and verve as grey London shakes off its winter blues amid the first hints of warmer weather. A look at some highlights:

HOUSE OF HOLLAND

London may not have Paris’s haute couture or Milan’s grand fashion houses, but the British capital has always been proud to be the wild child on the style front.

That irreverent, street-wise London sass was on full display at House of Holland’s show, where designer Henry Holland threw together ’80s power dressing, Asian dress details and loud, clashing tie-dye prints for his latest collection.

Holland said the show was all about the rebellious, and indeed these were flamboyant, look-at-me statement clothes. Models opened Saturday’s show with tailored coats and jackets in the traditional Prince of Wales check — albeit in bright orange and paired with slinky green velvet animal prints.

Then came everything from patchwork print kaftans, oversized silky pussy bow neckties to denim overalls, all worn with berets, clunky platform boots and plenty of attitude.

Quilted jackets and miniskirts, Mandarin collars and obi tie belts brought an Asian esthetic. The designer emphasized a “global citizen” as his show’s theme and incorporated traditional Cambodian textile techniques into the urban mix.

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MONASTIC CHIC AT JASPER CONRAN

Who knew monks’ garbs could be so fashionable?

High necks, long sleeves, dropped waistlines, skirts that brush the calf or ankle: Veteran designer Jasper Conran took inspiration from “monastic” shapes with a new collection of utilitarian, sleek tunics and dresses that quietly exuded sophistication rather than screamed glamour.

Conran, a founding father of London Fashion Week, dialed down his signature flair for colour for the upcoming autumn and winter season, opting instead for a mostly severe palette of earthy browns, rust, mustard and indigo.

The designer focused on dresses that rival the comfort of sportswear. Some outfits — like several brown-all-over sweater dresses — bring to mind something a friar might wear. But Conran always kept things modern with a thigh-high side slit here, a slashed neckline there, a bright sporty piping or geometric colour blocks.

Conran ditched the covered-up look for the show’s final section, a collection of architectural column gowns. The colours are still understated here, but bare shoulders and sheer organza panels brought out the drama.

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SIMONE ROCHA IMPRESSES WITH IMAGINATIVE SHOW

Designer Simone Rocha turned in a bold, confident show impressive for its variety and thoughtfulness. Even American Vogue editor Anna Wintour skipped her signature sunglasses for a closer look at the stunning array of ensembles.

Rocha seems to grow in stature each year, earning her reputation as one of the major new talents on the London scene. She said the theme Saturday was “intimacy, privacy, security, femininity.”

There was no single look to the show, but Rocha did experiment with outfits that used sparkly bras or camisole tops on top of dresses. Elaborate coat-dresses, some with gauzy skirts, appeared, along with ethereal, pale pink dresses and one extremely gaudy gold number.

A series of gorgeous, black-themed floral dresses, many tiaras, some whimsical Alice In Wonderland dresses and updated baby doll outfits also turned up.

Rocha’s approach was playful, but her fashion intent was serious, and she made a point of using some slightly older models and also ones who were not rail-thin.

She said after the show that she had asked many of her close model friends if they would take part in a show about intimacy and exposure.

“Last season was all about my family, and by the end of it I felt so exposed, like telling everybody about my aunties and uncles,” she said. “I felt like I needed to look in, and I looked at all these photographs of women being exposed.”

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ALEXA CHUNG SHOWS QUIRKY CLASSICS

Model and TV presenter Alexa Chung has a loyal fan base and her many admirers flocked to Saturday’s show in London’s redeveloped King’s Cross neighbourhood. They weren’t disappointed as Chung offered a new collection featuring her quirky, feminine take on classic designs.

For her second London Fashion Week show, called “Off the Grid,” the designer announced she had lost all interest in “prettiness” and was imagining a “gaggle of women” who have retreated to California’s Big Sur coastal wilderness to regroup.

Some of the models wear long coats with matching head scarves that are evocative of the American prairie. Many of the deceptively simple dresses emphasize the shoulders, giving the women an outline of physical strength, and much of the outerwear is masculine in style, particularly a forest green suit.

Chung showed an easy, eclectic touch in a collection that included long black coats, several sexy gold dresses, and a few beautiful green midi dresses, including one that she wore to the show.

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LIFESTYLES

As shopping habits change, Ottawa targets credit card swipe fees

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The federal government is taking aim at credit-card transaction fees as shifting shopping habits resulting from pandemic lockdowns have substantially driven up costs for many small merchants.

The budget released this week promises the government will launch consultations aimed at lowering the average charges — known as interchange fees — paid by merchants every time a customer pays with a credit card.

Though federal officials plan to engage with stakeholders, including credit-card issuers and merchants, about possible changes, Monday’s budget also raises the threat of legislation to regulate fees “if necessary.”

This is the third time in less than seven years that the federal government has pressured credit-card companies to lower transaction fees, which vary between retailers, types of cards and payment methods. In 2014, there was an agreement reached with Visa Canada and Mastercard Canada to lower average fees to 1.5 per cent. Then in 2018 a five-year pact was struck that included voluntary commitments to lower average fees to 1.4 per cent, starting in 2020. (American Express struck a separate deal with Ottawa.)

But COVID-19 has rapidly altered consumers’ spending patterns, creating pressure to revisit that deal. Many of the interchange fees that were reduced applied solely to payments made in stores. As public-health restrictions have forced stores to limit access or close, fewer customers are swiping, tapping, or paying in cash. As a result, businesses are bearing the brunt of higher transaction fees charged for online purchases – unless they pass those costs on to customers by raising prices.

“The pandemic has been a huge driver of credit-card interchange [fees] as people have dropped cash and have moved online,” Karl Littler, senior vice-president of public affairs at the Retail Council of Canada, said in an interview. “It is a rapidly growing cost and was a rapidly growing cost even prior to the pandemic.”

The interchange fees paid by Christina Kotiadis, co-owner of Toronto gift store Lemon & Lavender, have gone way up during the pandemic. She built an online store for the first time to process e-commerce orders, and more customers who visit the store are tapping cards to make contactless payments. She also bought a mobile terminal to take payments anywhere in the store, or at the front door, which charges higher fees than the store’s plug-in terminal. For health reasons, she allows customers to pay with cards even for small purchases and absorbs the added costs.

“I refuse to raise prices. I don’t feel good about it. Everyone is trying to stay safe, and I don’t want to raise the fee because they don’t want to use cash,” she said.

Before the pandemic, about 60 per cent of payments at independent grocery stores were made with credit cards, and the rest with cash or debit cards, according to Gary Sands, a senior vice-president at the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers. Now, more than 90 per cent of purchases are with credit cards as online ordering and curbside pickups become more popular, and the resulting interchange fees are adding up.

“It impacts prices, it impacts the ability of small businesses to stay in business,” he said.

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Ottawa considers taking action against ‘predatory lenders’

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Ottawa will consider lowering the maximum interest rate to stop the “predatory lending” of outfits that make high-interest loans, which anti-poverty advocates say have exploited Canadians during the pandemic.

In Monday’s budget, the federal government announced plans to launch consultations on lowering the “criminal rate of interest,” the maximum annualized interest rate for credit allowed under the federal Criminal Code.

For instalment loans — longer-term credit with high interest — lenders can charge up to 60 per cent annual interest under the usury rules.

Payday loans — high-interest loans that are typically due two weeks later — are exempt from federal rules under a 2007 amendment, if provinces have their own regulations for payday lenders, which all now do. 

Many low- or moderate-income Canadians rely on high-interest, short-term loans to make ends meet or for unanticipated emergencies, leaving them stuck in a cycle of debt, the budget states. 

Anti-poverty advocates have zeroed in on companies like Money Mart, Easy Financial, and Cash Money, accusing them of misleading advertising, not being forthright about the strings attached, and pushing borrowers to take out larger loans at the highest interest rates possible. 

They say the practices are continuing during COVID, when more Canadians than ever are facing financial hardship.

“They’re thriving, because they’re taking advantage of people,” said Donna Bordon, a member of the anti-poverty group, ACORN Canada. “People are afraid of losing their homes, so they borrow money from these places.”

The consultations are a “first step” in tackling predatory lending, Bordon said, adding she hopes they include more than industry representatives, who will sharply oppose any changes.

Despite low interest rates set by the Bank of Canada, poorer borrowers are more likely to lack the requirements to access safer loans from traditional banks. Instead, they seek quick cash from payday lenders, despite the risk of falling into debt they can’t escape.

In Ontario, for example, payday lenders can charge $15 in interest for every $100 over a two-week period — equal to an annualized interest rate of 391 per cent. 

Last July, the Ontario government capped the interest rate that lenders can charge on defaulted payday loans at 2.5 per cent per month. It also set a maximum fee of $25 that lenders can charge for dishonoured or bounced cheques, or pre-authorized debits.

In 2019, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada found that two per cent of Canadians had taken out payday loans in the previous year. The percentage was even higher for Indigenous people, and low-income and single-parent households.

Last month, NDP finance critic Peter Julian tabled a private member’s bill to lower the maximum interest rate to 30 per cent, and to remove the exception for provinces that regulate payday lenders — measures ACORN supports.

The Canadian Consumer Finance Association, which represents payday lenders, said in a statement that while it’s still reviewing Monday’s budget, it’s opposed to lowering the interest-rate limit.

“Instalment loans are long-, not short-term loans, and they provide an important source of credit for many Canadians who cannot access credit elsewhere,” the organization said.

“Any reduction to the federal maximum interest rate will result in removal of access to credit for those Canadians with lower credit scores who previously qualified at the current rates. The government should not take any action that results in denial of credit to Canadians, or forces borrowers to access credit from illegal, unlicensed lenders.”

A survey of 376 ACORN members published by the group last February found 40 per cent of respondents were turned down by a traditional bank before taking out a high-interest loan. Seventeen per cent said they’re now unable to make repayments due to COVID-19.

The federal government should seek ways to provide alternative lines of credit to low-income Canadians, such as mandating banks to offer lower-interest loans, Bordon said.

Besides setting up a complaints process for consumer lending that’s stronger than the provinces’ systems, it should also consider postal banking for rural areas and small towns, she added.

The ACORN survey found that 70 per cent of its survey respondents had once turned to payday loans. Forty-five per cent had taken out instalment loans, an increase from a similar survey conducted in 2016, when only 11 per cent said they’d taken out such loans. 

ACORN represents low- to moderate-income Canadians. Sixty per cent of its survey respondents earn less than $30,000 a year.

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Federal budget 2021: Ottawa ties end of financial supports to completion of COVID-19 vaccination campaign

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The federal government will extend its business and income support programs until the country’s vaccination campaign is complete, but their subsidy levels will start to drop before the deadline for all Canadians to get their shots.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s budget, tabled Monday, sets Sept. 25 as the end date for the direct business and personal income supports the government introduced in response to the pandemic. That is in line with the end-of-summer deadline Prime Minister Justin Trudeau set for the completion of Canada’s vaccine rollout. It’s widely expected Canadians could also be sent back to the polls around that time.

The government proposes spending $15.1-billion more to extend the emergency support programs until September and create a new subsidy, which Ms. Freeland called a “lifeline” for Canadians and businesses in her speech to the House of Commons.

The budget also, for the first time, pegged the cost of Canada’s vaccine contracts at more than $9-billion; however, officials were not able to provide any details on that number, including how much has been already spent or allocated.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce said it was encouraged by the extension of the business supports during the pandemic and cautioned against their hasty withdrawal. “The government must ensure that support is not being removed too early and that the level of support does not decrease too quickly,” president Perrin Beatty said in a statement.

On Monday, neither Ms. Freeland nor federal officials were able to explain why the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy, Lockdown Support and the Canada Recovery Benefit will all decrease before the vaccination program is expected to be complete. The government also did not say whether the decrease is based on metrics such as COVID-19 case counts or vaccination rates.

“No one knows for sure what the course of the virus and new variants will be, and that is why we are prepared to act further and to further extend the supports should the course of the virus require that,” Ms. Freeland said at a news conference.

The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit and the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit are also set to end in September. If the pandemic gets worse, the government will introduce legislation that will allow it to extend those programs until Nov. 20.

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