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Who Knew? For Red Carpet Trends, Look North

The Toronto International Film Festival has become the fashion pacesetter of the premiere season.

From left, Bel Powley, Elle Fanning, Margot Robbie. Left and right: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images; Centre: Rich Fury, via Getty Images.

TORONTO — At 2 a.m. last Friday Grace Jones was in the Broadview, a strip cub turned boutique hotel in Toronto that features pole dancing bars in the guest rooms, wearing Azzedine Alaïa and leading a disco rave.

Several hours later, after Lady Gaga dazzled a crowd of 1,400 with a grand piano performance of her song “Bad Romance” at the stately Princess of Wales Theater, a caftan-swathed André Leon Talley reclined next to Lady Barbara Black (wife of the former media mogul Sir Conrad Black) holding court at a midnight supper party hosted in his honor by the real estate tycoon David Daniels.

These are not, as one might assume, snapshots from a Canadian fashion week, but rather events that took place during the recent Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which began Sept. 7 and ends on Sept. 17. Along with an increasingly visible star quotient, this 10-day event in downtown Toronto has come of age as a new forum for red carpet glamour.

It’s about time. Though since its inauguration in 1976 TIFF has regularly been the first stop for a long line of films that later claim Oscar gold — from “Chariots of Fire” (1981) to “American Beauty” (1999), “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) to “La La Land” (2016) and “Moonlight” (2016) — paparazzi have paid scant attention. Because Hollywood’s Oscar films are typically dominated by men, TIFF’s red carpet was too, and for decades the women headlining TIFF films, including Nicole Kidman, seized the opportunity to play down the glamour and turn up in trousers.

Now, however, all that has changed. If you want to know who is going to set the agenda for the people pages over the coming months, look to the north.

The stylist Elizabeth Saltzman spent August assessing 25 looks for her client Gemma Arterton to wear at TIFF’s premiere of “The Escape.” “TIFF is the cool kid,” Ms. Saltzman said. “It takes place in a northern city at the beginning of fall. It happens just as fashion month starts.”

“The look is about ‘I’m a serious actor,’ because TIFF commands a ton of respect from the film industry,” she said. “But you have to up the ante. You have to start to generate attention. It is the beginning of the buildup to Oscar season.”

Case in point: the blazer and shorts by Markus Lupfer modeled by Ms. Arterton, who both stars in and produced the film. “I didn’t feel like wearing a frock,” the actress wrote in an email. “I wanted a playful take on a suit.”

From left, Grace Jones, Lady Gaga, André Leon Tally. From left: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images; Emma Mcintyre, via Getty Images for Netflix; Leonard Adam, via Getty Images.

Cut to last Saturday night, the premiere of Haifaa Al-Mansour’s film adaptation of “Mary Shelley” (as part of TIFF’s new move to support gender equality, about one-third of the films shown at the festival were directed by women.)

Just after 11, one of the film’s stars, the British actress Bel Powley appeared in a thigh-grazing white Alessandra Rich chiffon number and navigated her way through a sea of darkly dressed film industry heavyweights from the garden smoking area to the bar at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and InStyle’s annual TIFF bash.

Ms. Powley had just left her co-star, Elle Fanning, who was reclining on a wicker sofa in Alexander McQueen, while somewhere nearby was Greta Gerwig, the director and writer of “Lady Bird,” in a graphic midcalf golden yellow and black silk Sophie Theallet dress, sourced by her stylist Cristina Erlich.

“Cher Coulter helped me,” said the meticulously groomed Ms. Powley, referring to the Los Angeles-based stylist who selected her minidress. Ruffly, silken and adorned with a black bow, it was an alluring play on a tuxedo shirt and a demure foil to the black velvet Swarovski-embellished Saint Laurent mini flaunted by Margot Robbie, who was across the room promoting the Tonya Harding biopic “I, Tonya.”

Indeed, minis had something of a moment at TIFF, suggesting the old days of mermaid gowns may be numbered. Following the debut of her documentary, “Gaga: Five Foot Two,” Lady Gaga accepted her standing ovation in a slick silver leather Mugler miniskirt. The next night Andrea Riseborough worked the premiere of the period comedy “The Death of Stalin” in a runway-fresh — and as yet to be seen on a celebrity — off-the-shoulder camel leather Saint Laurent minidress.

Two nights later, Chloë Sevigny supported “Lean on Pete” in an above-the-knee concoction by Andreas Kronthalter for Vivienne Westwood.

Of her own short little dress, Ms. Powley said, “I wanted to wear it because Alessandra Rich dresses very few people. It has an ’80s, Chanel vibe and a boyish element, which I always love.”

The choice was representative of what makes TIFF — unlike, say, Cannes or Venice — special: the opportunity presented by its emerging, rather than established, luxury market to break out unexpected looks by up-and-coming designers (Erdem, Christopher Kane, Nina Ricci) as opposed to predictable pieces dictated by a contract between an actress and a luxury brand.

Perhaps as a result, the executives who control celebrity dressing at exactly those luxury labels have begun using TIFF as a testing ground, dressing new stars to evaluate their red carpet potential. Prada’s bet on Ruth Negga, whom the brand dressed in velvet for TIFF 2016’s premiere of “Loving,” marked her early on as a style-setter to watch.

That came after the breakout 2013 debut of Lupita Nyong’o in “12 Years a Slave,” for which she won the Oscar for best supporting actress.

Her wardrobe at TIFF that year, which included a gold sequined white jersey Prada gown, a sleeveless tangerine Antonio Berardi cocktail shift and a lemon yellow sweater paired with hot pants, became an internet sensation and “launched her relationship with Prada, which culminated in Lupita wearing Prada to the Oscars,” said Micaela Erlanger, the stylist with whom Ms. Nyong’o collaborated.

“Every film festival has a different fashion feeling, a different character,” said Ms. Erlanger, who was back at TIFF this year styling the up-and-coming actress Tatiana Maslany for the premiere of “Stronger.”

If Cannes is the glamazon, and Venice her understudy, with Berlin, Sundance and Telluride as the casual little sisters, TIFF is now “the soft-spoken warrior,” Ms. Erlanger said. “It has a subtle power. A lot of the relationship building starts with TIFF, because what it adds up to is awards season.”

Three Fashion Documentaries to Watch From TIFF

“Gaga: Five Foot Two, directed by Chris Moukarbel. This year-in-the-life feature follows Lady Gaga from massage table at her Malibu, Calif., mansion to poolside meeting with her image consultants and then on to the set of “American Horror Story.” We also see Gaga enduring “open-heart surgery,” which is how she describes the painful process of writing “Joanne,” her fifth studio album.

Of bookending his documentary with extreme close-ups of the performer’s feet shod in the Swarovski-embellished Versace boots she wore during the 2017 Super Bowl, Mr. Mourkabel said they symbolized the connection between his subject and Dorothy Gale from “The Wizard of Oz”: “Like Dorothy, Gaga is that normal girl from Kansas who got caught up in this tornado and ended up in Oz. For me the Versace boots are Gaga’s ruby slippers.”

“Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami,” directed by Sophie Fiennes. Twelve years in the making, this film focuses on both the making of “Hurricane,” Ms. Jones’s 10th album, and her life in Jamaica. Ms. Fiennes captures Ms. Jones savoring fish heads with her grandmother, strutting around in a bikini and acting out.

“I am not a pimp!” she tells a French TV producer after a show rehearsal in which she discovers she is to be surrounded by dancing girls draped in marabou. Fabulously dressed — in Alaïa, Alexander McQueen and an array of Philip Treacy hats — she is also surprisingly girlish as she reveals to Jean-Paul Goude, her former husband, that he is the only man who can make her go weak at the knees.

“The Gospel According to André,” directed by Kate Novack. A pacey cinematic ride through the Vogue contributing editor André Leon Talley’s life begins with his childhood in Durham, N.C., as the gifted charge of a beloved churchgoing grandmother, and continues on through his time at Brown University (where he graduated as a scholarship student with a degree in French), the Rhode Island School of Design (where he partied with the art students) and his career in fashion.

Off Mr. Talley goes to the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute, Andy Warhol’s Interview (Mr. Talley was the receptionist by day and a Studio 54 habitué at night), Women’s Wear Daily in Paris and beyond. It is the Paris section that is most striking, when he befriended Azzedine Alaïa, Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent and experienced racism in fashion for the first time.

Correction: September 21, 2017

An article last Thursday about Toronto’s influence on this season’s red carpet trends misstated the surname of an up-and-coming actress. She is Tatiana Maslany, not Malsany. In addition, the article misspelled the surname of the director of “Gaga: Five Foot Two.” He is Chris Moukarbel, not Mourkarbel. The article also misspelled the surname of the director of “The Gospel According to André.” She is Kate Novack, not Novak. And, finally, the article misspelled the given name of a designer. He is Markus Lupfer, not Marcus.

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