jacob 1 jacob

Jacob will close its doors for good, despite an attempt to reinvent itself as a smaller chain
Hollie Shaw | October 21, 2014 | Last Updated: Oct 21 3:23 PM ET
More from Hollie Shaw | @HollieKShaw

Attempts to keep fashion retailer Boutique Jacob Inc. open as a smaller chain have failed and the company will begin liquidating stores immediately, the retailer said Tuesday.

The news comes after Jacob announced in May it intended to close and liquidate its 92 stores, but later received several court extensions to try to keep about 40 stores open.

“Jacob’s founders were moved and inspired to head back to the drawing board and find solutions to try to breathe new life into the company,” after an outpouring of support for the company in the spring, Christelle Basmaji, company marketing director and daughter of the Montreal-based apparel company’s founder and president Joseph Basmaji, said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The Jacob team worked diligently over the past few months to develop a viable relaunch plan and find new sources of financing. Unfortunately, the increasingly difficult economic context and the significant decrease in mall traffic weakened the company’s fragile financial situation and forced it to close its doors.”

Jacob also filed for creditor protection under the companies creditors’ arrangement act in late 2010 and restructured its operations.

The 35-year-old retailer is one of many small Canadian apparel chains to buckle under the competitive pressure from much larger fast-fashion chains such as Loblaw’s Joe Fresh, Forever 21, H&M and Zara. Le Chateau, Reitmans, Danier and Bikini Village have struggled with slower sales and closed unproductive stores in recent years.




Lauren La Rose, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, October 20, 2014 7:20AM EDT

TORONTO — From London-based Erdem to Milan-based DSquared2, some of Canada’s top talents have made major waves in the fashion world since setting up shop across the Atlantic. Now, Christopher Bates is hoping to make a splash of his own.

Eight years since Bates first moved to Milan to study fashion, the Toronto-based menswear designer is returning to the style capital in hopes of further expanding his label.

Bates said DSquared2 — helmed by twin design duo Dean and Dan Caten — is an excellent example of how to successfully transition from smaller homegrown origins to a larger platform.

“They started their business off in Canada and in Toronto and got some good traction here and support and they moved to Milan and took the next steps in their career. I think that’s a natural evolution for a Canadian designer to take,” Bates said in an interview ahead of his spring-summer runway show at Toronto’s World MasterCard Fashion Week on Wednesday

“In my opinion, Canada has been the perfect incubator for my brand to grow and to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and to get to a point where it’s strong and then: ‘What next?’ I think for me, it’s Europe for many reasons.”

In addition to creating custom suits, tuxedos, coats and dress shirts for men, Bates designs seasonal collections in his ready-to-wear line. His label is carried by Holt Renfrew and a number of boutiques, with fictional leading man James Bond among the style icons who influence his dapper designs which offer a modern take on classic styles.

While he will divide his time between Milan and Toronto, Bates plans to produce all of his clothing in Italy and wants to be on the ground there to work closely with manufacturers. He has also hired a European sales director whom he’ll be working closely with to help expand his business across the continent.

“Europe is still the world’s biggest luxury market and any success that I have there, (it will) reverberate around the world, whereas in Canada, it’s more of an isolated market,” Bates said. “It’s a smaller market, it’s a good market, but relatively, in a global sense, it’s quite small and isolated.

“Any success that I have here really kind of permeates throughout Canada. And my goal from day one is to become an international designer.”

Bates attended fashion and design school Istituto Marangoni which counts Domenico Dolce of Dolce & Gabbana and Franco Moschino among its famed graduates. The 35-year-old was initially drawn to Milan for his schooling because of the city’s established fashion tradition.

“There’s such a great opportunity now for me to work with these manufacturers and to have this really world-class product so I’ll be able to sell more clothes. But I’ll also be developing a very strong brand founded on the highest quality standards.

“Aside from that, it just happens to be where I have my best connections and people in place and people who believe in me and want to help me, and be a part of it and help me be successful,” he added. “I went to Milan in the first place because in my opinion, that is the heart of fashion, particularly in menswear. There’s just such a legacy there that I’ve wanted to be a part of and to adapt my brand accordingly.”

Bates was among the designers who took part in the inaugural Toronto Men’s Fashion Week this summer, and was recently announced as a nominee for menswear designer of the year for the upcoming Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards.

With the recent opening of standalone store Holt Renfrew Men and high-end retail players like Saks Fifth Avenue poised to enter the Canadian market, Bates said he looks forward to the chance to expand his line to both newcomers and existing retailers here at home.

“People are seeing menswear now as a large market and a viable business,” Bates said. “It’s not as niche as it was when I started.”

Read more:




tim blanks

LONDON, United Kingdom — “We did what we imagined Warhol would be doing at that time,” said fashion critic and Style. com’s editor-at-large Tim Blanks, with a slight shrug as a smile crossed his animated face, crowned by a shock of silver hair and dominated by dark, expressive eyes. To hear Blanks speak of his undergraduate years is to be transported to a world viewed through Andy Warhol’s frenetic, shaking camera lens. “Lots of parties, a lot of dressing up; drinking inordinate amounts of vermouth and scoffing handfuls of Nembutal, dancing around for an entire weekend to ‘Child of Time’ by Deep Purple — I was drawn to bad behaviour.”

Blanks was raised in Auckland, New Zealand. Music became something of an escape and obsession for the prodigiously intelligent teenager, who attended university at the age of 15. “I was academically precocious, I guess. I just wanted to get it done. I know probably just about every pop song released between 1962 and 1968, which is when I was at school — all the lyrics, everything. I used to lie in the bath for the entire Hit Parade every Thursday; it was my oasis.”

More than a refuge, music allowed Blanks to identify with a distant reality. “At school I didn’t look freaky, but I was fat, spotty and probably quite hairy. All of that pushes you away from your peers and so the things that you love — music and musicians — you become even more passionate about them. They are how you identify yourself. Then you start to crave that world.”

Blanks was determined to get out of Auckland. “In New Zealand, we didn’t have fashion; we never got musical groups touring. It really was the end of the world. You had to make your own fantasy; there was nothing to feed it. I was obsessed with David Bowie, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan, Roxy Music, Andy Warhol. I wanted to be places they were.”

In 1974, a 20-year-old Blanks touched down in London. “The day I arrived in London, just there, right off the freeway was the Hammersmith Odeon with David Bowie playing. That night on Top of the Pops, Sparks sang, ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both of Us’ and I thought, ‘Yes! I am home.’”

Blanks quickly dove into London’s music scene. “I was writing for a free music magazine from New Zealand called Hot Licks. It was incredible. I would go to gigs all the time, do things that I had only read about in books. In those days you could interview pretty much anyone by just calling them up.”

Over the next four years, a newly peripatetic Blanks became a radio host in New Zealand, a telephone exchange operator in Sydney (“which was actually quite fabulous, a real drag queen job”), a cleaner for Lawrence Durrell (“the guy that wrote the Alexandria Quartet”) and a faltering would-be English teacher, stranded in Athens on the way to Cairo.

Music may have been his “obsession” but fashion became “an interest.” In an era when you were what you listened to and you wore what you were, music and fashion were inextricably linked. “Fashion was just around. People wore fashion. They don’t wear fashion anymore, you don’t see the extreme things; people wore the extreme things.”

He did, however, nurture his interest. Where once his grandmother’s copies of Time and Life had given him a window into the world, Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin’s 1970s shoots for the French and British editions of Vogue would draw him to another.

Blanks’ “various picaresque adventures around the world” eventually returned him to London, “by mistake,” in 1977. “I was sort of a homemade punk. I had bleach blonde hair, so they wouldn’t let me into Singapore, because at the time they wouldn’t admit men with dyed hair.” But the unintentional sojourn in the British capital did not last long. Having become “a full-on seditionist punk, wearing all the dangerous shitty clothes that people were getting beaten up for, without raising a ripple of interest,” a disagreement with his boss over his attire saw an intrepid Blanks decamp to Canada.

“Toronto was a very good city to be in at that time. It was so open, amazing for music and had tonnes of fashion; every newspaper had a fashion supplement, which was unheard of then. Brands used it as a testing ground for the United States’ market. Montana, Mugler — we had so much Mugler and we would wear it, poncing around the street.”

“I freelanced for a little while, but then thought I needed a real job and the only magazine that had a full-time job was Toronto Life Fashion. It was so accidental. I could have been a film reviewer, a city reporter. It could have been completely different.”

“The first shows I went to were during spring couture in January 1987 or January 1988. It became something I just absolutely loved doing. There was just so much to say and it was a much more complete package in a way, because there was music, sets, hair and makeup, clothes and insanely gorgeous women. The shows were so enormous and extravagant that you were spoiled.”

A particular favourite was John Galliano’s 1998 “Ballets Russes” show for Dior. “It looks incredible on television with all the women coming down and the butterflies, but what you didn’t see was every nook of the Palais Garnier had something going on; Nijinsky was there and, then, the Marchesa Casati would come round the corner. It was so overwhelmingly romantic and mesmerising. We were spoiled rotten by this gorgeous excess, but then at the same time there would be the incredible rigour and emotional overload of a Helmut Lang show.”

After only a single year at Toronto Life Fashion, Blanks pitched a pilot for a new television programme to air on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). The show, Fashion File, would elevate televised fashion journalism to new heights and become the CBC’s most widely distributed series, syndicated in more than 120 countries. Blanks’ 17-year run as the programme’s host would distinguish him as one of the most intelligent and immersive international commentators on fashion.

Surprisingly, Blanks only began reviewing shows in 2005, when he began writing for the newly launched, a year before his departure from Fashion File. “What was immediately obvious to me was that I didn’t know the terminology. I could only write about it the way that I responded to it, which was seeing what the designer wanted me to see. People would say, ‘Did you go to the showroom?’ and I would say ‘No, why?’ I am writing about what the designer wants me to see, what they show me of this collection, which seems truer. Galliano always said ‘The show is the parfum, the essence.’ You could and can extemporise from that anything that needed to be said of the collection. I don’t need to write about the 25 navy blue suits the stores are going to buy.”

Now, as editor-at-large of, Blanks’ workload during show season can be highly demanding. “I tend to end up, back in my room, at the end of the day, with a load of work to do,” says Blanks. “I find it very hard to write in the car and then of course darkness falls and you can’t see anything, you can’t see your notes. Sometimes I drink white wine, sometimes green tea. I will always have my first or last sentence or paragraph written while at the show. I am not a chronological writer; I like to write in blocks, often the last paragraph and then work back. I try to break it up more and more so my mind doesn’t lurch into this rut.”

But, convivial and connected, Blanks continues to make time to go backstage after each show. “I do like a sense of a designer’s voice. Often I can’t use it. American designers are very, very polished and the words can be quite empty, but someone like Lacroix was just a gold mine, it was tortuous, but it was so, so, honest. I always look forward to Prada, because even if I am not liking what I see on the catwalk, I just love what she says about what she does, always.”

Whereas Cathy Horyn brings a wider industry context to her writing and Suzy Menkes grounds her reviews in history and an appreciation for technical details, Blanks’ critiques are overwhelmingly informed by his polymathic cultural fluency. “I am not particularly conscious of it,” he says. “I wouldn’t want it to become self-conscious.”

“People do say, ‘Oh that was so gratuitous, why do you always write about the music, who cares about the music?’ And I say, ‘Well I do and I think a lot of people do. It is another way in; another way of explaining what it is you saw. The Craig Green show last season was clothes and music. No snowstorm, no glitter bomb — there have always been intimate stunningly impactful shows. The music is part of that.”

Be it subculture, high culture, queer culture, fashion culture, Internet culture or pop culture, Blanks is versed in all, having lived his life gamely experiencing a wide range of cultural inputs. “There aren’t a lot of people who have all these pictures in their heads from first-hand experience. Fashion respects the voice of experience.”

“The Nineties was a big decade for fashion because people were actually in the moment; they were there, not behind a smartphone or tablet, but there, living it. You have to live in the moment, respect the primacy of it, so you never look back and think, ‘Damn, I wish I had done that.”

This article originally appeared in the second annual #BoF500 print edition, ‘Polymaths & Multitaskers.’ For a full list of stockists or to order copies for delivery anywhere in the world visit




Up on the slopes at Val d’Isère or Verbier, they probably don’t spend an awful lot of time dwelling on the humble circumstances of the Hutterites, living in their colonies on the exposed prairies of western Canada.

And yet it is to this transitory Anabaptist community – which has spent 400 years fleeing a succession of persecutors on an exodus from Moravia in Eastern Europe to the uplands of Alberta and Manitoba – that many of the best-clad in this winter’s ski resorts will owe their snugness. The Hutterites do lots of business with Canada Goose.

A company that started out providing practical outerwear to those working in or around the Arctic Circle, Canada Goose has grown to become fashionable not just among skiers and climbers, but with the urban smart set from Milan to Tokyo.

The brand’s essential component is the Hutterite down which is found in every Canada Goose jacket. The Anabaptists raise large, free-range herds of geese and ducks in the prairie fields and sell the down as well as the meat. Each ounce of down has some two million filaments of fluff that interlock, trapping the pockets of still air which provide insulation. The finest down, many would say, emanates from a mature Hutterite goose.

During the past few winters, Canada Goose’s distinctive parkas, with their coyote fur-lined hoods, have become increasingly popular, in spite of the fact that many of its products sell for close to £1,000. Annual revenues have grown from £2.7m in 2001 to £81m in 2013.
The expansion of Canada Goose from a little-known family business to a globally-recognised and highly-coveted clothing label is largely the result of the vision of one man: Dani Reiss.


He sits down amid clothes rails groaning with Canada Goose jackets in the marketing offices the company has recently opened behind London’s Oxford Street to pursue further European growth. Despite his transformational role, Reiss, aged 40, is no outsider. He was five years old when his father first brought him to the three-storey factory in downtown Toronto to have his hair ruffled by the women stitching together the hardwearing coats. “All the ladies, the sewers, were like family,” he says. “Some still work for Canada Goose and they are like my grandparents.”

As a high-school student, Reiss spent each summer holiday working at the factory. “I was in packing, finishing and the shipping department, I was in reception and typed letters, and I was in the down-filling room filling jackets with down,” he says. “I did every job except for sewing – I still don’t know how to operate a sewing machine.”

And yet, for all this practical experience, Reiss harboured no ambition to take the reins at a business that his grandfather had founded in 1957, before he was born. In fact, as a teenager he wouldn’t even put on the “functional, utilitarian and northern” garments. His parents “tried to get me to wear them as a kid [but] I wanted to wear denim jackets”. Canada Goose was so clearly a product for more austere, distant climes that it didn’t even have a retail outlet in its hometown.

“The business was definitely in decline and I was not attracted to it. My parents told me, ‘Whatever you do, don’t do this, because the clothing industry > is hard – you should become a professional’.” He went to the University of Toronto with the intention of becoming a short-story writer, but another holiday job, designed to raise money for student travel, lured him back to the family firm full-time.

His first proper job at the family firm was to make sales calls to the multiplicity of small north Canadian airlines whose workers were among Canada Goose’s most loyal customers. “They all wore our clothing. I started to learn the stories behind the products and the people that used them. It was eye-opening because, until that point, Canada Goose to me was ‘the jackets that my dad made’.”

Reiss became increasingly aware that many of the firm’s competitors were outsourcing production to the Far East. “I remember sitting at my desk and reading about two companies leaving Canada and thinking, ‘Wow, everyone’s leaving’.”

At a trade show in Germany, he was told by a local buyer that the principal appeal of a Canada Goose jacket was its point of origin. “If I wanted a jacket made in China, there are plenty of German brands to choose from,” he was advised.

Reiss became convinced that the jackets which he had spent his teenage years refusing to wear could become a national icon. He decided that his jackets were the equivalent of a Swiss watch and retaining a ‘Made in Canada’ label would set them apart from the competition.

The distinctive logo is not, as some wrongly assume, an outline of Canada itself, but is still a reflection of the brand’s geographical roots. “It’s the inverted North Pole. The white land mass is the ocean and the blue are islands,” he explains. The badge was designed by Reiss’s father David in the early 1980s. David also designed his own down filling machine, which was until recently still in service. For years, the company was filling jackets for famous American outerwear brands such as LL Bean and Timberland.

By the year 2000, Reiss decided to drop the parallel ‘Snow Goose’ brand his father had founded because it was confusing buyers.


Sweden was the first foreign country to see Canada Goose as fashionwear and the label started to become visible on the streets of Stockholm around eight years ago. The company – which sold a majority stake in December to the US private equity giant co-founded by Mitt Romney, Bain Capital – now operates in 50 countries. Although Stockholm is the site of its European back office, the London facility is important. “From a trend-setting point of view, this is a great place to be.”

The move beyond Arctic utility to urban chic is reflected in products such as the Branta black label range (“Branta is Latin for black goose,” Reiss points out). “It’s a collection we have focused only on contemporary fashion stores. It’s intended for urban use – that said, it maintains the integrity of all Canada Goose products which is function first.”

The lightweight 10-denier Hybridge range, which weighs less than half a pound and can be easily packed away, is popular with city commuters and contains the coveted 800 fill power Hutterite white goose down.

Reiss says that a high-number “fill power” isn’t necessarily the clue to quality in a down jacket. The Expedition Parka, designed for Antarctic scientists, is 625 fill power duck down because the weight of its three fabrics would be too much for a higher fill. “When there is more structure to the jacket we use lower fill down, which means more feather and more fibre,” Reiss explains.

Like any smart modern marketer, he knows it makes good sense to show corporate responsibility. The company attempts to maintain strong relations with Inuit First Nation communities, setting up Canada Goose resource centres in northern Canada. “We send materials and zippers and different kinds of fabric that we give away to [First Nation] communities,” says Reiss. “Those people make authentic Inuit clothing and they make it for themselves, they have been doing that for thousands of years.”

He says that genuine Canada Goose clothing is a common sight in such communities, despite its high cost. “People make investments up there and they keep our stuff for years. There are financing programmes for Canada Goose jackets.”

The company anoints ambassadorial figures as ‘Goose People’, such as the four-times Iditarod sled-race champion Lance Mackey, ultramarathon runner Ray Zahab, and Laurie Skreslet, the first Canadian to climb Everest. In Europe, they have appointed the more genteel Ben Fogle, travel broadcaster and poster boy for Typhoo tea.

But the growth of Canada Goose has been achieved without spending on advertising, and a reliance on word-of-mouth recommendations on the warmth and aesthetic qualities of the jackets.

That reputation is threatened somewhat by a surge in fakes, mostly from China. “We have a big counterfeiting problem,” admits Reiss. He has been to China and seen the fakes for himself on the market rails. “The big picture is that China needs to get its intellectual property laws in order. I think they will once they start to develop brands of their own,” he says hopefully.

Such products are not only inferior, they are unsafe, he says. “It’s not down in there, it’s mulch. We found chicken feathers and all sorts of other things. It’s actually a health risk. The hypothetical value of the materials you use is 25 cents a pound. The down we use is approaching $100 a pound.”

Urging buyers to stick to authorised retailers, Reiss says: “The worst thing that can happen for us is that someone who wants to buy a real one ends up buying a fake one.” Wearing a fake coat on a mountain, “you could get hypothermia”.

After staking everything on maintaining Canada Goose’s reputation for functionality, Reiss says that could never happen with a genuine garment, no matter where you are on the planet. “Hutterite down is the world’s warmest natural insulating property,” he says. “You could be in the most freezing environment ever and you would still say ‘I am hot'”




This season, Joe Fresh is all about benevolence. Canada’s largest fashion brand has just announced that it will not be showing at Spring 2015 show at the upcoming world MasterCard Fashion Week. Instead, its Monday night slot will be filled with a party “recognizing the achievements of the Canadian fashion industry.” Co-hosted by IMG Fashion, the party will serve as the launch pad for the Joe Fresh Fund, a new program that will support emerging design talent in Canada.

We’ll be following up with more information about the fund, which seems especially poignant in the wake of Jeremy Laing’s recent departure from the industry.



CAFA 2015 1


October 16, 2014
 Nick Lee
 awards, fashion

Ahead of the 2nd annual Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards (CAFA), the 2015 nominees were announced on the evening of October 14th at the Spoke Club.

Following in the footsteps of Elisha Cuthbert at last year’s CAFA award nominee announcement ceremony, Kardinal Offishall held the duties of reading off the list of CAFA 2015 nominees this year.

New and exciting categories include the Fashion Blogger of the Year Award. I don’t think anyone is surprised by the nominees in this category (The Coveteur, Beckerman Blog, Tommy Ton, Jay Strut) – too bad it’s so short is all – above all, it’s just great to give attention where it’s due. The Canadian fashion scene needs it. One of those fashion blogger nominees, Jay Strut, was in attendance.

The winners will be selected by the official 2015 CAFA jury panel: stylists Brad Goreski and Leslie Fremar; Coco Rocha, Jeanne Beker; chief creative officer at ALDO, Douglas Bensadoun; FLARE Magazine editor-in-chief, Cameron Williamson; FASHION Magazine editor-in-chief, Bernadette Morra and more TBD.

At last year’s inaugural CAFA 2014 gala, it was a star-studded affair for Canadian fashion including our own supermodel Coco Rocha and many countless more.

This year’s CAFA 2015 will be held on January 31st, 2015 once again at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. Ask anyone who was there – it was a great time last year – so be sure to at least make it to the “lively after party”. It will surely be a night to remember.

Here are your Canadian Arts & Fashion Award 2015 nominees:

The Womenswear Designer of the Year Award
Christie Smythe & Andrea Lenczner, SMYTHE
Marie Saint-Pierre
Mikhael Kale
Melissa Nepton
Kirk Pickersgill & Stephen Wong, GRETA CONSTANTINE

The Menswear Designer of the Year Award
Wings + Horns
Philippe Dubuc
Frank & Oak
Christopher Bates

Swarovski Emerging Talent Award for Fashion Design
Sid Neigum
Matthew Gallagher
Malorie Urbanovich

Swarovski Emerging Talent Award for Accessory Design
Kat Marks
Noelle Hindi
Jon De Porter

The Outstanding Achievement Award
David Dixon
Michael Budman & Don Green, ROOTS
Lida Baday
Marie Saint-Pierre

The Accessory Design of the Year Award
Jerome C. Rousseau
Ela Handbags
Jenny Bird
Herschel Supply Company

Sephora Image Maker of the Year Award
Jake Rosenberg
Gabor Jurina
Max Abadian
Tommy Ton
Leda & St. Jacques

The International Canadian Designer of the Year Award
Thomas Tait
Mikael D.
Steven Tai

The Stylist of the Year Award
Zeina Esmail
Liz Cabral
Juliana Schiavinatto
Susie Sheffman

The Model of the Year Award
Heather Marks
Daria Werbowy
Jessica Stam
Anais Pouliot

The Fashion Blogger of the Year Award
The Coveteur
Beckerman Blog
Tommy Ton
Jay Strut

Photos of the CAFA 2015 nominees announcement event by Nick Lee




“How excited are you about Fashion Week?”

I was recently asked that question as I sat on a stool in a Toronto studio, a camera’s looming lens ready to capture my response. I had been invited to partake in a small film project celebrating Canadian fashion and was encouraged to expound on how things had evolved over the past three decades, since I first started reporting on Fashion Television. “How far do you think the scene has come?” the interviewer probed. I felt that I had to bite the bullet and be honest.

Am I excited about Fashion Week? The idea of celebrating talent is always exhilarating. We don’t do it enough in this country. And in a business that’s fraught with perils and pitfalls, where you’ve got to fight like a dog to pay your bills and hang on to your integrity while you reinvent the wheel at least every six months – well, every player who’s still standing each season deserves a whopping reward. Do we have outstanding talent in this country? We do. With a number of fine fashion schools, including Ryerson University’s, which has produced a handful of international success stories, Canada has managed to nurture a generation of progressive thinkers who respect what has gone before them but are determined to blaze new trails. Many are innovators who pay their dues in the gritty trenches and manage to ride the industry seesaw with aplomb. It’s never easy – not even for those fortunate enough to be backed by family money. The fickle fashion arena is unforgiving: It doesn’t suffer fools and, while it may perpetuate illusions, it also provides ruthless reality checks. It will build you up just to tear you down. Those who survive must be exalted. And those venturing out must be cheered.

How far has the scene come? Not far enough. The talent has been there in spades, but what saddens me is that, as worthy as our seasoned veterans are, very few have had the power to become household names. Longevity and growth beyond our borders has also been problematic for some. I think back to the Canadian stars who rose to prominence in the 1980s. There was Alfred Sung, who was backed and brilliantly marketed by the legendary Mimran brothers and established a brand that is lucrative to this day, though the label’s namesake designer rarely surfaces. Wayne Clark, dubbed Canada’s King of Glamour, is still in business and makes beautiful dresses, but his brand has nowhere near the reach and exposure it once did. Brian Bailey has made a solid commercial success of his business, yet the lion’s share of it remains within Canada. Franco Mirabelli, another astute businessman, has also sustained himself nicely in this country and, like Bailey, has built a legion of loyal fans. Montreal’s Marie Saint Pierre has garnered huge respect over the years for her forward designs and maintains her business, though it hasn’t been easy. And no one can vouch for that better than Denis Gagnon, one of French Canada’s greatest design treasures, whose avant-garde sensibility is revered, though not always rewarded. There are other Canadian designers who have certainly made their mark over the past three decades and continue in the business to varying degrees: Simon Chang, Dominic Bellissimo, David Dixon, Linda Lundstrom, Hilary Radley, Catherine Regehr, Stephan Caras, Joyce Gunhouse and Judy Cornish of Comrags, Joeffer Caoc, Izzy Camilleri – all wonderful talents who soldier on but don’t rule the kinds of empires that their established American or European counterparts do. Then again, with a smaller population and a more timid entrepreneurial spirit, brand-building in this country is an overwhelming challenge.

Our biggest international bright lights are Dsquared’s Dean and Dan Caten, the brothers from Willowdale, Ont., who aimed to occupy the world stage back in the mid-eighties and now rule the roost from their perch in Milan. There are others who are following suit, including Montreal’s Erdem Moralioglu, who has built a brilliant name for himself in London. Winnipeg’s Mark Fast is also winning accolades in London, as is Ottawa’s Todd Lynn and Montreal’s Thomas Tait. Rad Hourani, also from Montreal, set his sights on Paris, as did Toronto’s Calla Haynes. I’m thrilled we have such strong representatives waving our flag on foreign shores. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if they could’ve made their voices heard from home?

But there’s a price to pay for staying in this glorious country. This past year, when two of our best-loved designers, Lida Baday and Jeremy Laing, closed shop, I had to ask myself, “What does it take to really make it here in Canada?” It’s certainly loads more than mere talent and tenacity. Yes, there are some fantastic burgeoning fashion brands on the horizon, and new online opportunities are destined to change the shape of things to come. But I still worry about logistics. Big American retailers are moving in, fast and furious. We all have to pray that they’re going to recognize the value of what’s intrinsically Canadian, and how supporting these brands is vital to our national identity and, ultimately, our sense of ourselves. Then we have to get out there and shop – invest in our own, support homegrown labels, make a lot of noise about them. It’s time for Canadian fashion to rise up and show the world it matters. And it’s up to us to strut it proudly.





Som Kong, left, wears pieces from Rani Kim’s fall 2014 deconstructed-chic men’s collection. Rani Kim wears an LED-light-enhanced sleeveless jacket from Som Kong’s debut line.

Som Kong and Rani Kim

Friends from Ryerson University, Rani Kim and Som Kong will be showing their first Fashion Week collections just months after graduation. Kim, who was born and raised in South Korea, currently juggles both a full-time position as product-design assistant for Joe Fresh and her own men’s line, Rank by Rani Kim. Hailing from Hamilton, Kong, whose eponymous line includes both men’s and women’s wear, was exposed to fashion through his mother, a seamstress for Levi’s. “I sewed darts before I even knew what darts were,” he says. While in school, both landed good internships: Kong at Danier and Greta Constantine, Kim at Jeremy Laing, Farley Chatto and Astrid Andersen in Denmark. “We’ve been head-to-head with a lot of things,” Kong says, “but it’s never been about competition.”

As recent graduates, what does it feel like to enter the fashion world?

Som Kong: What I appreciated from school was the set schedule: You knew what was going to happen next. You’re constantly learning, making mistakes. You don’t really have to worry about finances. Now, time is very valuable – especially if you want to own your own business. I feel more responsible.

Rani Kim: It is a little bit scary; I’m not going to lie. But I love it. I really enjoy it.

The business of fashion is a tough one. Are you prepared?

RK: It is tough. But then, what isn’t tough?

SK: When you try to wrap your head around how tough the business is, it becomes tough. But when you kind of just do it without thinking, ignorance is bliss. It’s not always a great thing, but making mistakes is the best way to learn. When you have the mentality that you can do it, you’re halfway there.

RK: I should really think more about the business. It’s not that I don’t think about it, but I’m the happiest woman when I’m sewing. If I keep doing what I love, it will eventually work out.

Many Canadian designers end up moving abroad. Do you have those aspirations?

RK: In Toronto, men’s wear is really booming right now so I want to start here. I really do believe that if you can start in Toronto, you can do anything overseas as well.

SK: I was set to move to New York right after graduation. I had the money; I was ready to go. When Toronto Men’s Fashion Week came along [in August], I decided to stay. I think Toronto is the best place to make mistakes and grow.

How important is keeping manufacturing in Canada?

SK: I don’t think it’s realistic, to be honest.

RK: It’s so expensive.

SK: With any business, it comes down to the budget. I hope to have my own manufacturer one day in Cambodia, where there’s no language barrier [for me], and have my own fashion house there while being located here.

Where do you see yourselves in five years?

SK: I don’t want to be looking for a job; I want to be creating jobs. Manufacturing comes into the picture. Sweatshops are constantly on consumers’ minds, with big companies having to go to Third World countries to get cheaper prices. With the whole [labour controversy] in Bangladesh and because of social media and increased awareness, people know where their products are coming from. So if I were able to own my manufacturer, I would pay my employees enough for a decent standard of living.

RK: In Korea, all the men have to go to the army for two years after graduating, so, for two years, I’m going to do anything that I can do, anything that’s available to me. Any opportunity, I’m going to take it. Eventually, I really want to have my own established brand. It doesn’t have to be big, but I want to sell in stores internationally.

Matt Robinson, left, wears a black-on-black ensemble by Michael Thomas Bálint. Michael Thomas Bálint wears head-to-toe Klaxon Howl, designed by Matt Robinson.

Matt Robinson and Michael Thomas Bálint

“I am a lot older than a lot of people in this industry,” says Matt Robinson, the 44-year-old behind Toronto men’s-wear label Klaxon Howl. The fashion veteran has been mentoring up-and-coming men’s designer Michael Thomas Bálint, who launched his namesake line, Thomas Bálint, in 2010. The two designers first crossed paths at Toronto Fashion Week (now World MasterCard Fashion Week) in 2011 and have “become inseparable since,” jokes Bálint. Robinson and his long-time business and life partner, Lena Kim, took a liking to the young designer, whose now-shuttered store was close to their own, even helping him with technique. “What we share in common is our love of classic clothing pieces, form, function and fit,” says Robinson. This season, both designers are debuting women’s pieces at Fashion Week.

We tend to think of fashion design as a very glamorous job. Do you think young designers have a good understanding of the industry?

Matt Robinson: They don’t really know what they are in for. They are looking at blogs and fashion magazines and think that’s what the industry is. And everyone wants to be a designer. Try and find somebody who wants to be a sewing-machine operator, a pattern drafter, a cutter. [Designing is] why everyone starts a line and they only last a couple of seasons.

Michael Thomas Bálint: I just closed my store [in Toronto]. A big portion of the clientele were fashion students, so it was really hard to watch these kids come in and know that they are going to have to struggle so much.

MR: It’s also timing. We were going to be picked up by Harvey Nichols Hong Kong, Opening Ceremony – there are always these great opportunities and you get all excited and then it doesn’t happen.

Neither of you are particularly trend-driven designers. Has that been a challenge in promoting your brands?

MTB: My grandma drafted the blazer [Robinson] wore for this shoot decades ago. She was a tailor. I use her pieces in almost every collection. It’s important to the brand.

MR: We usually hit trends before they even happen. We did Hawaiian shirts last summer before Prada did theirs. But I never know until somebody in the industry is like, “Oh, you’re really on trend this season.” You make these pieces that are timeless yet not boring, with great fabrics and colours, good construction and fit: Why do I have to reinvent myself every season?

MTB: For the past couple of seasons, I’ve been going to [my showroom in] Paris and [buyers] have a totally different mindset. You have to have a really strong history, along with your brand, and a strong story to tell with it. It’s frustrating that the people who really care about this stuff are so far away; it costs so much money to be able to take your collection [to Paris]. We have an amazing Fashion Week, but it’s just all press.

MR: I’m always optimistic that next season [of Fashion Week] will be better. We get some great pictures out of it and we use that.

MTB: I did get really good press last season, but that didn’t translate into sales.

MR: [Fashion Week is] good for reminding people that you’re there and that you’re still doing what you’re doing, and to create a certain desire for what you make.

Matt, in the 20-plus years you’ve been in the business, how has the Canadian fashion scene changed?

MR: It’s definitely bigger, way more people are doing it. But there is way less manufacturing. I mean, there’s still manufacturing here for the smaller labels. There’s no way you can start a line and go immediately to China or India. But even when we were doing large-volume sales, our mantra has always been “made in Canada.”

MTB: When I had the shop, it was always very important to tell people where the fabrics were from and where everything was made. All of my fabrics are from First World countries. There’s definitely nobody dying at my expense. I think the whole Joe Fresh thing [in Bangladesh] was a pretty big eye-opener, and then everyone forgot about it.

Hilary MacMillan, left, wears a reversible reclaimed-fur vest from Leah Antoinette’s line, Elan + Castor. Leah Antoinette wears a pheasant-print blazer and blouse by Hilary MacMillan.

Hilary MacMillan and Leah Antoinette

Hilary MacMillan and Leah Antoinette met several years ago through their publicist and, as Antoinette recalls, “it was friendship at first sight.” This season, both women are showing their collections at Fashion Week – a first for Antoinette, who designs under her label Elan + Castor. The line of intricate knits and captivating floral prints pays homage to Antoinette’s grandmother, who taught her how to wield a pair of knitting needles, a skill she later honed while studying knitwear and textile prints at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. MacMillan, who attended the Blanche Macdonald Centre in Vancouver, is presenting at Fashion Week for the third time. Her classic ladylike silhouettes and fearless use of pattern (her spring 2015 prints are based on sunsets) have been well received – she has established a Paris showroom and is carried in boutiques south of the border.

What are some of the challenges you encounter running your own labels?

Hilary MacMillan: There were a lot of times when it was trial and error, and things didn’t exactly always workout the way I wanted them to. I made some stupid mistakes, but you learn and you change. I think shipping is a nightmare. I hate shipping! Leah Antoinette: Time and money. It’s really [about] making the right decisions and trying to get yourself out there. I’ll say it: I don’t think there’s a lot of support for Canadian designers, period. So it’s trying to be aggressive in the market, trying to stay in Canada and also trying to get your name out there internationally, because that’s how you’re going to get more recognition here.

What does Canada need in order to support labels like your own?

LA: Because I was in the States [for school], I saw what was going on there more than what was going on here. They have CFDA [the Council of Fashion Designers of America], they have a lot start-up programs for young designers. It’s superfrustrating because there’s a lot of talent in Canada. A support system – even tax breaks – would help, because you can keep selling and keep selling, but the bigger you get, the more expensive it is to run a company. Both Hilary and I are lucky enough to have financial backers, but not everybody has that. And retailers don’t really support Canadian designers as much as they should.

HM: Even the fact that there is not a really good Canadian trade show is telling.

How much retail buying happens at Fashion Week?

LA: None. We are past [the buying season].

HM: If someone fell in love with your line and they had extra money in their budget, they might.

LA: Or they’ll keep you in mind for next season.

HM: If they like you now, they’ll call you up for fall 2015. But Fashion Week is mostly for publicity.

You both manufacture in Canada. Is that important or just convenient for a small business?

HM: It’s important to me. We talk about supporting Canadian designers, so at the end of the day that should include supporting Canadian manufacturers. You also get better quality control and you can do smaller numbers. If one store wanted a style no one else bought, you can accommodate that.

LA: Half of my manufacturing business is in Canada and half of it is in L.A. because I couldn’t find a knitwear production house here. But if I have a chance to support Canadian manufacturers, I do as often as I can.

Do you both plan to stay in Canada?

HM: I’d like to stay here.

LA: I’d like to stay here at least part of the time. This is my home: I was born here. If I can make a go of it here, I definitely will, but I don’t know.


These interviews have been condensed and edited.

Makeup, hair and grooming by Taylor Savage for TRESemmé Hair Care & M.A.C Cosmetics/

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