Canada a designing nation? Even five years ago the idea would have seemed absurd. Yet today you can go into almost any large retail store in this country and find clothes that bear testimony to the talent of Canadian designers. You can also find them in New York and Hong Kong.

Throughout the ’40s and ‘50s there were specific attempts to develop Canadian talent-mainly couturiers sponsored by textiles mills some of whom had a few things reproduced by manufacturers.

Elen Henderson was creating children’s wear for exclusive stores. Irving was gaining an international recognition for ski wear. But these were exceptions. Almost all Canadian manufacturers depended heavily on New York resources. Either they were licensed by New York firms to use their patterns or they made weekly trips to the American fashion centre to pick up ideas-or both. Many still do.

In the ‘60s the picture began to change-and fast. Urged on by government and industry sponsored fashion shows and design awards, by the challenge of export and by the evidence and pride fostered by Expo ’67, forward thinking manufacturers began hiring their own designers rather than depending on U.S. resources.

Probably the first designer to be seriously promoted by a Canadian manufacturer- not only hired to design a complete line but given his own label and press show- was John Warden, the young protégé of Auckie Sanft. A dean of the coat and suit industry, Mr. Sanft set the pace. Soon other manufacturers took up the challenge-and not just in the high-price field.

Makers of young, with-it clothes to sell at young prices jumped on the bandwagon. One of the most successful was jack Margolis. In 1966 he formed Boutique Bagatelle and hired Margaret Godfrey to do the designing.

Today Maggie’s’ Canadian –made dresses and sportswear are exported to the U.S. and she designs coats, raincoat and men’s wear to a U.S. firm under a licencing arrangement.

In the fast-moving market of today, buyers are continually on the lookout for something new and different. Canadian designers, particularly those in Montreal are subject to a different environment from that of their counterparts in the U.S. Many of them came from Europe and others are becoming more and more Europe-oriented. Hence they come up with the look which is is different.

Then too, many of the firms for which they design are comparatively small. They can be flexible-switch from one fad to another almost overnight-a feat that is quite impossible for the giants producing for the mass market of the U.S.

During the ‘60s, not only not only cutters but also textile companies woke up to the potential of original design. Dominion Textile launched its Mahri collection with prints designed by Claire Miron. One of her prints for spring ’71 added sophistication to Leo Chevalier’s cape costume sketched on the cover of this focus Canada supplement. Brock Mills hired Khadejha and recently commissioned Francoise Labbe, a Canadian –born artist living in Paris, to create a group of Canadian inspired prints.

House Designed.

Government and industry are both doing much to encourage good design in this country. The Canadian Cotton Council was on of the early sponsors of design awards. There were Coty awards for Canadian Designers in 1966. Union Label awards have been presented annually since 1951 and the Ontario government inaugurated the annual Eedee awards in 1965. However neither the union label nor the Eedee awards stressed originality.

That was left to the Federal Government, which this year launched its Fashion/Canada program. Its main criterion is that every entry sent must be designed as well made in this country.

All the entries accepted by the evaluation committee bear the Fashion/Canada hangtag and are being widely promoted.

An increasing number of young Canadian ae looking to design as a career and the Fashion/Canada program as plans to help them get established in Industry. “If, of all places, Hong Kong is concerned about its ability to compete solely on the basis of productivity and price. Canada should be obsessed by the importance of design,” Trade Minister Jean-Luc Pepin has said.

In 1967 and again last year Du Pont of Canada sponsored the Canadian Designers of Tomorrow design contests for final year students in Canadian schools of fashion.

Style was among the first promoters of Canadian design. In the early ‘50s our editors lent their knowhow and their voices to encourage member of the Association of Canadian Couturiers working with Canadian mills. Since then STYLES concern has been continuous.

In 1969 this publication compiled the first ever directory of Canadian designers. During the past year a number of changes have taken place. New designers have come to the fore. Established designers have gone from one firm to another or broadened their scope.

So we have compiled a new directory for 1970. It includes some 50 names, all of whom are working with major manufacturing companies. There are others in the country equally talented.