On Netflix: Secrets of Selfridges


Luxury department stores are a treasure trove – not only for tony bags and shoes, but stories. Recent documentary films have focused on the high net worth shoppers and salespeople at Bergdorf’s (Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s) and Neiman-Marcus (The Store). Secrets of Selfridges tells the story of the American visionary behind the infamous UK store and his indelible mark on the world of retail.

Harry Gordon Selfridge Sr., was a Wisconsin native who cut his retail teeth at Chicago’s Marshall Fields. He gained early success by introducing new promotional and customer service concepts. He’s largely credited with the phrases “Only X days until Christmas” and “The customer is always right.”

London Calling

In just eight years Selfridge worked up to general manager, then quickly set his sights on taking the department store model to Britain. The iconic Oxford Street store is an architectural diamond, and his American approach to retail singlehandedly changed London culture.

Never before had different classes of British citizens been welcome in one commercial place as equals. For the first time women were encouraged to shop – without escort! – for pleasure. He embraced the women’s suffragette movement early on, gaining him a loyal following. Shoppers could freely peruse and browse merchandise under the guise of “just looking” instead of being expected to buy. No pushy salespeople here, just lots of merchandise.

Excite the mind and the hand will reach for the pocket.

Selfridge believed retail should excite and delight. His promotional tactics were incredibly successful at driving foot traffic. After Louis Blériot completed the first cross-Channel flight, Selfridge arranged to exhibit his monoplane on Selfridges’s first floor, drawing huge crowds.


His lasting contributions to retail are seemingly endless. Bi-annual sales? Credit Selfridge. Bargain basement? Selfridge. Cosmetics and perfume counters on the ground floor? Selfridge! H. Gordon Selfridge’s rise and (spoiler alert!) fall is a fascinating tale of a retail pioneer and an American outsider who becomes the king of London luxury.

On Netflix Canada now.

IMG Shuts Down Toronto Fashion Week

Sid Niegum 2013

It’s the end of fashion week as we know it. Thank goodness.

IMG has shut down Toronto Fashion Week due to lack of funding. While the closure itself is somewhat surprising, many of us in the industry could spot the writing on the wall. Vacancy at the title sponsorship level for more than a season can’t be a good thing. But since IMG’s takeover, the event had turned it into a bloated, corporate beast of a thing. From sponsor activations to designer fees and ticket prices, it was all about the money.

Let’s be clear – the end of Toronto Fashion Week is not the end of Canadian fashion.

Everything seems to be in transition today. The fashion business is being transformed by technology and social media, not to mention financial fallout around the globe. Designers large and small are rethinking, reimagining the purpose of a runway show. But no more fashion week, you ask? What’s this really about?

There are a few things at play here – the first is simply money. Anyone who works in events marketing can tell you how difficult it is to find sponsorship dollars for an event, especially in Canada. Marketing budgets are continually slashed, there’s stiff competition for the same dollars, and the demands to prove a return on investment are high. Not to mention a multi-year title sponsorship of Fashion Week is a six figure commitment. We just don’t have a lot of companies with deep pockets here.

Fashion weeks originated as an industry event for buyers and media but, over time, in order to attract new sponsors, it needed a consumer element. Toronto Fashion Week was one of the first to allow the public in — in fact, this very blog sold the first consumer tickets on behalf of the Toronto shows almost ten years ago. It worked for a while. But perhaps the event didn’t attract enough people – or the right people – to make this worthwhile to marketers in the long run.

The other consideration is the designers —  what did fashion week really do for designers? Participating in the shows was an expensive endeavour for Canadian designers  – creatives who don’t have corporate backing or access to government funding that other arts industries offer. Ideally, a runway show would introduce designers to buyers who pick collections for retail, but our shows happen too late in the season for that. So in essence it was a publicity tool. Sure, you might get some press, but if the consumer can’t find you in a store, what can that really do for your business?

You could say the model was already broken.

There are smaller, independent groups who produce curated runway shows – [FAT] Alternative Fashion Week and TOM* Toronto Men’s Fashion Week – and I expect we’ll see new grassroots shows in the coming years. The biggest challenge facing designers is how to find an audience and generate demand for their clothes in a very cluttered market. That’s a marketing issue, one that a runway show alone will not solve.

Time to rethink, reimagine and recreate the model. Personally I can’t wait to see what’s next.

As we bid adieu to Toronto Fashion Week and all of its title sponsor incarnations (L’Oreal Fashion Week, LG Fashion Week, World MasterCard Fashion Week), let’s take a trip down memory lane of Toronto’s most famous runway. Here are a few flashbacks from the F-List archive.

F-Listed: Candice & Alison Events Group

Candice & Alison photo by George Pimentel

Candice & Alison photo by George Pimentel

As a marketing professional and now a college professor of marketing, the number of diverse career paths one can take fascinates me. Take the event planning business – there are wedding planners, meeting planners, corporate event planners and then, there’s Candice & Alison.

Alison Slight and Candice Chan combined talents in 2009 to create the Candice & Alison Events Group. After pursuing careers separately in event planning, fashion design and marketing, these two Ryerson University grads reunited with a mission to do their own thing. Starting a new business in the midst of a major recession is bold, but starting a luxury events business? Some would call it crazy.

But it worked. Within a few years BizBash Magazine named Candice & Alison one of North America’s most innovative event designers. Of all the events they’ve done – luxury weddings, corporate events like Sharp’s Book for Men party, gala fundraisers like the Right to Play Ball, Power Ball and most recently, the Bata Shoe Museum 20th anniversary – it is the party they planned in honour of their own 5th year anniversary that takes the cake.

“I’m most proud of that event,” gushes Chan. The glitzy party, dubbed #CversusA, showcased Candice & Alison’s level of creativity and high standards of execution. And if their individual work ethic is the same – driven, highly professional – their personal styles are anything but. Slight, the managing director, is a prim and polished morning person. Edgier Chan, the creative director, is a night owl. Their yin and yang became the design inspiration for the event. Festivities kicked off in an elegant all-white theme created by Slight, followed by a dark and sexy rooftop patio party designed by Chan.

#CversusA 5th anniversary bash

#CversusA 5th anniversary bash


#CversusA 5th anniversary bash

“We make every detail a priority from the level of decoration to hospitality. It is always important for guests to be impressed and to feel special.”

Event planning always starts with the client, who has some kind of vision and a purpose for their event. Is it to showcase a new product? To sell? To celebrate? “We have to turn that into something feasible for the event, and manage expectations and priorities along the way,” says Chan. For the Bata Shoe Museum’s 20th anniversary party, the client’s vision was an unexpected discovery through the museum. Candice and Alison brought that vision to life from start to finish – entrance, decor, food, entertainment and most importantly – at least as far as social media is concerned — opportunities for the guests to engage live with the event. “We make every detail a priority from the level of decoration to hospitality. It is always important for guests to be impressed and to feel special.”

Bata Shoe Museum 20th anniversary | photo by Ryan Emberley

Bata Shoe Museum 20th anniversary | photo by Ryan Emberley

What’s rule number one of event planning? Speak the same language as your client. If they want the colour pink, for example, know the precise shade down to the Pantone number. If a client wants Art Deco-inspired décor, make sure everyone is in agreement on exact Art Deco elements. This is why mood boards, renderings and floor plans are the tools of every event planner’s trade – as are comfortable shoes! Here’s more from Candice and Alison:

F-List: What are three ingredients that make a party great?

A: Good food & beverage, the guests.
C: Agreed, it’s the same basic rules as any great house party. The ingredients never change, only the scale and occasion do.

What’s a big event no-no?

C: Line-ups! Ensure there are enough staff at the event for registration or coat check, or invite only a guest count that is manageable.
A: Bright lighting. Lighting makes a big difference in people’s mood and in the way they interact. It should be dim but just bright enough to capture the environment and adjusted over the course of the evening as the party evolves.

What would be your dream event to plan?

A: It would definitely be a wedding or high end gala as they offer a much bigger opportunity for decorative elements. I love the idea of doing something really over the top and romantic in a countryside French Chateau.
C: The Met Gala!

My F-Listed profile series gets up close with leaders across retail, marketing and technology. Know a good candidate? Contact me leesa at divinelab dot com.

Hayley Elsaesser X MYNC

Limited edition lipstick in Pep Talk

Limited edition lipstick in Pep Talk

I love when fashion designers stretch their creative wings on other projects. You really get a sense of their full personality. It’s like hearing a singer cover another artist’s song – their song choice alone says so much about them.

Designer Hayley Elsaesser recently joined forces with MYNC Beauty on a special edition lipstick in “Pep Talk” for Toronto Fashion Week, with 100% of proceeds benefiting Dress for Success Toronto. Dress for Success is an organization close to my heart, having fundraised for them in the past. Hayley made time for a quick interview just days before she was scheduled to debut her fall 2015 collection.

F-List: Can you tell me how this arrangement with MYNC came to be?

Nathalie from MYNC asked if I would be interested in a collaboration with them to raise money for Dress for Success Toronto. This is a charity I have always wanted to assist in some way for many years, so I was more than happy to do it! We came together on a new colour ‘Pep Talk’ for which I designed the packaging.

Your spring ’15 collection (and your hair) is wildly fun and colourful. What role does colour play for you as a designer?

For me colour is essential. As a designer my priority is having fun with fashion, so in order to achieve that I use colour and print. I find it very fun experimenting with colours that normally wouldn’t be paired together in prints to create something fresh and bold.

This is why I love the daring pink colour of the ‘Pep Talk’ lip colour. It is also perfect for the warmer weather around the corner. I also loved working with MYNC and especially designing the packaging as I feel makeup brands are more often minimal, sleek rather than fun, which appeals much more to me.

What can we expect from your fall ’15 show?

This will be my most exciting runway show yet, in my mind at least! I have done my first men’s capsule collection that will be showing on the runway at World MasterCard Fashion Week. I think menswear plays it very safe so I’m ready to inject a bit of excitement into the mix.

Hayley Elsaesser appears at World MasterCard Fashion Week on Wednesday, March 25th at 8PM. For more on Hayley visit http://hayleyelsaesser.com.

The Fifty Shading of Fashion

First there was the book. You know the one. Next came rumours of a lingerie line inspired by the book. Then we heard that sales of men’s ties had increased – along with calls to 911 for handcuff-related emergencies. (Oh, you crazy Brits.)
Now it seems the Fifty Shades of Grey effect has crept beyond the foyer and is standing squarely in the house of fashion and pop culture.  Leather – always a major look for fall – is popping up in more intimate, bondage-inspired scenarios.  Buckle your seat belts, Mom and Dad.  Bondage fashion has gone mainstream.
The Broadway sensation, Venus in Fur, pre-empted Fifty Shades by a year, but its current run at Canadian Stage is right on trend.  The main character, Vanda Jordan, breaks out her best leather corset, stockings, thigh high boots, along with some fabulous acting, to nail the role of a lifetime.  (Aside: this is one of the most captivating plays I’ve ever seen. The Toronto production is fantastic, but only on through October 27.)

photo by David Hou | courtesy Canadian Stage
Madonna shows up in the October issue of Harper’s Bazaar sporting gilded glamour and little else.  The spread – no pun intended – is shot by shock fashion photographer Terry Richardson.  Of course, it’s one thing for the Queen of Pop to get away with leather and chains, but when major designers weave a bit of bondage into their spring 2014 collections, well, I am officially calling it a trend.  
Will Canadian designers will follow suit?  Stay tuned to World MasterCard Fashion Week to find out!
Madonna in Harper’s Bazaar
photo Harper’s Bazaar
Versace spring 2014 | photo by Yannis Viamos | Style.com
Alexander McQueen spring 2014 | photo by Marcus Tondo| Style.com
Libertine spring 2014 | photo by Umberto Fratini | Style.com


The Tools of Engagement

This week I was invited to a spring preview by Montreal-based public relations firm NATA PR. Previews are opportunities for media and bloggers to meet a firm’s clients and their products for the upcoming season. It’s where I discovered Icebreaker®.
Wearing my new merino wool Icebreaker shirt
Icebreaker is a line of active lifestyle clothing made in New Zealand from merino wool. I know what you’re thinking already, wool?! That’s right. Evidently the merino is a tough breed of sheep whose fleece is built for extremes – breathable in summer, insulating in winter, yet exceptionally soft and lightweight. Icebreaker turns this formidable fiber into a system of ultra-comfortable layers for humans. Soft and breathable with no itch or no odor makes Icebreaker perfect for high performance lifestyle. Outdoor, fitness, running, travel – they have you covered. But they didn’t stop there. They even make underwear. The New York Times called it “wool with sex appeal.”
Icebreaker was created in 1994 by a 24-year-old marketing graduate. Looking through the website it’s no surprise they have strong roots in marketing. The brand’s story is thorough and told with witty text, great imagery and videos detailing everything from their evolution to their ethics.  
But this, this really got me:
Icebreaker has created one of the most clever customer engagement tools I’ve seen. Customers can trace the barcode — or “baacode” — of their item back to the actual sheep that produced it. They can see the living conditions of the animal, meet the farmers and learn more about the area New Zealand where they live, e.g,:

“Branch Creek is nestled on the west side of the Cardrona Valley, a skiing and snowboarding haven that served as a location for filming of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.”

Not just marketing, smart marketing. The more the customer reads, the more they are invested in the product. (Of course, it helps to have a great manufacturing story in the first place.) The point is when you’re a brand competing against Gap and Joe Fresh to outfit the yoga or running enthusiast, you need something compelling to get the customer’s attention, because you are likely to lose over price.

Go with what you’re great at, that’s what I say.

Hashtag for the Holidays

I’m a procrastinator by nature, and a perfectionist by design – not a good combination when it comes to holiday shopping. The closer it gets to the holidays, the less likely it is that I’ll find the perfect gift. And then there’s the act of shopping. The crowds? The parking lots? Dragging overflowing bags through the mall? Ugh. 

This holiday I choose to keep it simple. I nailed all of my gifts with three easy solutions to holiday shopping, and so can you! #yourewelcome

Holt Renfrew (#giftsformygirlfriends)
If I do leave the house, it will be this Saturday, December 8th. Holt Renfrew on Bloor Street will host a personal appearance and book signing with author and celebrity blogger – Emily Schuman of the popular blog Cupcakes and Cashmere. Pick up Emily’s new book – or how about one for each bestie – at Holt’s and have it signed by Emily herself between 2 pm – 4 pm. There will be live music and of course, free cupcakes. 
Since 2008, Emily has been offering daily glimpses into her fashion-filled lifestyle to hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide. In addition to highlighting her polished style online, Emily also shares her ‘how-to’ world of cooking, baking, party hosting, and home décor. (I’m a sucker for a great beet-pickled deviled egg recipe.) 
Amex Holiday HotList (#familypresents)
American Express has made shopping easy by offering up gifts from their top online retailers in the Amex Holiday Hotlist. You can save items in a wish list of things you want to give or receive, and share your list with friends and family via Facebook. Because believe it or not, sometimes I don’t want to shop. Here someone has done it all for me. I simply browse the selections of tech, fashion, sports and recreation, toys and so on; pick what I want and check out. Boom. 
eBay (#giftsforeveryoneelse)
If you’re a retailer and not embracing mobile shopping, you’re setting yourself up for failure. (And as a customer, could shopping from your phone be any more convenient?) Mobile has become “increasingly important” for eBay. And the recent shopping figures prove it. On Thanksgiving and Black Friday, eBay’s mobile transaction volume was up 133% over the same time last year. Cyber Monday’s activity was double 2011’s numbers. 
Leading categories on eBay this holiday season include toys, collectibles and tech accessories. They recommend downloading the mobile device app to enhance your shopping experience.  “And shop when you’re inspired,” suggests Andrea Stairs, eBay Country Manager .
I like eBay’s Holiday Collective featuring seven designers including Jonathan Adler, Chris Benz and Ruffian. This limited-edition collection includes gifts for men and women and everything is under $100.  Once again eBay proving their commitment to mobile,  the Holiday Collective launched last month with a pre-sale on the iPhone App, eBay Fashion, a full day before the items were available on the fashion section of eBay’s site.
Look out this February for a special Valentine’s collective that includes Canadian labels Foxy Originals and Dean Davidson.

Caesarstone & Mackage: Home, Home on the Runway

The tents of World MasterCard Fashion Week have literally just come down and my reviews are in – Toronto’s fashion week sponsorship was happening

See, I’m always a fan of our design talent, but given my profession, I watch the logistics of fashion week with a more discerning eye than others.  That’s why sponsorship always intrigues me. 

IMG now has full-fledged parental control over the event, though they have been steering the sponsorship for a few a seasons now. Many activations took the experiential route to showcase their brand’s message. Target? A sponsored media lounge with power outlets, a lounge and a bar (convenience, style). Ritz-Carlton? Constant refreshments for media and VIPs (exceptional service). 5 gum? Endless packs meant we never once lamented unfresh breath (savior to an awkward situation).

It should surprise no one that home brands like Caesarstone and Korhani have aligned with fashion week. They may cover your floors and counters, but the nascence of these products is just as fashion-y as the shoes you’re wearing. 

Caesarstone’s fashion-y collection

Korhani proves it each fashion week with their popular runway show inspired by real life fashions. And honestly, with rugs priced $100 and less, how is a new throw rug for the fall different from a new fall handbag?

Korhani’s Great Gatsby-inspired collection
Korhani on the World MasterCard Fashion Week runway

Caesarstone also capitalized on fashion’s association with interiors. Beyond appearing as just a  fashion week sponsor this season, the company collaborated their Supernatural line with well-known outerwear label Mackage on a runway show and after party at The Spoke Club. “Trends in interior design are often influenced by fashion,” notes Fernando Mammoliti, CEO of Caesarstone. “We feel that the Mackage runway show will serve as the perfect platform to showcase new and innovative designs from both brands.”

This was a great example of how two brands can align in perfect harmony. The stone was subtly visible as a backdrop to Mackage’s runway show and as accessories adorning the models. Afterwards, at the Spoke, guests were treated to a fashion exhibit where Mackage models and Caesarstone’s Supernatural product were displayed over the club’s three floors. Of course the real fun was discovering what else was hidden on each floor — as after parties go, this one was epic. If the endless martinis and oyster bar didn’t impress, surely the waffle station did.

Subtle sponsorship speaks louder than words
Caesarstone’s runway accessories for Mackage
Caesarstone’s runway accessories for Mackage
Caesarstone product sprinkled throughout the Spoke Club

Paul Hardy puts Calgary on Canada’s fashion map

In the weeks surrounding World MasterCard Fashion Week it’s nearly impossible to get Canadian fashion press to pay attention to anything outside Toronto. But last weekend over 25 journalists, bloggers including my trusted assistant, Kevin, and me, flew to Calgary, Alberta to toast designer Paul Hardy’s tenth year in fashion and his spring 2013 show.

And toast we did! Beyond expressing adoration for Paul, the weekend was also a spotlight on all that Calgary has to offer a fashion-forward traveler. From a four-course brunch at River Cafe, during a snowfall no less, to a VIP reception hosted by former Dragon’s Den member, Brett Wilson, to Paul’s runway show and VIP-packed after party, the best of Calgary’s food, fashion and music was on full display. Major shout out to Tourism Calgary and Travel Alberta for making the weekend possible.

Kevin enjoys a Narnia-like scene outside the River Cafe

Paul’s entree into Canadian fashion is somewhat legendary. Over a decade ago, after hearing about his brilliant designs from a friend, Barb Atkin, now fashion director at Holt Renfrew, literally came knocking on his basement bachelor apartment door. It wasn’t long before word spread and he was invited to show at Toronto’s fashion week. “I didn’t know anything about a shoe sponsor or a runway soundtrack, so I showed the collection in bare feet, in complete silence,” Paul laughingly recalled in conversation. “It was fitting since that collection was actually inspired by silence.”

Paul Hardy organizing the 60 looks before show

Paul demonstrated his strength in storytelling with his spring 2013 collection show. Titled Breaking Amish it told the story of a young girl who flees the colony for the big city, ultimately finding herself immersed in the underground speakeasy world of prohibition. As the story evolved over eight chapters, so did the clothes, referencing the character’s struggles and self-discoveries through the fabrics, cuts and detailing. The runway show’s soundtrack came in the form of live performances by musical artists Paul Brandt, Greg Sczebel, Peter Barbee and an ensemble from the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.

Smitten with the cowboy, aka country singer Paul Brandt

Thanks to Calgary’s strong economy, Paul has been steadily growing his business, cushioned by a circle of wealthy, private clients. In the past ten years Paul Hardy Designs has already expanded to knitwear, leathers, special order shearlings, jewelry and soon will include leather handbags. An e-commerce site, expected in 2013, should do wonders to build the brand beyond the Canadian market. Now Paul must figure out how to expand his manufacturing – perhaps beyond its current ‘Made in Calgary’ status – to fulfill the increase in sales that will surely follow.

Paul Hardy’s show warranted a standing ovation
Top photo by Leesa Butler; photos courtesy Phil Crozier, PHOTOPHILCRO.

Rogue fashion week: Jeremy Laing & Sid Neigum

This past week was an interesting reflection on Toronto’s fashion reality. While conjecture flew around what to expect at World MasterCard Fashion Week now that IMG Worldwide is our new big fashion daddy, two very different groups set up camp for a series of offsite shows. 

The shOws featured four international designers with a Canadian connection including Tanya Taylor, Jean Pierre Braganza, Antonio Azzuolo and Jeremy Laing. Laing has long been a darling of Canada’s fashion media. Dividing his time between Toronto and New York, he typically eschews a Toronto showcase for presentations in New York. (It’s nothing personal, Toronto. It’s business, baby.) And while I always find Laing’s work interesting, I don’t always relate to it personally. Not this time. Loved loved loved. 

Jeremy Laing spring 2013
Jeremy Laing at the shOws

On the opposite side of town (and on the same days) were The Collections, produced by the Fashion Collective, which featured up and coming designers like Chloe Comme Parris, Klaxon Howl and Sid Neigum. Neigum is the winner of Toronto Fashion Incubator’s 2012 New Labels competition. Having watched him progress over five months while developing his winning fall/winter 2012 collection, it was a treat to see what he’d do with spring 2013.

Sid’s unisex approach to design has always set him apart from his Toronto design peers, and it seems he’s found a beautiful balance of unisex features and feminine fit. (Praise must be given to TFI New Labels for mentoring him to a stronger, better place.) I found this collection incredibly wearable, while still maintaining that unique aesthetic that’s all Sid. Here’s hoping we can find it in stores six months from now. And may you be our next Jeremy Laing.

Sid Neigum spring 2013
Sid Neigum spring 2013
Sid Neigum spring 2013
Sid Neigum at the Burroughes Building