The Road to Havana


When Trump recently rolled back Obama’s initiatives to open lines of trade and communication with Cuba, he dashed many American’s dreams of visiting. For fifty years this fair land has been a tropical destination for everyone but America. Canadians love its close proximity – just 90 miles from Key West, Cuba is an easy three-hour flight from Toronto.

I’ve been enthralled with Cuba since my 20’s, since Buena Vista Social Club. I loved hearing my great aunt’s stories of her pre-Castro cruise trips to Havana, where she’d scour the flea markets for cool jewellery. I didn’t have the option to visit until becoming a citizen of Canada. I love a beach vacation, but I was especially interested in seeing Havana. In planning my first Cuban adventure I relied on the knowledge of my travel companion and frequent Cuba visitor from Travelful Life. We decided on the Melia Varadero, a popular beach resort along Cuba’s Hicacos Peninsula.

Varadero to Havana
If you’re staying in Varadero, you’re close enough for a day trip to Havana. Take a bus from your resort if you like the group tours, but I recommend hiring an English-speaking driver to take you for a private tour in a vintage car. (You can opt for the round trip drive and a self-guided tour.) Either way, agree to a fee in advance.

En route to Havana, do make a pit stop at Puente de Bacunayagua, located an hour outside of Varadero. Here you can stretch your legs, take some scenic photos (see video below) and enjoy one of their famous pina coladas. It’s also a good place to ogle classic cars if that’s your thing. (It’s totally my thing.)

In Havana we saw the most visible impact of Cuba’s political isolation. Decrepit infrastructure. Buildings falling down or halted in mid-construction. Kids hustling tourists in the street for money. But the beauty, the raw beauty of the streets, the music and the people was inspiring. There is an infectious joy to Havana, so slow down and dig in.


Hemingway legend is all over this city, the most famous being the Floridita where he drank 16 daiquiris with no sugar and double rum. While crowded and overpriced, you can at least revel in the air conditioning. Take a stroll along the Malecon, or scoot over to the Christ of Havana sculpture for a little perspective on life (he stands 15 meters tall).

No Logos
When I’m not vacationing, I spend a lot of time reading or talking about brand marketing. From that perspective it was jarring not to see Coca-Cola or Walmart everywhere. But I’m thrilled to have visited before U.S. corporations take root in Cuba. Some may mourn the end of an innocence when the (inevitable) American commercialization hits, but the Cuban people deserve more than an oppressive life in a 1950’s time capsule. In the meantime we can embrace them.

Well, we can. Sorry, America.

Canada’s Fashion History Lurks in Cambridge


At a recent fashion industry event, I was catching up with a writer friend of mine over a glass of wine when she dropped a bombshell.

“I just came from a Dior exhibit at the Fashion History Museum. Did you know we had a Fashion History Museum?”

Say what? I confessed I did not.

As she went on to explain her discovery of this little gem, we exchanged genuine shock and surprise that it even existed. If we – a seasoned journalist and a blogger – claim to have our fingers on the pulse of fashion in this country, how did neither of us know…

  1. Canada has a museum on the history of fashion.
  2. It’s located over an hour outside of Toronto.
  3. There’s a Dior exhibit on now.


Located in a small heritage building downtown, the Fashion History Museum is a cheerful advocate of the role fashion plays in this country. In addition to its tiny homage to Dior, which includes designs made exclusively for Holt Renfrew, the museum features a hearty collection of Canadian fashion in celebration of Canada’s 150th. The opening statement for this exhibit, Fashioning Canada Since 1867: 150 Years of Canadian Style, could be our industry’s new mantra:

Canada is the only nation that can say fashion is the reason for its existence.

So unapologetic for Canadians, eh?

It takes under an hour to cover the entire museum, but admission will only cost you five bucks. If you’re going to be in the Kitchener or Guelph area this summer, plan a side trip to Cambridge for some Canadian culture that doesn’t include beer and hockey. The Dior exhibit closes July 9th.

International Fashion Exhibits

If vacation travels take you further afield – such as London, Paris or the Netherlands – check out FashionUnited’s round up of 2017’s must-see international exhibits. Take note of the dates, as some exhibits may have closed.

Downtime at the Drake Devonshire


Photo courtesy the Drake Devonshire

(This post was updated May 2017.)

The Drake Hotel often gets credited with helping draw people to an emerging West Queen West, that downtown Toronto strip of Queen just east of Dufferin. And deservingly so. Upon opening in 2004 it not only ushered in a new kind of boutique hotel experience, it set the stage for hipster lifestyle before hipsters even existed.

Less than a decade later the brand expanded to the financial district with a restaurant called Drake One Fifty. Last fall they did it again, this time in Prince Edward County – specifically Wellington, Ontario – with the Drake Devonshire. The brand’s extension into a lakefront inn has been done beautifully.

“The Drake Devonshire flirts with the luxury summer camp in English country house style.” ~ Paris Vogue

Prince Edward County offers a bounty of things to do in the summer – beaches, cycling, wine tasting, antiquing. But even if you don’t leave the hotel, your time at “Drake by the Lake” won’t be dull. The Drake brand is rooted in design, art, music and culinary excellence. There is always something happening.


photo by John Cullen | Travel + Leisure


As with the original Drake, the Devonshire’s guest rooms and suites come in all shapes and sizes. The rooms have been meticulously designed and outfitted with custom furniture and millwork, mixed with antiques and vintage pieces, and feature original artwork. Some even boast balconies that overlook the Lake and the property.

Fish Fry Friday

photo courtesy of Drake Devonshire


I met Matthew DeMille, Devonshire head chef, a man who brings plenty of big city experience and a wealth of knowledge on the local area. Everything is a nod to PEC. His ‘farm and lake to table’ philosophy extends all the way to featured wines from the region’s many wineries. There’s nothing precious about Drake’s food, not with special events like the Good Friday Fish Fry or a Terroir Run Pasta Party, but it aims to please. Don’t overlook their well-stocked beer list and cocktail program which is always ahead of the trend.


Here’s another thing Drake fans will recognize. The Devonshire features a rotating exhibit of work regularly with a new show installed every couple of months, as well as an ongoing Artist-in-Residence program. Even the guest rooms are an exhibition unto themselves.


Devonshire’s weekly calendar listings include open mic nights, live music performances and events like flow yoga. And since hipsters have babies too, they offer kid-friendly, mid-afternoon Highchair Hangouts for parents and little ones.

Room reservations and other Drake Devonshire information available here.

Pack Rat’s Guide to Traveling

Last month I attended the TFI Press and Buyers Brunch at World MasterCard Fashion Week. It’s a showcase of up and coming designers, and as such, a chance to discover a new brand. I always come away with one particular name that sticks. This season it was Ebby Rane.
Ebby Rane is a travel company aiming to revamp the suitcase for the jet-setting, luxury – and likely female – consumer. Its first product, the Quartermaster, is a carry-on fit for a weekend excursion. Ebby Rane (a nod to the creators’ grandfathers) takes design inspiration from the bespoke trunks that accompanied voyages in the Victorian era. 
The Quartermaster by Ebby Rane
It comes in three colour combinations. Beyond its beautiful exterior, the Quartermaster’s magic lies in the patented packing system that includes ten carryall inserts plus a leather clutch. It distills packing for a weekend down to a science – though its hefty price tag (roughly $1,000.00) leads me to believe I haven’t quite achieved the jet-setting status they’re going after. 
For the fashionably inclined, packing for a weekend trip can be challenging, at best. Whether its business or personal travel, there are shoes and accessories to consider not to mention the airlines restrictions on liquids and weight. I’m no expert in this arena (you’ll find me at the baggage carousel), so I called of some of most jet-setting friends for their hottest tips on packing light. 
Suzanne Cohon of ASC Public Relations, Inc. hits the road for business and personal travel frequently.  “I always pack white tank tops (as they go under everything), a blazer, large scarfs and a great pair of jeans. These essential pieces give me lots of options and flexibility to dress for any occasion.”
Yes, but what about shoes, I counter?  Suzanne’s tip: “I try to travel with minimal options – one pair of flats, one pair of heels and one pair of trainers in case I have a moment to go for a run/ long walk. And always wear your largest shoes when you travel. It saves room in your bag.”  
Bustle Clothing’s Shawn Hewson admits, “I’m the worst packer.”  As a designer, he’s solved part of that dilemma. “One item I always like to travel with is a knit blazer. It’s super handy when you’re travelling, since it folds up easily and fits in something the size of a toiletries bag if you need it to. 


Bustle’s French Terry Knit Blazer
“Since it’s a knit,” he continues, “it looks good even after it’s been folded, and it’s comfortable for moving through airports, lounges and planes.  And it’s always good to wear a blazer in the airport – helps to reduce your chances of being “randomly selected” for additional screening.”  Sage advice.
Holt Renfrew’s Lisa Tant takes a methodical approach to packing. “I make a packing list based upon where I’m going and the main purpose of my trip – personal or business. I’ve learned the hard way to not just throw things in a case the night before. I ended up in Paris for two weeks once with a suitcase full of boring black clothes.” Quel domage!
“I make sure that every piece can be worn more than one way and that I have my roster of wear-everywhere basics – jeans, black leggings, cashmere cardigans, a raincoat and motorcycle boots. I believe in layers and I always pack comfortable shoes including boots, cool sneakers (my new Nike Air Knits will be perfect) and flats. A couple of oversized patterned scarves are essential as is a roomy, but small, cross-body handbag.”
Nike’s Air Knit sneakers keep Lisa Tant comfy when traveling
“I make sure that every piece can be worn more than one way and that I have my roster of wear-everywhere basics – jeans, black leggings, cashmere cardigans, a raincoat and motorcycle boots. I believe in layers and I always pack comfortable shoes including boots, cool sneakers (my new Nike Air Knits will be perfect) and flats. A couple of oversized patterned scarves are essential as is a roomy but small cross-body handbag.”
When travel requires a mix of business and pleasure, packing smart is absolutement a requirement. Designer Monica Mei packs pieces that can do double duty. “Women love the Aime Olivia pant that can take them from the boardroom to drinks by just adding a smokey eye, statement necklace and sky-high heels.” In fact, Monica was so inspired by her recent travels she designed an entire collection for chic jet-setters. I’ll dish more on the Aime by Monica Mei Seasonless 2014 collection next month.
So now we know what to pack. My next question is, how to fit it all in? Stay tuned for A Pack Rat’s Guide to Traveling Light – Part II coming soon.

A Fashionable Art Tour

As summer wanes to an end, it begs the question – what did you do?  Where did you go?  And how you will spend the next few weeks? The summer of 2013 was blessed with an endless array of fashion exhibits.   Major cultural institutions around the world put fashion front and center.  What’s your pleasure?  Designer retrospective?  High end costume jewelry?  Queer fashion?  If you happen to be in any of these cities before the end of September, you’re in luck. 


Friends of mine recently stumbled upon the Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity at The Art Institute of Chicago.  This internationally acclaimed exhibit lets you stroll through late 1800’s when Paris was the style capitol of the world. 
The exhibit’s description expands on the state of affairs in Paris: “In the second half of the 19th century, the modern fashion industry was born: designers like Charles Frederick Worth were transforming how clothing was made and marketed, department stores were on the rise, and fashion magazines were beginning to proliferate.”
Luscious life-size figure paintings by Monet, Renoir or Tissot are juxtaposed alongside the period costumes, and in some cases the actual clothing, that inspired them.  Through September 29.

The Design Exchange states the Christian Louboutin exhibit celebrates “20 years of design, artistry and magic.”  And if you need to ask, what’s magic got to do with it?  Then you don’t know Loubs.  Undoubtedly, if you love shoes you remember your first pair of red soles.  I hit the opening night (wearing my pink Loubouties, right) back in June and loved it, so this particular show comes personally recommended.

You can check out photos from an event FGI Toronto hosted at the DX just after the exhibit’s opening, but time is ticking.  You only have until September 15 to see the master’s magic before poof! – it’s gone.  Fret not Toronto, there’s more star power coming: if you like the intersection of music and fashion, then mark your calendar; the AGO opens David Bowie is on September 25.


There’s a reason why the Museum at FIT fancies itself the Most Fashionable Museum in New York City. Because it’s the most fashionable museum in New York City.  Right now you can take in RetroSpective, an exhibit exploring the historical connections to contemporary fashion.  See what influenced McQueen, Balenciaga and Schiaparelli (through November 16). 
If you time your trip right, you can also catch A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk (September 13 – January 4, 2014).  It is a remarkable undertaking to honor the contributions to fashion made by the LGBTQ community over 300 years.  FIT is the first museum to do so.  (Fashionable and socially conscious, go FIT!)
Meanwhile, for accessories fans, New York’s Museum of Arts and Design hosts the Collection of Barbara Berger.  Don’t know Barbara?  She is the daughter of an American diamond merchant and a hoarder of the most lovely kind.  Berger (still alive) has amassed one of the largest and finest collections of couture jewelry in the world.  Over 450 pieces of her 4,000 personal collection of “bijoux de couture” will be on display.  A portion of the exhibit closes September 22. 


photo by Getty Images
If you happen to find yourself in Little Rock, Arkansas — and who am I to suggest you wouldn’t? — by all means check out the Oscar de la Renta retrospective American Icon at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library.  Born in the Dominican Republic, de la Renta moved to the States in the 1960’s where he quickly became a legend for his ready-to-wear designs.  He has been a favorite of Mrs. Clinton, particularly during her First Lady years.  Nothing personal Arkansas, but I pray this exhibit travels north for easier viewing.  Through December 1.


Helmut Newton: White Women • Sleepless Nights • Big Nudes (need we say more?!) is on at the Annenberg Space for Photography. Through September 8. 

Also through September 8, Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion at the Seattle Art Museum.
Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980’s explores the relationship between catwalk and clubwear and how experimental designers of the day like Betty Jackson, Wendy Dagworthy and John Galliano helped reinvent British fashion. Through February 2014 at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The Mona Bismarck Center for Art and Culture features an exhibit curated by American Vogue contributing editor, Andre Leon Talley called The Little Black Dress.  Through September 22.

Super Bowl XLVII Dreams for a Super Town

Let me begin by stating clearly: I do not watch football. If I attended a Super Bowl and Grey Cup party, I just went for the food and conversation. But having grown up in Maryland and lived in Baltimore, I’m compelled to root – dare I say even watch – the Baltimore Ravens take on the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday.  (Don’t laugh, I had to look it up who else was playing.) 

Baltimore holds a special place in my heart. They don’t call it Charm City for nothing. Much like Toronto, where I now reside, it’s a city of neighborhoods – Fells Point, Little Italy, Federal Hill, Mount Vernon and so on. Perhaps that’s why Toronto felt so familiar to me – it’s also a city of neighborhoods. (Ironically, both cities have a major sugar factory dominating their waterfront.) Baltimore was a great place to live in my mid-20’s, but I left in search of bigger cities like New York.

Yet every time I go home, I hit the town. Here are my top picks for Baltimore visitors:

Photo from

Inner Harbor – History buffs will recall it was here, from a ship during the War of 1812, where Francis Scott Key penned the poem that ultimately became the country’s national anthem. I expect a few extra tears in Baltimore when Alicia Keys belts out the “Star Spangled Banner” on Sunday. 

The Inner Harbor is the city’s tourist destination with the typical commercial traps — The Cheesecake Factory, Hooters, ESPN Zone, Hard Rock Cafe, etc . Before that, as a child and a teenager it was THE place to go, but over the years the restaurant and shopping options have ebbed and flowed with the economy. It’s still a beautiful area with so much to see and do. A Four Seasons hotel recently opened in the east end of the harbor. Little Italy is nearby too.

Don’t miss: the stunning Baltimore Aquarium, American Visionary Art Museum

Posing on a tall ship in Baltimore Inner Harbor

Camden Yards – I may not like football, but I love watching a live baseball game. When I was 12 years old – ahem, long before Oriole Park at Camden Yards was built – I delivered my town’s weekly newspaper and won two tickets to an Orioles game. Side note: my dad dropped my best friend and I off at the entrance of Memorial Stadium and picked us up afterwards. Oh, how times have changed! 

Chowing down on popcorn and hot dogs under the sun, my love of the game was born. (Again, food and sports!) These days Camden Yards offers an exceptional baseball experience. And I don’t have to sit in the nosebleeds. Go O’s!

Don’t miss: An evening game in late spring/early summer

The Brewer’s Art – Restaurants and bars dot Charles Street from north to south, but the Brewer’s Art is A+ for those who like happy hour at any hour. True to its name, they brew beers on premises and offer a fantastic selection of beers and fine wines from around the world, as well as one of Baltimore’s best selections of scotches and spirits. Stay for dinner, their menu is top notch.

Photo from

The Charles – Movie buffs will adore The Charles. Tucked up at the north end of Charles Street, it shows first-run specialty films in addition to Hollywood movies, foreign films and cinema classics. Afterwards head across the street to Club Charles with your movie pals for a killer cocktail and a spin through their incredible jukebox. So retro!

Don’t miss: your cab — this is not an area to get to or from by foot after dark

Fells Point – My old ‘hood will look familiar to fans of The Wire, as much of the show was shot in and around here. These cobblestone streets used to be home to the most bars per square mile in the country – or so Baltimore legend had it. I could concur. (Remember, I was here in my 20’s.) While the area has gone through a downturn, it still has its charms. You’ll find cute shops, galleries and great seafood at just about any price.

Don’t miss: the endless seafood! Mussels, oysters, crab cakes, shrimp – you name it!

This post is an unusual twist for me – it’s first time I haven’t written about fashion! It was so much fun to write. What do you think? Shall I continue to expand my blogging repertoire? 

Feedback welcome!

Bagged out in Amsterdam

While in Amsterdam this month – where I spent a relaxing week cavorting like a local with a BF who now lives there – I hit the Tassenmuseum, also known as the Museum of Bags and Purses. You could say it’s like Mecca for fashionable women.

The museum catalogues the history of the Western purse back to the days when it served both men and women. (That’s right, the ‘murse’ goes much further back than Seinfeld.) Hard to imagine the days when you needed a purse for your embroidery tools and not your iPhone, but these are the things you’ll enjoy discovering.

The collection spans 500 years, all the way up to the modern day Birkin. The museum is housed in a stunning canalhouse that dates back to the 1600’s and used to house the city’s mayor. If you have time, go for high tea, like we did. Thankfully I don’t have to travel far for the shoe museum, located in my own backyard. Perhaps it’s time for high tea with my local BF’s and a trip to the Bata.

Side note — if you find yourself in Paris instead, check out Colette’s window display celebrating 15 years of Fendi’s baguette bag

High tea at Amsterdam’s Tassenmuseum
Luxury or shock value?
Judith Leiber’s Socks, made famous on Sex and the City 
Why the face?!

STORY UPDATE: Love this!

A City Girl’s Best Bag

Hello July, where did you come from? Forgive my absence from posting. Time flies when you’re having fun working.

Truthfully, I have fit in some fun. After all, what would summer be without it? Sure, there’s the occasional cottage visit but I love summers in the city. Whether it’s New York, Amsterdam or, of course, Toronto, lately you’re likely to catch me on two wheels toting my favourite new bag.

Peter Kent is a line of beautiful leather handbags from Argentina. I’ve admired their delicious totes, purses and clutches on ladies around Toronto for years. But I had been on the lookout for a tasteful backpack fit for a fashion forward, city cyclist like myself and finally found it in Peter Kent.

This exquisite bag stands out – simple, elegant, luxurious off white leather with black leather straps. And the inside pop of color is just so…me.

Two wheeling in Amsterdam, July 2012

UNBOUND in London Town

Fanshawe College (yes, we’re talking London, Ontario) hosted a fashion show last weekend to present the 2012 fashion design program’s graduating class.  As this year’s emcee, I embarked on a 24-hour trip along with other Toronto fashion faces – designers David Dixon, Arthur Mendonca, Wesley Badanjak and Franco Mirabello plus seasoned industry players Tamar Matossian, Erin O’Brien, Gail McInnes and Natalie Deane – who all appeared as judges of the evening’s show.
Fanshawe plans quite a bit of pomp and circumstance into UNBOUND. Held at the hip Museum London, it includes a red carpet, a cocktail party and goody bags for attendees. While most of the attendees are friends and family, I met a number of guests who bought tickets just to see a splashy runway show.
This was my fourth year working with the UNBOUND event, and in my opinion, one of the strongest group collections. Overall Fanshawe’s students showed promise in their ideas and wearability of the garments, even if many lacked in execution. (Puckering seams don’t lie.) 
Supporting the next generation of fashion is important, perhaps just as much as spotlighting today’s current roster of talent. By hosting the judges who are successfully working in the industry, Fanshawe proves how important this is. After all, it could be a Franco Mirabelli or an Arthur Mendonca who gives a graduate their first break. You gotta start somewhere, kid.
Special thanks to Hotel Metro, London’s new boutique hotel, for a lovely stay, and great service that went above and beyond! For more pics check out
Best Design winner Andrea Kuntz
Best Design winner Andrea Kuntz
Best Design winner Andrea Kuntz
Best Collections winner Kristin Burgess

Fashion Mission Montreal: Next Stop, Musee des Beaux Arts

The Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the Musee des Beaux Arts was the raison d’etre for my Montreal visit. After seeing the McQueen exhibit in New York (opening day, no queue!) I was adamant about catching JPG during its short run (through October 2, 2011) so close to home. 

This tribute to the l’enfant terrible of fashion begins with a most impressive display of nearly live mannequins. Faces of real people are projected and animated onto mannequin heads for an effect that is sometimes surprising and mildly disturbing.  (More on the mannequins here.) Aside from Gaultier’s work itself – which includes 130 emsembles, sketches, photographs and films – they are the most riveting part of the exhibition.

I’ve always been a fan of Gaultier’s punk sensibilities, and have closely followed him since his pointy corsets for Madonna’s Blond Ambition Tour (saw that too!). In today’s world I find his point of view and expression against oppression more than relevant – I find it necessary.

Top hat made of hair
Hat designed from vintage hair dryer