Danier Does it Again with the Design Challenge

In marketing, they say it always starts with the kids. Four years ago Danier initiated a design challenge with Ryerson University’s School of Fashion that would allow third year students to demonstrate their fashion chops. In return for creating an original women’s leather garment design, a handful of students had a chance at seeing their garment put into production for Danier stores, a paid summer internship and cold hard cash.

At that time the concept of designer collaborations was still relatively new. But sure enough, a series of successful collabs with notable names from Canada’s fashion industry quickly followed – Winnipeg-born, London-based Mark Fast, Toronto’s Greta Constantine and Philip Sparks and stylist George Antonopoulos. (That’s me wearing Greta Constantine’s SKIN for Danier on the left; George Antonopoulos’ OBJECT line on the right.)

Just as school returned to session this month, I stopped by Ryerson to see this year’s design challenge winner revealed and catch up with Olga Koel, Danier’s executive vice president and chief merchandising officer.

“Getting students to create something commercially viable was our initial goal, but it has evolved to focus more on the creativity and innovation,” she remarked. “We want to encourage these students creativity, help them understand leather.”

Oh, there is creativity alright. This year’s winner demonstrated some sick design skills. The fact that young Ostwald Au-Yeung was unavailable for comment or a congratulatory handshake speaks volumes: he was finishing a design internship in Hong Kong. 

I have a hunch Ostwald is not long for this land. As we see often in Canada, talent like this either gets snapped up quickly or itches for bigger experiences than they can enjoy here. And with talent like this, I would rather see him rubbing elbows with another next big thing. 

World domination, Ostwald, it’s yours for the making.

Twisting by the Pool

Last night the boys from Greta Constantine hosted their Midsummer Affair at Toronto’s former German Consulate in the east Annex. (Sure, it may be the end of August but who doesn’t appreciate the optimism?) It was a perfect evening for a backyard barbecue pool party, and the city’s entire fashion crowd appeared to be in attendance.

Guests were in an optimistic mood, too, with their summer colors and patterns out in full force. It could have been the free Stoli cocktails and burgers. And while it was a pool party, the only bathing suits donned were by the girls who treated us to a cute and quirky synchronized swimming routine set to Gwen Stefani’s ‘Hollaback Girl.’  

Hey Mister, in the back, why the face?!
LOULOU’s Liv Judd four weeks shy of motherhood 
Melissa Bernais of ICovetandWant.com
Designer Alia Juma
Nelia Belkova of Styleblog.ca and Kimberly Lyn of TheSoulsofMyShoes.com
Anita Clark of IWantIGot.com
Glenna Weddle of rac boutique and Jan Gandhi of ThePeacockParade.com
Artist Andrea Bolley dressed as a Stoli bottle. Seriously.

Greta Constantine’s PRIMER Collection 02 Launch

Last night the boys of Greta Constantine and the fashionable masses gathered for a chic backyard launch party of PRIMER Collection 02, a follow up to the line of basics they debuted just three months ago. With this second iteration, the design duo opted for right-on-trend color, moving away from the mélange grey and black tones of Collection 01.  Chic jewel tones like royal blue, emerald, persimmon and amber bridge perfectly from summer into fall.
Kirk Pickersgill & Stephen Wong of Greta Constantine
“Greta Constantine PRIMER is its own entity. 
It’s neither Greta light nor a diffusion label.”
The PRIMER silhouettes are voluminous and fluid, constructed almost exclusively in cotton jersey and silks. All of the pieces are wearable on women of all ages, shapes and sizes – as demonstrated by many of the evening’s guests. None of the pieces will retail over $495 with the bulk of the collection between $95 and $275 (all CAD). Chic and affordable. #loveit

Anita Gatto of I Want I Got

Location, Location, Location

It’s the week before the fashion mega-showcase known as LG Fashion Week beauty by L’Oreal, and fashion crowds are taking in Rogue Fashion Week. The various venues say as much about a designer as the clothes themselves. Kicking off the week at the Burroughs Building, Sparks’ works has a similar kind of historic charm – given his interest in heritage tailoring it’s not a surprise. The former F. C. Burroughes Furniture Company built the original 639 Queen Street West as its flagship retail department store in 1907. I like to think Philip is inspired by the building.

Later in the week we hit the flip side. The almost-complete Trump Tower at Bay and Adelaide provided a great backdrop for the modern flourish of Mark Fast, Mikhael Kale and Arthur Mendonca, and the pre-opening timeslot was edgy enough to warrant men in hard hats as ushers. 

Paul Hardy’s romantic collection and meticulous detailing were on point at the National Ballet School – sorry, bad pun – and I found the bowling shoes a fun disruption. The Greta & Ezra Constantine show closed the week at Audi with a slick show like a shiny new hot rod.

It’s not easy hosting a runway show off site, but these are not new kids on the design block. These are some of our top designers, the ones about whom you will say, “I knew them when…”  And in reviewing the collections, I thought it more fun to see how they looked on Twitter to the people who watch all the shows, no matter where they are:

Philip Sparks
Myth busting evening.  Backstage at Philip Sparks and the models were eating PIZZA.  
Yes – greasy slabs of pizza pie. How bloody refreshing. (@SarahEWaldock)

Lusting after that soft maple print cocktail dress from Philip Sparks tonight. 
Dresses more fun than light fixtures. (@k_cleveland)
Philip Sparks Fall 2011, photos by Jenna Marie Wakani
Mark Fast & Mikhael Kale 
Don’t remember this Mark Fast dress from his London show but dammmn do I want it. (@xoxSNP)
So the rich socialites of Toronto definitely came out to play today at 
the Mark Fast / Mikael Kale shows (@marcpiercey)
Just left the Mark Fast/ Mikhael Kale show. Incredible collections and
some fierce models. Love the attitude!  (@ExposedBlog)
Mark Fast Fall 2011, photo by Felix Wong
Mikhael Kale Fall 2011, photo by Felix Wong
Mark Fast Fall 2011, photo by Irem Harnak
Mark Fast Fall 2011, photo by Felix Wong

Arthur Mendonca
Thank God Arthur Mendonca is back designing in Canada. First exit – 
black slick trench – is brilliant. (@LisaTant)
Saw #Arthur Mendonca’s show tonight. Exquisite & sophisticated! 
Tea lovers – It was like a fine #Da Hong Pao Oolong (@theteastylist)
Arthur Mendonca 2011, photo by Dean Sanderson
Arthur Mendonca Fall 2011, photo by Felix Wong
Paul Hardy
Right on trend: footwear hitting the ground: shoes at Paul Hardy show at National Ballet school was bowling shoes. Even with evening wear. (@DerickChetty)
From Trump Hotel nouveau riche to National Ballet’s Quaker-style hall. 
Bond girls to school girls. Fast/Kale to Paul Hardy #chooseyourfetish (@amyverner)
Paul Hardy, photo by Owen E. McLeod
Greta Constantine
If you play Adele at a fashion show, I will forgive you for shining that light 
right in my eyes with every exit. (@moshamosha)
Also, for fall/winter 2011, what’s with Canadians showing chest? 
First Kale, then Mendoza, and now shirtless dudes at Ezra (@pliving)
My all white outfit choice has me inadvertantly matching Audis festooning 
dealership venue of Greta Constantine. Fashion faux pas or fun? (@suzanne_boyd)
Greta Constantine, photo by Owen E. McLeod
Greta Constantine, photo by Owen E. McLeod
Greta Constantine, photo by Owen E. McLeod

Disco Night Dilemmas

Once we make it through the Christmas wrapping and leftovers, the talk turns to New Year’s.  For some New Year’s Eve is the year’s hottest ticket of the year and for others (and sometimes, for me) it’s a night preferably spent in the comforts of your own home.
This year, however, we’ve decided on the Thompson Hotel‘s NYE 2011 party.  Now the talk turns to what do I wear?  Here are a few ideas:
Carlie Wong Holiday photographed by Mike Chatwin
  • Go to the experts: For sparkle perfection, check out Carlie Wong‘s holiday 2010 collection.
  • Go custom:  No one will be wearing what you’re wearing if you’re wearing Pam Chorley’s Fashion Crimes.  Dresses are made-to-measure from a wide selection of styles and fabrics.  Order in person or online. 
  • Go for what’s left:  Take advantage of Greta Constantine’s sample & moving out sale this Wednesday, December 29th, 11am – 5:30pm
But if planning ahead isn’t your style, you can always go with a reliable staple of any wardrobe: the little black dress.  How you wear it depends on where you wear it, and on New Year’s feel free to go big.
LOVAS by Wesley Badanjak, photographed by Peter Lytwyniuk
Embrace elegance with elbow-length gloves.  Holt Renfrew carries a wide selection and the Winter Sale could net you up to 70% off.  Feathers and fur are everywhere, so throw on a fur collar or feather headband.  To finish it off, I recommend a fantastic set of earrings (like those carried by ukamaku) and a patterned pair of tights with heels.  Remember the simple rule – accessories make the LBD whatever you want it to be.
Above all, it helps to be comfortable and warm.  It makes that search for a taxi after midnight much more enjoyable.
Happy New Year’s!

Pre-Fashion Week: Part 2

Friday night capped off Pre-Fashion Week with a short presentation by label JUMA at the Spoke Club.  Inspired by their trip to Kenya and Zaire, the sibling designers teamed African-inspired prints with their signature androgynous style.  A stunning line of scarves, which previewed on FashionStake.com the same day, hung from the ceiling like tribal birds.
As understated – shy, even – as the designers behind Greta Constantine are in person, these boys know hype.  And they know how to keep people wanting more.  Between strict instructions that “doors would close at 8pm” and the leaked info about a guest appearance by Coco Rocha it was no wonder the crowds spilled onto the street in a Studio 54-style mad dash to get inside.  The collection proved once again that Greta Constantine knows exactly what its customer wants – glamour without the fuss.

Ezra Constantine Ain’t No Baby Brother

When it comes to fashion choices, women have men beaten in spades.  We have endless options and each season the trend gods pile on more to satisfy our fashion whims. It’s no wonder that fashionable boys are eager to diversify their wardrobe too.
Gentlemen, meet Ezra Constantine.
Late in August I popped into a bright studio where piles of Aldo shoes and Peroni beer surrounded the tiny workspace of designers Stephen Wong and Kirk Pickersgill.  The goodies are left over from Ezra Constantine’s official poolside launch the week before at a gorgeous Toronto mansion.  Any fashion lover with a pulse in Canada could not have missed the ascent of Stephen and Kirk’s luxurious womenswear line, Greta Constantine. Greta was an instant hit with socialites and celebrities.  But if you think Ezra Constantine is Greta’s new baby brother, think again.
“Everyone thinks it’s the rib of Greta, but it’s not, Kirk says of the line.  “Ezra and Greta might date, but they’re not related.”
It was Kirk and Stephen’s personal jet-set taste that led to Ezra Constantine’s creation.  “We would never wear a proper suit or a tuxedo, even to an event that called for it. That’s just not our style.”
That style is what drives Ezra Constantine.  Since its quiet debut in October 2009 the line has appeared in small doses at Greta Constantine runway shows.  Leathered, beat up and battered male models often exemplified a hard, bad boy attitude.  It’s a look for the fearless man, but that dark avenger look is mostly runway styling.  Upon closer inspection, Ezra Constantine, the collection, is an elegant mix of functional details – a detachable hood here or cargo belt there – combined with fabrics like twill, French fleece, coated linen and mesh.  In their capable hands a button down shirt is no longer just a button down shirt. 
Womenswear is about cut.  Menswear is about details.
It should come as no surprise that the line is inspired by a male model and friend of the designers, who also helps them style the collection based on his own personal flair.  But not every Ezra customer can wear black nail polish and tattoos.  The man who comfortably wears Ezra is fashion conscious without being too fixated on a look.  Kirk explains simply, “he likes to look different.”

Dear Donna….

I’ve got a lot on the go right now so, admittedly, I didn’t give much thought before heading over to Holt Renfrew for Donna Karan’s personal appearance.  To be clear we are talking the DK of DKNY.  I was recently reminded of Karan’s iconic stature in Flare‘s September issue, that it’s been 25 years since she launched her 7 Easy Pieces collection during her reign at Anne Klein.  Since then Karan’s designs have become synonymous with ease and versatility.  She even brought us the first diffusion line when she launched DKNY, a less expensive line for the younger shopper.

Aside from being an incomparable designer for the modern woman, one whose work I always loved, I knew she is a yoga afficionado and a philanthropist supporting AIDS and cancer charities.  I’ve always appreciated the upbeat, no-fuss approach she appears to have in life.  The CFDA has honoured her an astonishing seven times.  And lately this queen of American fashion is sharing more of her spiritual side and influence through her Urban Zen Foundation.
Even knowing all that, I thought I’d just pop over to Holt’s with a pal for a quick photo opp of Donna hanging with her latest collection and that’s it.  But there is something so…compelling…about this woman’s presence.  Within minutes of being in the same room I knew that I had to introduce myself.
 “Hi Donna, I’m Leesa and I’m a big fan.” (gush)

“Thank you.” Her eyes lock on mine and her smile is infectious.

“I have huge respect for you as a businesswoman and designer. You’re quite an inspiration.” (gush, gush)

“Thank you so much. Are you a designer?” she asks, still smiling.

“Fashion media. I have a web site about Canadian fashion called the F-list.”

“The what?” I realize I have a fleeting moment here.  I quickly pull a F-list promo card from my purse and hand it to her.

“The F-list,” I repeat. “It’s a web site devoted to supporting and promoting Canadian designers and retailers.” 

“Oh, fantastic,” she murmurs, pondering over my F-list bookmark.  “Do you have good designers here in Canada?”

“Yes, quite a few. Some of whom are carried here.” (#1 – yes, I said “some of whom” like a nerd and #2 – Holt Renfrew, you’re welcome.)

We chat a bit more about designers and fashion weeks (she thinks mid-October is “NOT too late!” for ours), have a quick photo together and then she’s devoured by another fan, hungry for some DK conversation.

Like a schoolgirl with a crush, I’m smitten.  I want so badly to link my arm in hers and gab over lunch.  She IS an inspiration. And so, Ms. Karan…in light of keeping it simple, modern and very Canadian, I offer seven top  designers I think you would like:

Denis Gagnon – (right) a minimalist from Montreal with a tendency for the monochromatic.  He’s also absolutely brilliant and far too special to keep to ourselves here in Canada.

Jeremy Laing – this serious, young lad apprenticed with Alexander McQueen and often draws from the Canadian landscape for inspiration.  His work shows signs of Japanese influence yet somehow he maintains an organic, natural quality.

Pink Tartan – designer Kimberley Newport-Mimran reminds me a bit of Donna in that everything under the label speaks precisely to what Kim herself will wear.  Her collections are for the practical woman who knows how to balance girlish charm with a clean, modern edge.
Greta Constantine – (left) Stephen Wong and Kirk Pickersgill may be known as the “jersey boys” for their expertise with the fabric, but their talent in creating edgy, feminine designs with all sorts of textiles is well-known.  Dare we forget their seat belt couture?

Rad Hourani – think urban warrior when considering Rad’s work.  He calls it asexual, aseasonal and anti-conformist.  I just call it awesome.

Joeffer Caoc – one of the first designers I discovered after moving to Canada and one of the nicest people on the planet.  Joeffer’s work is intricate yet subtle, classic yet unconventional and built for the sensible, modern woman.

Thieves – Sonja den Elzen’s fledgling line brings sustainability and style together for good.  Through uncomplicated (but expert) draping and detailing she works wonders with eco-fabrics for both men and women.

Dear readers, I encourage you to check out the article on Donna in last month’s Town & Country magazine.  You can download it at Urban Zen Foundation website.  It’s an unbelievable insight into her world and the power that one individual has to motivate a movement.
“What you have been given, it’s to give back.” – Donna Karan

Sartorialist Stalking at Holt Renfrew

The styled and stylish crowd included Roz Griffiths-Hall with Greta Constantine designer Stephen Wong (top), Fashion File host Adrian Mainella and ex-publishing magnate turned club owner Michael King (bottom)

You don’t need much to become a blogger – a topic, a computer and time to gather and post your thoughts. But you just never know where it’s going to take you. Scott Shuman, a.k.a., The Sartorialist, hit Toronto Wednesday for a special appearance at Holt Renfrew. The former fashion career man was a no name until he began blogging in 2005 (“sartorial” meaning of or pertaining to clothing or style or manner of dress). A regular column in GQ, fashion week features on Style.com, paid styling gigs and a book launch later…he’s a bonafide blogging success.

So it seemed rather ingenuine for Shuman to claim “I don’t really consider myself a blogger,” in front of a styled and stylish crowd who had gathered for a preview of his photos. Whether it was his egotistic reaction to the spotlight or just too much white wine, his question and answer period was demolished by a chatty crowd’s desire to talk amongst themselves. (I guess we’ll never know what he DOES consider himself.)

Our sources coughed up a juicy bit on Shuman and his connection to Toronto – his fashion resume includes a job on the wholesale side in New York for a certain top notch Canadian clothing label. Let’s just say it’s a good thing he found blogging, because his success on the sales side? Not good. Shuman was soon given the boot….Italian leather, we’re sure.