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.

How to Wear a Revolution


Face it, fashion isn’t always pretty. The industry has a long list of atrocities to contend with, from the unethical treatment of workers and animals to environmental concerns around industrial waste and sustaining overtaxed resources.

This month marks the two year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapse where 1,133 workers lost their lives and over 2,500 were injured.  In response to the tragedy, a Fashion Revolution was born. This global, grassroots campaign aims to remind us of the continued social and environmental dangers lurking in our fashion supply chain.

Fashion Revolution wants you to find out who made your clothes — from who spun the threads, to who sewed them together, to who grew the cotton in the first place. On April 24th, you can join the Fashion Revolution by taking a selfie showing your label. You could turn your clothes inside out to make more of a statement.

Tag @fash_rev and the brand on social media and ask #whomademyclothes?

Fashion Rev chain

Making squares for the Fashion Revolution chain

Want to join the revolution close to home? The Toronto-based Fashion Takes Action has been holding sew-ins with Ontario schools to create a literal fabric chain that will later be displayed in events and a possible museum installation. Students have been collecting used clothing and fabric, which they have then cut into squares to sew together and form the chain. The chain of fabric is both symbolic for the supply chain and acts as a petition encouraging transparency in the fashion industry. Swing by the public sew-in this Friday at OCAD’s main lobby (more on the event here) from 10am – 2pm.


Emerging Canadian designer Laura Siegel takes on the supply chain issues in TRACEABLE, a new documentary movie airing this Friday at 8 p.m. ET on MTV, Bravo, M3, and E!. The doc connects viewers to the individuals and communities involved in designing and producing garments, illuminating the harsh realities that are woven into the fashion industry. Written, directed, and produced by first-time filmmaker, Ontario’s Jennifer Sharpe, TRACEABLE follows Siegel as she develops her 2013 Fall/Winter collection using ethical and transparent practices.


Meanwhile some retailers and designers are helping build global communities through fashion. Last year Holt Renfrew unveiled H Project, a shop-in-shop designed to highlight and support different cultures, crafts and artisans from around the world. After a successful debut with UNCRATE India, this month they launched UNCRATE Africa with exclusive collections from over 22 renowned brands, including Dannijo, Stella Jean, FEED Africa, Indego Africa, Me to We, Otago, Kiya Kenya and Chantecaille.

Vancouver-based Obakki is also one of the participating brands. Obakki’s founder Treana Peake is the driving force behind the label and the Obakki Foundation, Obakki’s philanthropic counterpart. The charity focuses on providing clean water and education in Africa. The clothing label absorbs all the administrative fees of the charity, allowing 100% of Obakki Foundation’s public donations to go directly to its charitable initiatives. And Peake’s work with the foundation seems to drive the inspiration behind her Obakki collections.


Treane Peake in Cameroon, Africa with her Obakki Foundation

You don’t have to look far to find brands with a sustainable, ethical footprint, but you do have to look. Uniikii, a Canadian-based online retailer, features apparel, accessories and housewares from “partners who are socially conscious, environmentally responsible and dedicated to ethical manufacturing processes.” A pair of handmade felt boots that takes eight days to make? Why not. That’s a much nicer story than your cotton t-shirt using 2,700 litres of water before you even buy it.

Speaking of water, let’s get really real. California’s apparel industry is under a serious threat from the current drought. According to the Wall Street Journal, Southern California produces 75% of the high-end denim in the U.S. that is sold world-wide. Water is a key component in the various steps of the processing and repeated washing with stones, or bleaching and dyeing that create that “distressed” vintage look.

We are on borrowed time on this planet. The choices you make as a consumer have a butterfly effect on the rest of the supply chain. If you’re not yet considering where and how your clothes are made, isn’t it time to start?

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.

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.

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.

Style Addicts Finalists

Congrats to Emily, our next finalist in Pickering Town Centre’s March Break Fashion Week. Her look included a clever pairing of different patterns – stripes and polka dots – along with a punchy red trench coat. We’re seeing similar patterns on the runways of Toronto Fashion Week.

Holt Renfrew shows off a striped jacket from Smythe. Photo by George Pimentel.
Adrian Wu mixed polka dot fabrics. Photo by George Pimentel.

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!

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

Construction Time Again

There is a saying about the seasons in Toronto – there are only two: winter and construction. While we sweat through our season of construction, the Madison Avenue of our fair city – Bloor Street – is awash in never-ending construction fencing that routes pedestrians through a narrow maze of passageways.  Not fun, but I can tell you it’s no better on the street.  Driving along Bloor, count on back-ups to cost you 50 minutes just to cross five city blocks.
The stores along Bloor suffer dearly for foot traffic, but at least one is making the most of it.  Holt Renfrew has cleverly posted signs in the passageways designed to lure in customers.  
They sympathize…“Dust damaging your ‘do? Visit Holt’s Salon and Spa today.”  They remind…“Construction wreaking havoc on your heels? Visit Holt’s Shoe Department.”  They aim to rescue us from all that is ugly on the outside…“It’s messy out but beautiful inside. Come into Holt’s!”
So I did.

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, 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.