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.