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

Project Runway Redux

Last night was Toronto Fashion Incubator’s New Labels gala where four designers – GushueSwim by Cheryl Gushue, Jody Leigh, Thieves by Sonja den Elzen and Faren by Faren Tami – faced off in a runway competition for $25,000 in prizes from TFI and Elle Canada. (The specifics of the prize are near impossible to find, but surely there’s a magazine spread involved.)

The designers have been toiling for the past six months to perfect their collections. It’s nice to see Sonja den Elzen and her Thieves label gain more exposure. Her advice for any new designer is to have a strong point of view, and Sonja walks the talk here. Her collection for the urban nomad kept true to her eco-style by mixing in elaborate, chunky knits and leather with Tencel fabric and organic wool. The outfits were well-styled with oversized natural accessories by Toronto’s Dandi Maestre (also seen at Lucian Matis’ LG Fashion Week show).

Jody Leigh embraced family albums from the 1940’s in her first ever runway show. Some outfits were a bit overstyled, making one wonder how recognizable a Jody Leigh piece would look without the WWII pins and wide belt. There were some unique feminine touches here and there, but the polyester-blend fabrics were missing the elegance needed for her slim silhouettes.

Cheryl Gushue took us to Rio with an opening dance number from a couple of adorable Carnivale showgirls, then promptly continued the beach party with a collection of killer swimwear. Keep your eye on this label and don’t be surprised if it shows up on the cover of a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition magazine (where models and swimwear alike are launched into the celebrity stratosphere). Kudos to Browns for providing unbelievable footwear…their spring line is all Italian and H-O-T.

The last spot in last night’s runway show was also the winner, Faren by Faren Tami. The audience seemed to love the collection judging by the frequent applause, impressive given it was also her first show. Faren’s approach was inspired by futuristic eco-architecture and included lots of interesting shapes. (The Faren labels on the outside of the clothes weren’t a favourite touch.) Winning the New Labels competition should be a pivotal moment in a young designer’s career, so here’s hoping we see lots more of Faren Tami going forward. (At the very least, we hope she builds a web site with her winnings!)

Not a Steal, But a Worthy Discount

If you missed the F-list’s Designer Spotlight Series event last week with the eco-luxe and lovely Thieves, you definitely missed out! But as always we have a special offer to satisfy your fashion craving. Through May 15th enjoy 10% off purchases at their flagship boutique just for mentioning the F-list. In addition to Sonja den Elzen’s line Thieves you’ll find a cashmere and bamboo line from Heartfelt, bags by Carga and more.

Next month the Spotlight Series moves back to where we started, Pantages Martini Bar (Thursday, May 14th). Enjoy a complimentary Belvedere cocktail while perusing Aime Luxury’s latest collection and meeting other F-list members. The series will go on hiatus this summer, but we’re revamping for the fall to feature more venues and more designers! Have a suggestion? Email