Cottage country: Canada’s top (business) models

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I am filing this post from “Cottage Country”, north of Toronto, very far from the centre of the fashion world. Nontheless, when I first arrived in Toronto about a week ago, I asked local fashionistas the same questions I ask everywhere in an effort to seek out local stories which are still relevant to the international readership of the Business of Fashion. There’s always an interesting story to tell. Who should I try to meet, where should I go to see designs by the top local designers, and which fashion brands and retail chains are using innovative ways to build their businesses?

Almost without exception, these questions were met with a slight shrugging of the shoulders and a resignation that the local scene is nothing to write home about. “There’s not a lot going on,” I was told over and over again. “Canadian designers lack the confidence to push forward their own ideas, choosing instead to be ‘inspired’ by major international designers.”

I had almost resigned myself to the fact that there was nothing to write about, when I started recalling the names of supermodels, young and old, who have come from Canada. Irina Lazareanu grew up in the Montréal suburb of St-Hubert and was launched to fame by her friend Kate Moss. Coco Rocha of Richmond, British Columbia used her Celtic dance skills spark her fashion moment. Jessica Stam from Kincardine near Lake Huron, 2 hours from Toronto, is the namesake of Marc Jacobs’ ever popular Stam bag. And of course, 90’s supermodels like Linda Evangelista of Toronto and Yasmeen Ghauri of Montréal were amongst the first Canadian models to hit the big time.

Evangelista Ghaurism

So, maybe Canada isn’t a land that develops world-class designers, but something about the place does seem to nurture top models. Could Canada be giving traditional model hunting grounds like Brazil and Eastern Europe a run for the money?

You be the judge. Here’s a look at the top 5 international models hailing from Canada.

Canada’s top (business) models

Being a model these days is no easy task. While the lifestyle is glamorous, no doubt, it also requires long hours, endless plane rides, getting prodded and made-up and being told what to do all day long. Most importantly, models today need to have business sense in order to best manage their careers and capture some of the value they create. Each of these top models has shown the propensity to do exactly that. Who’s your favourite?

5. Lisa Cant – Edmonton, Alberta

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(Photo courtesy of Chanel)

Lisa Cant hails from Alberta, an oil-rich Canadian province which also gave rise to other notable Canadian models, Heather Marks and Tricia Helfer. She tells one of those model ‘discovery’ stories, having been approached at an IKEA in Calgary by another model. She scored a double-whammy when she secured 2 consecutive covers at Vogue Italia, shot by Steven Meisel who has a knack for being the first to photograph the world’s top new modeling talent. Cant has been commended for her business savvy by modelresource.ca:

"I guess I’ve grown up a lot because I’ve had to manage myself as a business. You can’t just rely on everyone else to manage your finances and scheduling. You put a lot of faith in your agency, but you have to watch out for everything yourself. You have to have a business head, and make sure all your money is being put in the right place and know that you’re booking the right jobs. Your agency does that but you also have to watch."

4. Daria Werbowy – Mississauga, Ontario

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(Photo courtesy of Mert and Marcus for Louis Vuitton)

Ukranian-born, suburban-Toronto raised Werbowy raked in $3.5m in between June 2006 and June 2007 and holds the record for opening and closing the most shows in one season. She has been on the cover of no less than 21 issues of Vogue and has been in advertisements for almost every fashion brand imaginable. Though her star has been falling a bit of late, she is still a modeling force to be reckoned with and has a few years to go before returning to Canada to become a painter or open an art gallery.

3. Coco Rocha – Richmond, British Columbia

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(Photo courtesy of David Sims for Balenciaga)

American Vogue said in May 2007 that fashion’s "Coco Moment" came when Coco Rocha danced a jig down the runway to open Jean-Paul Gaultier’s A/W 2007 collection earlier this year. Truly avant garde designers at esteemed French houses like Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga and Alber Elbaz for Lanvin have chosen Coco Rocha as the face of their advertising campaigns.

2. Irina Lazareanu – St Hubert, Québec

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(Photo courtesy of Chanel)

Originally discovered by Jean-Francois Leroux of Montréal’s Giovanni agency, Irina Lazareanu has gone on to become a darling of Karl Lagerfeld (and therefore just about everyone else in the business). He described her to Canada’s Maclean’s magazine as "theJuliette Gréco of our times,” referring to the legendary muse of Jean-Paul Sartre. His entire Paris-Monte Carlo collection was designed with Lazareanu in mind. Last Autumn, she clocked an astonishing 76 shows during fashion weeks in New York, Paris, and Milan. She has spoken eloquently of  her plans to build a portfolio of activities to round out her career and has shown adept networking and relationship skills in getting her name out there. She is releasing a CD this fall, with lyrics advice from fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell and guitar lessons from Nick Jones, formerly of the Clash.

 1. Jessica Stam – Kincardine, Ontario

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In a recent American Vogue issue on “The World’s Next Top Models," Jessica Stam describes how she was discovered in a local amusement park during a time in her life where she was more focused on schoolwork and sports than DJ AM
and Marc Jacobs. While she may not be the highest earning model from Canada (both Daria Werbowy and Shalom Harlow earned more) Stam is everywhere these days and therefore earns the honour of being Canada’s top (business) model. Her face is instantly recognisable from catwalk shows and advertising campaigns for DKNY, Dior, Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui, Vera Wang, Valentino, MiuMiu, Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabban and Versace. She told Vogue that she now understands that she

“has to take care of [herself]…a great manager, a business manager, a financial advisor – a team to help [her] stay smart."