A Quiet Canadian Fashion Revolution in London

Celebrating Canadians in Fashion at the Canadian High Commission in London

Celebrating Canadians in Fashion at the Canadian High Commission in London

LONDON, United Kingdom — On recent trips home to Canada, much to my dismay, I have struggled to find local fashion stories to share on BoF. Yes, Canada has a history of superstar models, and occasionally there is a retailer like Brian Hill of Aritzia or a young designer like Rad Hourani who captures my attention, but for the most part, getting a good Canadian fashion story has proven to be a challenge.

As it turns out, I was looking in the wrong place the whole time. I missed the quiet Canadian fashion revolution happening in my own backyard, right here in London.

On Wednesday evening, James R. Wright, Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and his charming wife Donna Thomson, together with their daughter Natalie, hosted an intimate dinner at their home to celebrate the great success that London-based Canadians are having in the global fashion industry. It was only by bringing all of us together in one room that the full force of London’s Canadian fashion mafia could be truly comprehended.

Let’s take stock, shall we?

Michelle Obama in Erdem | Source: Grazia

Michelle Obama in Erdem | Source: Grazia

Erdem Moralioglu of Montreal has quietly become one of the leading fashion forces on the London Fashion Week calendar, having famously dressed both Samantha Cameron, wife of the new British Prime Minister, and Sarah Brown, wife of the former British Prime Minister, just as their husbands were gearing up for an election campaign. And if that weren’t enough high-wattage political endorsement, Michelle Obama has worn Erdem too, along with countless young Hollywood starlets and fashion editors and buyers around the world. It’s no surprise then that Erdem was recently named as the first recipient of the BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund.

Sarah Mower, who was also at last night’s dinner, once called Erdem the Christian Lacroix of London, due to his adept skills in embellishment and embroidery. From a brand perspective, I would say he might also be something like a modern day Oscar de la Renta, one of those rare designers who can simultaneously appeal to mature women and their daughters too, putting them in beautiful dresses, all with a recognisable brand signature. Perhaps this is what makes Erdem’s rising star so noteworthy: his is a business with the potential to have real staying power.

Faster by Mark Fast | Source: Mark Fast

Faster by Mark Fast | Source: Mark Fast

But Erdem is not the sole Canadian making waves in London. After dinner, I chatted with Toronto’s Todd Lynn about the surprise appearance of Janet Jackson at his last show during LFW in February. It seems Ms. Jackson was so enamoured with the sleek modern Todd Lynn tailoring which she sported in her “Make Me” video, that she hopped on a plane to London especially to show her support from Mr. Lynn’s front row.

Mark Fast, a native Winnipegger, made his name in innovative knitwear, creating immediate media buzz upon graduating from Central St Martins. But it was his S/S 2010 runway show, featuring plus-sized models, that catapulted Mr. Fast onto the global fashion radar and attracted interest from outside the industry on CNN, the BBC and hundreds of websites, magazines, and newspapers around the world.

Jean Pierre Braganza A/W 2009 | Source: Elle.com

Jean Pierre Braganza A/W 2009 | Source: Elle.com

As for Jean-Pierre Braganza, another native Montrealer, his is a more of an insider success story. A long-time favourite of friend of BoF, Diane Pernet, Mr. Braganza’s designs first captured my attention on a business trip to New York last year. Walking into a meeting with my friend Michelle Sanders, a former accessories editor at American Vogue with impeccable taste, I was blown away by the graphic printed caftan that she wore with her characteristic chic panache. When she told me the design was by Jean-Pierre Braganza, I took note. Little did I know that he was part of the Canadian mafia too.

But there’s more than just designers in this group of influential Canucks. Fashion writers and editors including Bronwyn Cosgrave, Leith Clark of Lula Magazine (another surprise Canadian!), and Style.com’s Tim Blanks — who despite his Kiwi accent, travels on a Canadian passport — were also present. Tim’s presence was particularly welcome as so many of us had grown up watching him on CBC’s Fashion File. In the pre-Internet days, Tim’s intelligent fashion commentary, now a staple of Style.com, was our only conduit to the global fashion scene.

A few non-Canadians were also on hand to show their support, but they each had a Canadian connection. It was an honour to meet the legendary Joan Burstein, who had collaborated with the High Commissioner on a charity auction of fashion clothes a few months earlier; Sarah Mower, whose Style.com critiques helped to spark the upward trajectories of many of the designers in the room, and Laura Larbalestier, designer wear buyer from Canadian-owned Selfridges, the landmark London department store. There was even one Canadian guest all the way from Toronto, Nicholas Mellamphy, of The Room at HBC.

And finally, one new member of this tribe of London-based Canucks is Thomas Tait, who was recently featured on BoF, discussing plans for his career after Central Saint Martins.

As we stumbled out of the High Commissioner’s residence after midnight, well-fed and brimming with conversation and a rare bit of national pride, Erdem called out, “Do you guys want to grab a drink?” A few minutes later, we were tucked around a table at the David Collins’ designed Connaught Bar, exchanging fashion war stories. And nothing warmed my little Canadian heart more than to see Erdem passing on a few words of wisdom to Thomas on how to set up a business, the struggles he had from the start, and what it took to become successful, from one designer to another.

It was this exchange that perhaps offered some explanation as to how this quiet Canadian revolution has happened, with a group of creatives navigating the tough waters of the fashion business, shaping the future of London fashion, and helping each other learn the ropes.

It’s the Canadian way.

Imran Amed is Founder and Editor of The Business of Fashion

Janet Jackson wearing Todd Lynn in “Make Me”

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  1. There’s definitely talent from Canada, but there’s only one designer that i consider Visionnaire from there, it’s Rad Hourani. I think he’s going to be iconic. His vision is from another planet and it will shine around the world very soon.

    Stevee from New York, NY, United States
  2. How come there was no Caroline Issa of Tank? She is Canadian too right? I think she is great, just like her work at Tank!

    Anupriya from Delhi, Delhi, India
  3. We were thrilled to come across this article which celebrates Canadian Fashion designers who have made it in England and are fast rising in the International Fashion circles. We are fashion, beauty and celebrity bloggers who often focus on Canada and profile our designers in the hope of introducing them to a worldwide fashion audience. If we may make a few more suggestions to add to your list of Canadians in fashion above:

    Dan and Dean Caten from Dsquared . Proud Canadian success story with a top name International Brand
    Jason Wu, born in Taiwan grew up in Vancouver British Columbia.
    Jay Godfrey and Smythe !
    Joe Zee , creative director for Elle is also origionally from Canada.

    Also keep your eyes on some of Canada’s rising design stars: Greta Constantine , Jeremy Laing and Sunny Fong

    check out our Canada Style section and Designer Picks for more.

  4. This article makes me SHINE with pride. I occasionaly come across a Canadian name here and there when it comes to fashion on an international level, but it’s not often one hears of so many Canadians all at once!

  5. I was very happy to read your article. I am myself Canadian and had my own label, bërubë, based in London from 2002 to 2008. I was truly on my way up with great support from the British and international press as well as some important retailers finally attending my shows. I made the very insanely though decision to come back to Montreal when pregnant of my second child. I knew Montreal would offer a better quality of life for my family. When I read your article, part of me rejoiced at the recognition of Canadian talent and part of me is saddened that to be recognised you have to based abroad. I now work for the largest fashion school in Canada, LaSalle College, as the creative director (I’m like a junior Louise Wilson!). Those students rocks let me tell you. The very talented ones will go to St-Martins, Antwerp and the like and never come back. It’s heartbreaking for someone like me who cares about the Canadian fashion industry.

    You guys should look into Complex Geometries, a Montreal-based label with a very desirable stockist list.

  6. I own a fashion PR agency in London but originally came from Canada. I am blown away by the exciting Canadian designers based here and enviably those only available in Canada

    I must add Andrew Majtenyi to your prestigious list. He is a master tailor of womenswear and is currently on his third season at LFW. His shop at 365 St John’s St EC1 has become has many loyal customers – no mean feat considering the choice of designers in London

    I agree with all the suggestions above and would also applaud the work that jewellery designer Dandi Maestre is producing

  7. Imran – great article. I don’t know how I missed this one because I have been on your case for some Canadian news! My view is this – Canada is filled with amazing talent…but we don’t always seem to be able to translate this talent and excitement into something bigger within Canada. Many designers don’t want to leave but seem to find more support and buzz through leaving Canada or going abroad. Is it a Canadian thing? I do not know. Every LGFW in Toronto I witness amazing talent and get into intriguing conversations with many in fashion about the same topic – how do we bring the Canadian fashion industry as a WHOLE to another level. Individual talent is no question.

    But not to worry Imran, I am always on the search for a good Canuck fashion story…I will keep you posted ;)

    To echo a comment above – I absolutely love me some Greta Constantine and Lucian Matis. I have high hopes for them.

    (The Original Kesha – No dollar sign!)

  8. We were interested in “Canadians in Fashion” and had hoped to see you feature Catherine Hill, of The Thoughtful Dresser fame. We are running our 3rd international charity fundraiser Dress4Dignity in the UK on March 19th to raise money for anti-trafficking charities. Her message from her days in Auschwitz is inspirational and we would like to contact her. Can you help please?

    Thank you, and best wishes,
    Rebecca Hannan of The Dress4Dignity Team