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?
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.
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.
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.
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”