Blackbook Lifestlyle: the story behind a genius project

June 17, 2011

By Sarah Dion-Marquis

Photography by James Park

One afternoon, James Jefferson and Daniel Mackinnon were having a glass – or two – of Dom Pérignon with Ottawa’s socialite Marlen Cowpland. The former Celebrity Pets TV host, who’s known for having dyed her dog fuchsia, had them over in her Rockcliffe’s home domain, to catch up.

It was then that Jefferson, who was regularly designing clothing for both Cowpland and former Governor General Michaëlle Jean, and Mackinnon, a luxury lifestyle magazine editor, got the idea to team up.

“And the rest is history,” they both say one year later.

James Jefferson (left) and Daniel Mackinnon.

Blackbook Lifestyle, Jeffereson’s and Mackinnon’s brainchild, is a one-stop shop that runs the gamut of everything that touches lifestyle, including the design, art and fashion industries. It’s the only business of its kind in Canada’s national capital, and the services it offers are essential to large-scale designers or design houses. This includes, McCaffrey Haute Couture, which caters to brides worldwide and dressed Kate Hudson in a feature film, as well as David Dixon, James Simpson and Adrian Woo.

Typically, clients put their trust in Jefferson and Mackinnon’s hands and have them oversee all the branding of their product, and nearly everything they put out to the world. That means media interviews, their lookbooks or media kits, websites, the production of their fashion shows, advertising campaigns and so on.

Jefferson and Mackinnon say they bring to the table that extra element of style, luxury, something that’s outside the box.

“Some people think Ottawa is a little dry, so we’re trying to liven it up,” says Mackinnon. “It’s not something you can learn at school; you either have it or you don’t and never will.’’


Mingling with celebrities

Photos courtesy of Blackbook Lifestyle

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Blackbook Lifestyle only turned one year old not so long ago. It’s definitely a young business, but its owners say they’ve cemented their spots in the city over the last decade.

“We’re new with the name Blackbook, but we’re nothing new to the industry,” says Jefferson, who is in charge of the artist management branch for Blackbook Lifestyle. He represents a dozen people making a living as hair, make-up, wardrobe and photography artists.

One of his artists recently styled the campaign for a clothing line in Los Angeles,  featuring actress Ashley Tisdale. Blackbook Lifestlyle also produces music videos, promotional videos, commercials,  styling editorials for magazines, as well as television and magazine ads.

“We can take care of everything for clients, so they don’t have to outsource it to too many people,” says Jefferson.

His background is in clothing design. He’s had his own fashion boutique, but closed it to be able to concentrate on Blackbook. He still picks and does fun things for certain “very special” clients. For instance, he created the Ice Princess dress for Ottawa’s Winterlude. Still, his business partner Mackinnon has tried to get Jefferson to design him a blazer for years now. “But he hasn’t made it happen yet,” he says with a big smile on his face.

Mackinnon, who is the chief of public relations for Blackbook Lifestlyle, is currently organizing the ball of Ottawa’s prestigious Ashbury College at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Mackinnon will carry out the whole aviation theme, with no exception. The servers will be dressed as airline stewards, the cards on the table will be luggage tags and there’ll be a DJ booth inside one of the cockpits of an airplane.

“Everything will be taken over the top,” he says. “We are taking it all very literally.”

In the past, Mackinnon has organized at least 100 luxury events and has had partnerships with various fashion weeks, film festivals and large trade shows. He says that while some events are really well-planned, others come together at the very last minute. “Our job is to make sure it goes off seamlessly and that people have a time there they never had anywhere in the city,” he says.

One of his fondest memories is the closure party of the Genie Awards in Ottawa, which brought to town some of the biggest names in the film industry. “It’s where people let loose after the glitzy show,” Mackinnon says. He adds that the concept of having a gigantic celebration after an award show is still a novelty in Canada, but this one was a huge success.

Jefferson (left) and Mackinnon have cemented their spots in Ottawa's fashion industry over the last decade.

Jefferson and Mackinnon work in the Ottawa-Toronto-Montreal triangle most of the time. “I’d love to say we travel to the most glamourous places of the world, but we really go to Toronto or Montreal a lot, or New York every few months or so,” says Mackinnon. They try to bring home elements of the fashion scene they experience in New York. They also do business in other markets when opportunities come up. Tired of flying out to Toronto and Montreal, they’re thinking about branching out to these major cities within five years.

Most importantly, the two business partners want to continue to be creatively-driven and have a good time. When it comes down to business, they are perfectionists. Jefferson is a bit more of a free spirit, admits Mackinnon, who’s a “self-admitted control freak.”

After all these years in the industry, they believe humor and having fun at work is paramount.

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