By Katherine Ellis
Photography by Tara West
Following her latest television shoot, Janette Ewen’s energy and infectious laugh punctuate our interview, as we chat about furniture, tips on how to put a personal touch on your home and ways in which a personal style can evolve over time.
A familiar face in the media, Ewen splits her time between styling homes, appearing in many television segments in Canada and the United States (including CityLine and Oh So Cosmo) and starting her new business venture, Parker Barrow.
In this FAJO Exclusive, she shares her past as a stylist and editor, and talks about her new projects and partnerships.
KATHERINE ELLIS: You wear many, many hats: you are a stylist, a lifestyle expert, an interior designer, an editor, a TV personality…. Am I missing anything at the moment?
JANETTE EWEN: [laughs] To be totally honest, I don’t do much editing anymore. I edited a few magazines for quite a few years, and then I had a column with the Globe and Mail. I occasionally write for the Globe now, but I sort of hung that hat up. I’ve recently launched a new creative studio with Jef Hancock out of L.A., called Parker Barrow. We are working on a wallpaper line and we do a lot of great design stuff. I am also a lifestyle expert on TV, and then I do fashion styling.
What exactly is a lifestyle expert?
I am an expert on life [laughs]. Basically, when I was working on magazines, I was getting a lot of calls for shows like CityLine [and] Canada AM, just to talk about lifestyle on TV: how to host the ultimate party, how to make the perfect cocktail. I am kind of like a modern-day, 1950s housewife. I am very inspired by Dorothy Draper. I believe that every life should be beautiful.
You’ve had a varied career. When and how did this all start?
It started in about 2000. When I look back now, and I see these interviews, I think ‘Oh my gosh, how did this happen?’ I think that a) I am getting old, and b) I don’t know how it happened. I never, ever had a plan. I still don’t. It kind of freaks me out [laughs].
I am knocking on wood because I am so superstitious. My grandmother taught me: ‘Don’t spit in the air because it will come back and hit you.’ I’ve been very lucky. But I think it’s because I have never done anything for money, I just do what I love, and things fall into place. I follow what interests me at the time. And if something stops becoming interesting, I stop doing it.
Among other projects, you designed the National Home Show’s Dream Home from 2008 to 2010. What was the inspiration, and how do you go about designing a space?
It was the first full house that I had ever done — that is my biggest secret! It was probably one of my favourites. I took inspiration from Dr. No [a James Bond movie], The Party [a Peter Sellers’ movie] and Talitha Getty prints from Morocco.
I got many clients from that. I realized that good taste is not necessarily learned or taught in school. That’s why I call myself a stylist — I have deep respect for interior designers, fabricators, those people who can put the things together and make them. But I sort of have this whimsical approach. I walk into a space, listen to a piece of music to figure out how I want to put it together. I walk in and say ‘Let’s do this!’ and ‘How can we make it work?’ It’s kind of a random approach, but it seems to be working!
How would you describe your personal style? In three words or less?
‘Eclectic’. I am going to use the word Hitchcock and probably European. I definitely look to Europe for inspiration.
Do you have any favourite European designers?
I love classic [Alexander] McQueen [and] Paul & Joe from France. I love Europe — my mom is from Poland and my dad is from England, so we spent a lot of time there. And I really like that European sensibility of fashion, I really like uniform dressing! You go in to the metro in Paris and all girls have great high heels or flat boots, jeans and a simple shirt, a great bag, little make-up, but beautiful manes of hair.
Also, I feel funny saying Hitchcock, but Edith Head was the designer for all his movies, and I adored her sense of style. She influenced Givenchy, she influenced Chanel. She was sort of the Rachel Zoe of her time. I have always based my styling on her principles of design.
Your fashion icons include Talitha Getty and Grace Kelly. How did they influence your own fashion style?
Under 30, I actually think I was almost copying their style. I always wore my Tiffany pearls and my hair up with pins in it. A very classic style and very 1930s, 40s, 50s.
In my 30s, I think I started to become a little more me, a little bit edgier. But I would ask myself, ‘Would Grace Kelly do this?’ You don’t want to look like you’re wearing costume either. So I loosened up.
What I really think has influenced my fashion and my home is my love for classic styles and classic lines. Things shouldn’t wear you; it should be the total package of elegance.
How do you put together an outfit from your closet?
I do mini fashion-stories in my head. I make characters up, I love my dressy spy, I love my glamour girls and I love my classic ingénue. I always think, ‘Who is the character I want to be?’
Life is a play. You can design your home as a backdrop for the set and dress for the life that you want to live, and it comes to you.
Do these style icons influence your styling in your home?
My place in Toronto is very eclectic. You can feel a mood when you come in, and it’s full of collectibles and things I have found on my travels.
Fashion is sort of intermingled in the core. I have this beautiful display table, which has a gorgeous candelabra and the head piece that I wore to the Interior Design Show gala last month on top of it. There is a beautiful container that is full of my costume jewelry rings, so that I remember to put one on before I leave the house. It’s just a reflection of the life that I love living. The shoes run along the window because I do not have enough room in my closet, and they are part of the decor. And I think there are classic elements. It’s a little moodier here, it could be a little Hitchcock set mixed with Auntie Mame.
How do you find the time for all your endeavours?
I’m a workaholic. No doubt about that. But I don’t see the line between life and work; I just love what I do. I am travelling a ton, so I get to see a lot of things, go to a lot of places. I have friends all over the world, and it all ties back into work — but I’ve never seen it as work.
Having a business partner [Jef Hancock] is probably the best decision I have ever made. It’s really calmed me down and I see a new start to my career.
With everything that you’ve done so far, what has been your biggest accomplishment?
Biggest accomplishment, number one, was probably doing [Inside the Box] with Ty Pennington. It just meant a lot to me that he wanted me to be there and it was a lot of work, so finishing that was great.
And number two was forming our new company, Parker Barrow [with Jef]. It’s based on the last names of Bonnie and Clyde. In its short time, it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life!
Parker Barrow will have an official launch in May 2013.