David Dixon: the designer of elegance

November 21, 2011

By Katherine Ellis

Photography by Kareen Mallon

David Dixon has a varied female customer base, from dressing soccer moms to celebrities including Catharine O’Hara, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Meg Ryan. What interests him is that it keeps his interactions diversified. And what connects all of his clientele is the fact that they like timeless clothing with a twist. Along with his collaboration on various projects – including the most recent Interior Design Show in Toronto with his brother, famed interior designer Glenn – Dixon does not appear to be slowing down.

David Dixon.

KATHERINE ELLIS: You have been designing for the past 16 years. What is the best moment you have had in your career thus far?

DAVID DIXON: That I am still here. (laughs) It has been sort of an evolutionary process. I mean, the very first show is the most exciting. But there have been so many opportunities and so many things that add up to making the job fun, including meeting people from all walks of life. What I find interesting each season is that I am able to create a new story and do that in a form of a new collection.

What is inspirational to you?

Inspiration comes from everything; it depends on how you look at it. For me it tends to be more personal, in terms of what is affecting me, or something that is connected to me. It could be a trip, music or people.

You are one of the most iconic designers in Canada and you are also on the board of the Toronto Fashion Incubator. What is the most common question that other designers ask you?

How do I do it? (laughs) I am still blown away by others asking me for advice. ‘Iconic’ to me is a very strong word, but I do understand what it is like to be a new designer. When I started my career a long time ago, there was no one telling me what to do; it was one of those ‘learn-as-you-go’ situations.

I first and foremost say you have to understand that there is going to be a lot of no’s, and also that you have to persevere. You have to be realistic too, and take constructive criticism. Be open to hearing those kinds of conversations and do not take it personally. Just because you believe in it 100 per cent, it [still] might not translate to people. It might be too ‘out-there’ or too ‘not-enough.’

Dixon poses at his showroom in Toronto.

What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of being a new designer in Canada today?

The advantage of being a new designer in Canada is the fact that Canada has really started to open up. Canada is welcoming, and it comes in cycles where every five years the media wants to feel something fresh and new, because they have either seen designers start off and continue, or seen them fall off. The disadvantage to new designers is that there is a lot of people already out there, competing for that shelf space. New designers think the whole world of fashion is glamorous and it’s not necessarily so. On a day-to-day basis, we are working. Twice a year, I send a collection or two down the runway and for five minutes I feel like, “Oh, this is what it feels like!” And for the rest of the time, you are making clothes for people to wear. Albeit, it’s a lot of fun, but it’s very stressful as well.

How would you describe your personal style?

At work, since no one sees me much, it is a lot of jeans, trainers. I like shoes. I mix high and low stuff – often, I will wear something from H&M and something from a big designer. [My style] is pretty contemporary. I move around a lot [at work], so I can’t be restricted, and I don’t need clothes that are too delicate.

Dixon: “Inspiration comes from everything; it depends on how you look at it. “

What is the coolest thing in your closet right now?

I recently bought a raisin-coloured velvet coat jacket. It’s a deep purply-brown. The funny thing is that I was meandering and walking around, checking out stores, and I thought ‘Oh, I haven’t seen that colour in a while.’ We see a lot of purple now, but it was more of an unusual colour, and that was what drew me to it. I like that I can wear it for a day event or an evening event as well.

The fashion capital of the world, until recently, was New York City, and now it is considered to be London. What are your thoughts?

I actually agree with that. We get New York – we understand what people there do. Paris – we understand. Milan – we know who the tried-and-true are. But all of a sudden, London is making this statement of very individual voices, and I think that what is interesting for Canadians is that so many of these voices are our expats; Canadian designers who happen to be living in London, such as Todd Lynn and Mark Fast. London has been on the side burner for several years, but all of a sudden, there is a resurgence of awareness, and I think that it has to do with the fashion trend cycle.

Dixon with his agent Anna Litvack.

Out of everything you have created in the past 16 years, from your first all-white debut collection to the spring/summer 2012 line inspired by the music of Malcolm McLaren and presented on the runway at LG Fashion Week, what is the piece that is closest to your heart?

One of the most memorable shows was Love Letters, inspired by me coming across love letters from my grandparents that were written during World War II. They were so elegantly written and they had such beautiful handwriting. Interestingly, our show started exactly around the time when George W. Bush declared war on Iraq, and we were showing at The Royal Canadian Legion.

It was a very intimate show. For it, I sent copies of the letters to David Storto, a glove designer in New York who is a friend of mine, and asked if he could handwrite these letters onto gloves. Those gloves are now kept in a very special place and that entire collection was inspired by a whole notation of love letter correspondence.

David Dixon’s clothes are available at retail locations across Canada, including the Bay, Holt Renfrew and Simons in Montreal. www.daviddixon.ca

A photoshoot with David Dixon

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Dixon’s fall/winter 2011 collection at LG Fashion Week

Photography by Kalynn Friesen

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Dixon’s spring/summer 2012 line at LG Fashion Week

Photography by Kareen Mallon

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