Earlier this fall, we caught up with the internationally acclaimed Canadian TV host, producer and celebrity stylist Joe Zee.
Toronto-raised Zee has worked all over the world. He has collaborated with Hollywood’s elite (including Jennifer Aniston, Miley Cyrus and Julia Roberts), and has worked in a variety of media roles as Creative Director at ELLE US, and as Editor-in-Chief and Executive Creative Officer at Yahoo! Style. His trusted fashion expertise has earned him spots on top international TV shows, including Access Hollywood, FAB Life, NBC’s Today Show and Entertainment Tonight, and Canada’s STITCHED. Most recently, Zee produced the hit Netflix series, 7 Days Out, and published his self-written memoir, That’s What Fashion Is.
In October this year, Zee returned for his second consecutive year as Curator of the 17th annual Cashmere Collection Masquerade Ball. Unique in the world, the collection features 15 leading Canadian designers and their designs that reflect a Future Without Breast Cancer, all crafted in luxuriously soft sheets of Cashmere Bathroom Tissue. This year, the event was themed as the Masquerade Ball and challenged designers to create Cashmere BT Couture modelled on 16th century Venetian traditions. Some of the participating designers included Farley Chatto, Joseph Tassoni and Paul Hardy. General public was also invited to vote for their favourite gown online, with proceeds going to the Canadian Cancer Society.
We chatted with Zee in a Zoom interview, and discussed Cashmere, this year and his thoughts on the future of fashion.
HANNAH YAKOBI: I’ve been covering Cashmere runway shows for many years, and loved all the gowns this year.
JOE ZEE: Aren’t they amazing? Oh my God, it’s really just so impressive in so many ways.
How did you first get involved with Cashmere?
I’m always very open and excited about promoting Canada, Canadian talent and certainly Canadian talent in the fashion industry specifically. So, when Cashmere approached me last year, I was thinking: ‘This is such an interesting concept, and it will benefit a great cause for breast cancer awareness.’ I felt like it was a no-brainer.
When I worked on the curation of the show in 2019, we did it in real life. I have seen so many fashion shows, but what these designers had done with bathroom tissue was really mind-blowing. I couldn’t stop talking about it for weeks. Yes, the gowns are great, but I could also see the passion, the dedication and manpower – everything that they put into creating these pieces. That’s sort of like confection, it was like candy to me, it was so great.
After the show in 2019, we had immediately talked about 2020, and I said, ‘Why not take this and expand it even further? Why don’t we have a theme that’s as incredible as the Venetian Balls and masquerades of the 16th century?’ You can see from the results of this year that it turned out really stellar.
This year, everything has obviously been very different. What was your favourite part and what did you find to be the most challenging part about 2020’s show?
Last year, I loved it but, you know, it was for an audience. They got to experience the same sort of joy, excitement and passion that I saw. But this year, we were able to do it virtually, so anyone, anywhere could see the show. Everyone had front-row access. To me, that makes it more exciting. Of course, I still love seeing things in real-life too, and being able to experience the tangible part of it. So, I do miss that part!
Ultimately, it’s also important that the show is for a really great cause. It’s to raise awareness for cancer research, and especially breast cancer. Every year, the show kicks off the Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. Everyone can also be a fashion critic with Cashmere because they can go online and vote for the dress they like and, in doing so, Cashmere will donate a dollar for every vote – up to $10,000 – to the Canadian Cancer Society. It’s a great way to have fun and contribute to charity.
Absolutely, this is a big event every year! In terms of your other projects, what else have you been working on lately?
Oh, I’ve been working on many things. I’ve been the Global Artistic Director of Tatler Asia for the past two years. I’ve redesigned their print publication and we’re working on the website right now, so I’m really involved in all aspects of the business there. They are situated in eight of the biggest markets in Asia. Last year, I was there a lot, and I was there at the beginning of the year before everything shut down due to COVID. It’s been really fun to understand a new market and see things work in a very different way. Here in Los Angeles, I’ve been developing different television projects. They are in their ‘early days’, so it’s nothing really to talk about yet, but I have some very exciting things in the pipeline.
Speaking of the pandemic, what do you think about the fashion world these days? There have been so many changes for at least a decade. How are we adapting now? What do you think we have ahead of us?
I think the pandemic has made everybody re-evaluate what the priorities are. I mean, certainly fashion week has been the biggest change. Ultimately, people have been talking about reinventing fashion week for a very long time. I think the pandemic has made everybody pause and say: ‘Okay, we don’t get to just talk about it anymore, we have to figure it out right now.’
Designers are showing during fashion week, showing later, doing virtual shows, only doing pictures, or doing shows with no audience. Everyone is trying something different. Does anyone have the perfect formula? No. But it’s not going to happen overnight either.
The pandemic has pushed the industry to re-evaluate what works, what doesn’t and what the priorities are. Are we still showing clothes six months in advance? Who was that for? Is it for the consumer? Or is it really for the press? Who is the press anymore? I think we are asking ourselves a lot of hard questions right now.
We are sort of forecasting into 2021, but there won’t be a time where someone will just flick a light switch, and everything will go back to 2019. We will adopt a lot of these things that we have practiced in 2020. For example, the ability to work from home allows companies to hire people who live somewhere else and could be incredibly skilled, but cannot move to the city where the headquarters are. I think we are going to continue to see a lot of virtual shows, we’ll see shows turned upside down, we’ll see the schedule completely blown up.
How have you found working from home personally, especially with a young daughter? Congratulations to you and your partner, by the way!
Thank you! Yes, she was born in April! How have I found working from home? I like it! I like to be out and socialize, but we have been quarantined here in L.A. since March. Some things have reopened but, generally, it’s still pretty much the same. But, you know, having our baby in the other room, I would not have traded that for anything.
I think in another circumstance, I would have had a lot of FOMO of what’s happening out there, but now I don’t have any FOMO at all! There is no life happening out there. (laughs) So, my life exists right here, like this.
Very true! With the year winding down, I wanted to ask if there is anything that you think would be a good gift idea for the holiday season? What are your recommendations?
I mean, that’s certainly individual for each person, but this is a very different year. I think what people are going to value is something that feels personal and sentimental, something that feels like it comes from the heart.
I also believe we should all support small businesses that are out there, since they have been really hurting – whether it’s in Canada, the U.S. or anywhere for that matter. Here is a great chance to buy a gift card from a restaurant you love. Want to buy a book? Support it from a local bookstore. Want to buy toys? Get them online from a toy store in your neighbourhood. When you start to research, there are many, many ways in which you can support small businesses, Black-owned businesses, diverse businesses. If we all just bought one or two things from a local business, I think it would help tremendously.
Great tips. Thank you for your time. Hopefully, we can meet someday in-person!
I know, even my family has never met our daughter! We can’t come to Canada because there’s a two-week quarantine. It’s too hard to travel, so hopefully we can do it in the new year. We will see. It may work out too because maybe we’ll miss the snow that way! (laughs)
Photography courtesy of Cashmere and Joe Zee.