Joeffer Caoc on the business of fashion

December 12, 2011

By Hannah Yakobi

Photography by Kareen Mallon

Joeffer Caoc is one of the most established and respected fashion designers in Canada. His career started with his first collection in 1995 and since then he has dressed fashionistas across the country, as well as in the United States. Many celebrities have also worn his pieces, including Nelly Furtado, Coco Rocha, Daria Werbowy, Jill Hennessy and Jeanne Beker. He tells FAJO Magazine about the creative design process behind his collections, his personal style and his evolution as a designer.

Joeffer Caoc.

Can you tell us about your current projects?

I am designing the fall collection. Every season, we try to do something that keeps with the same Joeffer Caoc aesthetic, but has a different twist. Last spring, a lot of the comments were that my collection was very different, because I made it very casual, as opposed to my regular very dressy garments. One of the things I’m trying to push is how to mix day and evening wear, but in a very cool way. That’s what we are trying to do for fall: make it dressy, but also make it very casual. We are going to change it up around – I normally do a lot of very clean, simple things, but it’s not going to be like that this time.

Caoc at his design studio in Toronto.

What is the design process normally like for you?

The first thing to figure out is what to design exactly – because for me to design something that is not going to be worn defeats the purpose of designing. At this point, I think I’ve really figured out the end customer and where she is going to wear my pieces. It’s a real psychology: we start with the fabrics and ask – is she going to wear that, is she going to pay for it? I always have a central theme in my head on how we are going to work everything together and I’m always inspired by something – usually something related to pop culture. Last season, for example, the collection was all about sports – it was reflected in all the colour combinations we used, the idea of casual, the athletic theme. I’m also trying to be more athletic in my personal life (laughs), so I think that’s where it came from!

We look at a lot of vintage clothing too, as well as couture ways of making clothes, because there are a lot of elements that have been lost with mass marketing. All the little finishings and details are very interesting to us and are a great source of inspiration, because of fabric combinations used in vintage pieces.

Normally, we review what has done well, what sold, what didn’t. Then I build an artistic theme and then we start trying different bodies and putting things together. Then I have to take it to the sales team. It’s a real compromise, I think. For me it’s really important that it does sell. It’s a complicated process – you want it to sell but you also want to make a fashion statement.

Caoc's studio is a colourful space, filled with patterns, fabrics and various fashion tools.

Where do you source fabrics?

A lot of them come from Europe. I’ve been working with a lot of jerseys in the past few years. I do like working with jersey because it’s so pliable and it drapes nicely. I would say it’s my favourite fabric. I love tailoring too. I love building jackets and seaming things, and making slimmer silhouettes.

What is your favourite collection to date?

The Momentum collection in spring 2008. It was influenced by Studio 54; we did a lot of shots of bright colours, chiffons, beads and a lot of really interesting and glamorous fabrics. But the whole collection was very clean. It is my favourite because it started off as a little bit of a disaster, but in the end it was probably the most effortless collection I ever worked on. Everything just came together.

How do you think your work has changed over the years?

It’s become a lot cleaner, in terms of how the garments are made and I’ve learnt a lot about merchandising. I also have a better understanding of the female figure. And again, you can only get that with time. This can also be difficult because I’m a man. So that’s why I have a lot of women in my life and I do get a lot of input that way. It’s good because I think it pushes you – the customers give you feedback too and ask: how do I get myself to look thinner, or more sexy, or more age-appropriate? So you get bombarded with all these questions and you have to filter and streamline it, plus you have to have a vision too. You have to design things that address all of those needs.

Caoc is all about his team. Here he is pictured with his public relations agents Pat Angelakos (left) and Bronwyn Aikens (second right), and his design assistant Kelly Smith (second left).

What was the biggest challenge at the start of your career?

It was the money! (laughs) People always say: “it’s your own company.” But that’s not necessarily true. I had different investors and there were challenges – you know, answering to somebody else who had a very large financial stake. But I needed to do it because I needed to market my clothing and produce it. It’s fine to design a collection, but if you can’t produce it – it’s not going anywhere. Now, the company is privately owned by me and my partner.

Describe your personal style.

I’m very simple, casual, practical. I like to design very dressy things, but I never wear suits. I do like shots of colour and mixing things up – buying high-end clothes and mixing them up with clothes from boutiques or H&M.

The fashion industry is quite small – do you have friends who you exchange ideas with?

I am really good friends with Rita Liefhebber, and we often work together. And because she used to be a stylist, she represents that side of fashion too. So it’s cool because we keep bouncing ideas off of each other.

What are your future plans?

We are looking to expand the market again and expand our client base. I’m happy because the clothing is where I want it to be, as is the infrastructure!

Joeffer Caoc’s clothing is sold in specialty boutiques across Canada and the US. To find out more about Joeffer, visit

Behind the scenes – in Joeffer Caoc’s design studio

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Joeffer Caoc – spring/summer 2012

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