Vis-à-vis: Pam Chorley

January 23, 2011

By Hannah Yakobi

Photography by Brendan Ross

Pam Chorley poses for FAJO Magazine.

Pam Chorley, one of Canada’s most sought-after fashion designers, began her career in the early 80s. She designed jewelry for Le Chateau’s accessory line, and soon after started her very own store, which was one of the first on the now-famous Queen Street West in Toronto.

Chorley’s company Fashion Crimes now dresses many celebrities and her designs have been continuously seen in the Toronto Fashion Week and on many other runways.

We caught up with her on a busy Thursday evening for an exclusive interview and photoshoot.

Chorley at her boutique in Toronto.

The first fashion incident I really remember is skipping kindergarten, sitting under a tree and scowling because my mother made me wear plaid. To this day, I hate plaid.

I learnt how to sew when I was very young, and later got a more advanced, electric sewing machine. I didn’t study fashion design, but have been making clothes since I was about 8 years old.

When I went to college for about a year, I realized that college wasn’t for me – everybody I met related to the fashion industry was too flaky, so I figured I’d just keep it as a hobby. But when I started my own business it really picked up and has been flourishing ever since.

What was your first fashion disaster?

The first big mistake I ever made was making a pair of boots. From curtains. They were thigh-high and really pointy. My girlfriend and I made them together but we forgot we needed a zipper to get out of them. So we sewed them right onto our bodies and thought ‘These are great, but we can’t get out of them!’ I was only about 10 or 11 years old.

Why are you a fashion designer?

One thing that I attracted me to fashion the most when I started was the visual aspect of it. I’m a very visual person and not just when it comes to fashion. I’ve always liked very girly, theatrical things that made the heads turn. I try to incorporate that into everything we have at the store.

The renowned designer says that she has always been a big fan of dresses.

Pretty much everything in the store is designed by me. We bring in about 30 per cent of items from outside sources, because we just can’t physically produce more than we do. We work really hard!

We also have a lot of dresses.

Why dresses?

Let me share something with you. In my whole life, except for one time in high school, I have never, ever worn pants. I’ve always wanted to wear dresses. That’s why we don’t have any pants in the store. I did do pants for just one season, and even then they sort of looked like a dress. That’s what makes me tick – T-shirts, casual wear, coats.

I like textured, vintage-feeling fabrics. I’m not a ‘less is more’ person. I don’t like anything simple.

How do you design new items?

I’ve never done collections. I don’t think of seasons, I think of individual designs. Everything is more based on what fabrics I can get.

Dresses at Fashion Crimes make every girl feel like a princess.

I really don’t think that new designers can start the way I did back in the 80s. You can’t do it gradually. I’ve never advertised in my life, but you have to do it now. I always tell all of my co-op students – volunteer as much as you can. You have to be really dedicated in this industry.

And I like to give back to the community, so we have been offering retail and manufacturing internships and co-ops to college and high school students for the last 17 years. I just think it’s an amazing way to dispel a lot of illusions about the industry for young talents, and makes them realize which part of fashion design they are best at –sewing, for example. Plus, it’s rewarding, and some of the kids come back and visit for years.

What is your best selling item?

Definitely, our dresses. Around seven years ago we started registering our prom dresses. So if a client finds something unique, she won’t have to worry about going to her prom and seeing another girl in the same dress. The price range is between $299 to over $1,000. We also do custom work based on what we have.

We pride ourselves in helping clients pick their dresses. Some girls wear dresses very rarely. We often give them something they are pretty much refusing to try on and then they put it on and fall in love with it. It’s like an award show here – mothers, daughters, friends: all lined up to see who tries on what.

Our goal is to find a dress that would make every client look stunning. We’ll sell you a cheaper one if it looks better on you – we just want people to look great. And we love hearing a client tell us how someone looked at them and said: ‘Oh my God, you look amazing. Where did you get that dress?’

For more information about Pam Chorley and Fashion Crimes, please visit

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Frocktail photos courtesy of Fashion Crimes.



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