Wesley Badanjak: designing clothes for real women

March 12, 2012

By Hannah Yakobi

Photography by Kareen Mallon

Wesley Badanjak’s name is synonymous with classic tailoring and sophistication. His talent and dedication to the fashion industry have helped him become one of Canada’s most beloved designers in less than four years.

In the midst of final preparations for several shows, Badanjak sits down for an interview and photoshoot with FAJO Magazine, and talks about his latest projects, the name behind his brand and the most important people in his life.

Wesley Badanjak.

HANNAH YAKOBI: This has been a very busy season for you, and you are also participating in the Dare To Wear Love gala on Mar.16, as part of the World MasterCard Fashion Week in Toronto. Can you tell us more about the dress you will be presenting?

WESLEY BADANJAK: The dress was finished a few weeks ago – I really wanted to make a piece that was not kitschy, because I think it is a bit of a shame when people make almost a costume out of it. I wanted to show that you can take this beautifully handmade fabric and make it into a garment that you can actually wear somewhere.

Last season, I did a gown that was quite dramatic, and this season I wanted to go with something short and cute.

Model Naro wears the dress that Badanjak will be sending down the runway at the Dare to Wear Love fashion show on Mar.16, 2012.

You participate in many shows that bring together some of the top Canadian fashion designers: Dare to Wear Love, Cashmere and The Heart Truth. Do you like participating in these kinds of joint events?

Yes, I do. The Dare to Wear Love show to me is special because of the concept of the charity itself – we constantly hear about people raising money but you kind of don’t really know where the money is going.

Working with Jim and Chris of Hoax Couture [Chris Tyrell and Jim Searle, organizers of the show] is different because they said right away: “No, we know for a fact that this money is going to the people; it’s helping women in the front lines who are being affected by HIV/AIDS, who actually need the support.”

And to me – that is amazing. Because you know if you are doing something for this charity or donating money, you know it is being used well. It is not being spent on administration costs.

I like the idea too that it is a charity for women, and they are doing a lot of work with the grandmothers who are taking care of their deceased children’s children. The idea behind it really touched my heart. And, of course, Stephen Lewis has done such great things.

In terms of your own vision for your collections, which you have been doing since 2008 – how do you think your work as a designer has changed? Is your vision still the same? Have you advanced in certain areas?

I think my vision of who I dress has kind of stayed the same, and the end goal is still the idea that I’m making clothes for women to feel their utmost best. You want that satisfaction of women trying on your clothes and just feeling better about themselves.

So that’s always stayed the same with Lovas, and my vision with the brand itself, but obviously the more you do, the more experience you get, and the better you get at things. I think my skills as a designer and my tailoring expertise have gotten better season after season. You know, I’ve always done suits, jackets and coats. But now I finally feel that I am at a place where I can do anything that I can draw.

How would you describe your client – the Lovas woman, what is she like?

It’s hard; it’s not like a single kind of woman. Your goal is that you wish everyone is going to wear it, but obviously not everyone will. My woman is someone who is sophisticated. She is definitely all about fashion-forward classicism. So, she wants things that are new and fresh but, at the same time, that won’t go out of style in six months. That’s always a hard line to balance because you have to be innovative, but yet wearable and classic.

And it’s also kind of like all the women in my life, mixed up in this one woman.

Badanjak is inspired by his mother and the women close to him.

When you say all the women in your life, does that mean your mother and your aunt? Because I know that they are often your inspiration.

Of course, I did my collection based on them! So my Mom and my aunt, and my female cousins, Julie and Alex, are really big inspirations because they are four very similar yet very different women.

I would say that my Mom is the first inspiration. When the new collection comes, she says: ‘Let me see!’ and we do a mini-fashion show! Her opinion matters to me. At the beginning of the season, she’d also look at my fabrics and [I’d ask her] – do you like this? Would you wear this?

My Mom is a very fashionable woman, but she is not a crazy fashionable woman. She likes something new, innovative and fresh, but it has to be wearable. So she’ll be the first one to tell me: are you sure you want to go that route, it’s a little bit funky.

I ask my girlfriends too: I have a large group of great friends. From my friend Rose, who is six feet tall and is very athletic, to my friend Franka who works in fashion, is curvy, tiny petite and wears all the brand names. So I look at all of them too: all their needs, their careers, their lives, running around with kids – and try and tailor pieces for them as well.

A lot of designers choose to have an eponymous collection. How and why did you choose the name Lovas?

Lovas is actually the name of my father’s village because he was born in Croatia. I always knew my name was not the easiest to pronounce: it’s not one of those things that you read on a label that is easy to say.

The idea of naming it Lovas was an homage to my family. In 1991, there was the civil war in Croatia, and my father’s village was one of the first to be hit – my grandparents and my uncle were all killed, along with cousins and neighbours. It was a really hard time, and a lot of bad things happened in a very small place that a lot of people have forgotten about.

I named my brand Lovas, because to the day I die, I will have to talk about this story, and keep the awareness of what had happened. We haven’t gotten retribution, and I think it is necessary to keep this whole story alive, so people always know that in very recent times, in our lifetime, this has happened in the world – and this shouldn’t happen again.

So it’s a very macabre, sad story, but to me it’s a veneration of the place that my Dad grew up in, that I spent many summers at, that shaped my Dad and shaped me in turn.

That is a very touching story… Lovas is clearly a collection that is very close to your heart! But you also work on a lot of other collections, simultaneously. How do you find the time?

Yes, I do. It’s hard, it really is – I don’t sleep much; lately especially.

I design Lovas, have just taken on designing Basch, and then I have my diffusion line Wesley B. exclusively for the Shopping Channel. And I consult on a lot of projects as well.

At Eleventh Floor Apparel warehouse, where Badanjak's line (and those of other designers) is made.

But you like it?

I like it. Some days – I don’t. Some days, let’s be honest, when you are exhausted and tired, and can’t go out with your friends or go to bed because you have some accounting to do – you get a little frustrated. But it works out.

The biggest thing in our business, as you know, is that it’s cyclical, so some times of the year are great, but other times, like right now, are the times when you are overwhelmed with work!

What do you think is next for you in the next five or 10 years?

Oh my God, I don’t even know! I just take it day by day. I want to stay in Canada, obviously, where every season, our sales are expanding and we are growing. But there is going to come a point in time where we will have to enter the international market.

That’s not something to take lightly and it really takes a lot of work and strategizing. You need to know how to do that properly because it can be the downfall of the designer if you grow too fast, too quickly. My motto has always been: ‘slow and steady wins the race’. Every year, we are growing slowly but surely, our name is getting out there, our customers are coming back, I’m enjoying the product more. I think that’s how you make a lasting brand. Being a shooting star is not always the best way to do things, because those shooting stars fade away.

You really want to be someone who in five, 10 years from now, will still be in people’s consciousness. You want people to walk into a boutique, see LOVAS and say: ‘Oh, I know this brand, and it fits really, really well!’

Photo gallery

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The Dare to Wear Love 3 will take place at the World MasterCard Fashion Week on Mar.16, 2012 and will be the closing night gala. Once again, it will showcase the talents of Canada’s top fashion designers, with amazing dancers, musicians and celebrity models.

The funds raised at this event help to turn the tide against HIV and AIDS in Africa through the support of the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Limited tickets will be available on site or at http://www.daretowearlove.com


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