Canadian designer face-off: ask me anything!

August 28, 2014

As part of its mandate, FAJO has supported many Canadian fashion designers over the years. We helped some launch their careers worldwide, and have watched them expand globally, win awards and diversify their collections.

Next month, in The Fashion/Celebrity Issue, you’ll see a very special fashion editorial that features the work of some of the best Canadian designers to-date.

As a teaser, we connect all participating talent in The North American Issuehere is a spotlight on the quirky, fun and more intimate side of each one, featuring their selfies and cross-interviews, with questions you’ve never seen them answer before!

Farley Chatto

(interviewed by Jon De Porter)

4. Farley-Chatto

Farley Chatto.

JDP: Working in furs, you must have received some pretty spectacular requests from eccentric people. What is the most amazing or the most unusual project you have ever worked on?

FC: Fur brings such interesting and eccentric people, which is always a great challenge! I have to say, every project that we do — be it a small simple stole to the most outlandish coat — is always amazing to me. From start to finish, the artistry that is involved stuns me!

Specifically for the most unusual, I would have to say it would be for an international dignitary who wanted his vicuna coat (which I still had to make too) to have a detachable lining in fur — specifically North American lynx — and just the white portion! The kicker: no one was going to see the liner, because it was all on the inside. Oh, my crazy clients.

JDP: What is your favourite period in the fashion history?

FC: I am drawn to many periods — my most fave would be Louis XIV, Victorian and 40s Post-War. All have excessiveness and drama and yet, on the flip side, when you look at the opposite (workers and lower classes) — you have simpler versions of the Monarchy styles, and they are beautiful. Unadorned, simple and constrained, I love the mixing of these eras together. Don’t even get me started on the military dress….

JDP: If you weren’t a designer, what would you do?

FC: Funny, I ask myself this all the time. Well, my first love (and I trained for it) was to be a concert pianist. Then, my second love was gemmology — I wanted to work with precious stones and metals, like you Jon! And my secret career, I still hope for, is to be a Broadway performer. I want to win a Tony Award! There is something about the combination of acting, singing and dancing that excites me…. Designer in a musical or stage play, and the Tony goes to…

Jon De Porter

(interviewed by Farley Chatto)

5. Jon-De-Porter

Jon De Porter.

FC: What was it about pearls specifically that drew you to design with these as your main focus?

JDP: I got into pearls after my first visit to the Beijing pearl market in 2008: a building the size of Toronto’s Eaton Centre, with over 1,500 shops dedicated to pearls. That market was like a candy shop meets Ali Baba’s cave. I discovered shapes and colours that I had never seen before and realized that pearls had so much more to offer than what we are used to seeing, just like the furs you work with…  We all love our grandmother’s minks and Jackie O’s triple strand of pearls, but customers nowadays are looking for something new, something fresh, something exciting!

FC: I know that you love collecting Hermès scarves; what is it about them makes you collect them? (P.S. When am I going to steal ‘the one’ from you?)

JDP: We call them “carré de soie” and they truly are silk canvases on which Hermès prints the work of amazing artists. The one you are referring to is my newest baby, Brandebourgs, from 2007 by prolific Hermès artist Cathy Latham. It is a very sought-after design and just like a lithograph from a well-known artist, I bought it at an auction and I had to fight for it… So, it might be hard for me to part with it! Each of them tells a story, you can look at them over and over, and still notice new details every time. On my first visit to the flagship store in Paris, I learned that the ‘rollers’ who perform the stitching of the edges have to practice for six months before they are allowed to touch an actual ‘carré.’ Now, that is one high standard for quality control!

FC: If you could be a cartoon character, what or who would you be?

JDP: All my friends are expecting me to say Veronica Lodge, Cruella Devil or something like that. Well, you guys are not wrong, but; I have been channelling my inner Wolverine lately. Something happened when I turned 30 this year, I’m starting to like my masculinity, my big shoulders (that don’t fit the sample sizes). Who knows, there might be a Hugh Jackman buried under all the pearls and the Hermès scarves…

Matthew Gallagher

(interviewed by Mary Lou Banks, LuluB Designs)

7. Matthew-Gallagher

Matthew Gallagher.

MLB: What are your favourite fashion websites and why?

MG: I regularly read Business of Fashion and WWD for news in the industry, and to check out the latest collections from around the world. I think it is really important to learn about what is happening in the industry to help you understand how you are running your business and mistakes you can potentially avoid. It is equally important to follow what other designers are doing and have a strong knowledge of new techniques, innovative ideas and what trends are strong at that time.

MLB: Who was/is your fashion design idol and why?

MG: I would have to say Tom Ford. I love that he entered Gucci when it was falling apart and managed to revive it so perfectly that it allowed for the success they are currently having. There is something so admirable about someone who is powerful in the industry and able to make people want something and love something again.

MLB: What made you choose fashion design as your profession?

MG: It has always been something I was passionate about. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I really understood it could be my profession. I’m happy with what I’m doing and although it is a lot of work, it feels worth it to be doing something I love. I really couldn’t imagine doing anything else. If I did, I would still be sketching my ideas and dreaming of making them a reality.

Mary Lou Banks

(interviewed by Matthew Gallagher)

6. Mary-Lou-Banks

Mary Lou Banks.

MG: For a fashion designer, you start a collection with a concept and research to create a cohesive story told by clothes. How do you begin the process of designing a jewelry collection

MLB: I am inspired by the stones, and how they make me feel. For example, when I found the titanium-coated rose quartz crystals, I felt they were edgy, yet elegant, and created a collection merging them with pearls.

I never sketch my ideas. I lay the stones out and move them around from an image in my head. Then, choose my other materials, such as the chain or clasp, by what I feel is the ideal scale. Typically, I start a collection with the ‘statement’ necklace, and then take it from there – wherever that leads me.

MG: If you could collaborate with any jeweler, who would it be and why?

MLB: While the jeweller is no longer alive, it for sure would have to be Coco Chanel. She was the first designer who made women embrace themselves, and dress for their style and comfort, rather than conforming to the style of the times. Her designs are timelessly wearable.

MG:What is your most favourite and least favourite material to work with? And which material are you anxious to try working with?  

MLB: Good question! As a geologist, I am attracted to all the treasures that lay beneath the surface. They are unique and perfect, even with their imperfections (much as the woman who wear them). But then again, I love the sparkle of Swarovski crystals. So mixing the earth-made stones with man-made stones is my favourite. My least favourite thing to work with is solder. I have not mastered it quite yet and this is most likely because I am terrified of setting something on fire.

What I am anxious of working on is the fairly new Swarovski product called Ceralun 2 Part Epoxy Clay in silver. Every time I go to order it, it is out of stock. One of these days.

Emily Woudenberg

(interviewed by Zoran Dobric)

3. Emily-Woudenberg

Emily Woudenberg.

ZD: What is your favourite material to work with, and what material that you have never used before would you like to try using?

EW: I love multimedia. I would like to continue moving messages through mediums such as jewelry, video, web, print or runway. So, I guess my material preference is dependent on the message. I’m not sure what I will do next exactly — but I am interested in physical textures and materials turning digital.

ZD: What is your favourite gelato flavour?

EW: My favourite gelato is probably something lemony or vanilla. But I prefer ice cream!

ZD: Describe your dream vacation.

EW: I’m hoping to do a little road trip yet this summer. Something beach-y. It’s more about the company…and food.

Zoran Dobric

(interviewed by Emily Woudenberg)

12. Zoran-Dobric-BW

Zoran Dobric.

EM: Your work has experimented over the years with a variety of printing and construction techniques. Do you derive more inspiration re-inventing techniques from the past, or take inspiration from newer technologies?

ZD: I love exploring both old techniques and new ones, but I try to use them in an innovative way. For example, I may use batik, which is an ancient technique, but try to give it my own twist. I also embrace the new technologies, such as laser cutting and digital print, but try to use them on unexpected fabrics and finishings.

EM: With your very international education and background, what role do you see for Canadian-based design in the international market in the future? More specifically, what changes do you think should be made to compete (or not) with larger design capitols?

ZD: I feel Canada has some amazing designers who are as good as some of the well-known international designers.  The quality of work is definitively there, but what lacks is funding. It’s very difficult for a Canadian designer to participate in a Paris or New York trade show, or to hire a sales rep. However, this is the only way to grow the business internationally if you’re based in Canada. This is where government funding could help. For example, British designers have multiple organizations that help sponsor and promote their designers abroad, which really helps with their distribution and marketing. Unfortunately, there’s no international brand growth without solid financial investment, design talent is only the beginning, but business support is crucial.

EM: The last one was almost two questions! So an easier one. Three words to describe your upcoming collection or the direction your work is taking.

ZD: It will be about chance/coincidence and wabi sabi.

Sunny Fong

(interviewed by Sarah Houston)

11. Sunny-Fong-BW

Sunny Fong.

SH: What is your most favourite piece of clothing that you have ever designed, and why?

SF: My first bias cut dress. It was my first piece where I challenged myself to see if I can master the bias cut like John Galliano. Since I’m self-taught, it was definitely a challenge.

SH: What is your biggest frustration about this industry?

SF: What frustrates me about the industry is how small it is, and it’s hard for designers and new designers to establish a name in Canada and abroad.

SH: Why did you choose designing for a woman as opposed to other areas of designing?

SF: I loved womenswear ever since Cinderella needed a gown to the ball… There is so much freedom designing in women’s fashion and it fulfills my design cravings.

Sarah Houston

(interviewed by Sunny Fong)

8. Sarah-Houston-BW

Sarah Houston.

SF: With every collection, where do you find the inspiration/story for it?

SH: With every collection the inspiration is different, sometimes music, sometimes a fabric or art but, mostly, architecture. I love stone and iron work, it helps me to think.

SF: Why did you get into fashion? If you were not a designer what other career do you see yourself doing? What are your other passions?

SH: Fashion originally was just a hobby, making clothes for my Barbie dolls. As I got older, I loved looking at fabrics and spent hours browsing through fabric stores. I would buy pieces and keep them until I had an inspiration.

If I was not a designer, I would definitely, without a doubt, be an architect. I love the thought of re-creating old buildings with modern amenities. My problem regarding passions is I have too many things I either love or want to do. My bucket list is very full. However, the top of my list is travel, ballroom dancing, decorative pillows (I love collecting them…all different shapes, textures and sizes).

SF: What is your guilty pleasure? And what makes you laugh?


There are lots of things that make me laugh but, hands down, I would have to say my husband. He comes up with the craziest statements and actions, that leave me in hysterics. Days later, when I think of them I still laugh. Just the other day, I came into the bathroom and he started doing ninja moves with a brush that made that swooshie air noise like Jackie Chan. If you are a male and reading this you will understand the noise, as a woman you probably won’t nor will you want to.

Sid Neigum

(interviewed by Caitlin Power)

10. Sid-Neigum

Sid Neigum.

CP: What is the one outfit/garment, created by another designer, that changed your perception of fashion?

SN: Gareth Pugh’s SS07 Collection is a stand-out for me, particularly the prism dress. It got me interested in finding new materials and technologies.

CP: What’s a typical day in the design studio for you?

SN: It depends on the month, but could range from pattern drafting, draping or cutting samples, or grading patterns into sizes. Sometimes, I will be cutting layers of fabric for production orders, or travelling for sales appointments.

Most of the time I’m wearing 10 different hats in one day! As I know, you are too.

CP: If you weren’t a fashion designer, what would your career choice be?

SN: Maybe an architect, maybe a chef, maybe a DJ, perhaps an industrial designer. Something where I can create something from nothing.

Caitlin Power

(interviewed by Sid Neigum)

1. Caitlin-Power-BW

Caitlin Power.

SN: If you could dress anybody, dead or alive, who would it be? And why?

CP: I would love to dress Victoria Beckham, she’s a great style icon.

SN: Which part of making a collection is your favourite? And why?

CP: I like the beginning, and the end.

The brainstorm and design is interesting, and seeing the final collection come together is like jumping over a huge hurdle.

SN: Where would you like to be in five years?

CP: In five years I see myself in New York City, living the American dream.

Sarah Stevenson

(interviewed by Christopher Paunil)

9. Sarah-Stevenson

Sarah Stevenson.

CP: How do you feel about men wearing make-up?

SS: Make-up, like clothing, is a form of self-expression and everyone should be allowed to express themselves freely. If men want to use make-up as a tool for this, then I’m all for it!

CP: When was the first time you realized that you wanted to pursue a career in the fashion industry and what sparked that interest?

SS: It wasn’t until after university while I was doing my MA in another field that I realized I wanted a career in fashion. What sparked the interest was really a deep love for fashion and after a lot of soul-searching I discovered that this would make me the happiest.

CP: If there was one thing standing in the way of a fashion designer’s success in Canada, what would it be?

SS: A disconnect between designers’ products and the right market. It’s very difficult in Canada for new designers to get their products out there, and without sales and exposure you can’t grow.

Christopher Paunil

(interviewed by Sarah Stevenson)

2. Christopher-Paunil

Christopher Paunil.

SS: If you could pick any designer, dead or alive, to design one garment for you, who would it be and what would it be?

CP: Hmmm, that’s a tough one. Two things and two designers come to mind. I would love Christian Dior to make me a gown — not to wear, but just to look at and admire. I would also love Alexander McQueen to create a beautifully tailored jacket that I could wear for casual occasions and fancy ones.

SS: If you weren’t a designer what would you be?

CP: Growing up, I was always into cop shows and spy shows. Some people don’t know this about me, but I can hold my own in a fist fight. To this day, I think I’d make a pretty good spy. Who would ever expect me? #sydneybristowalias #jasonbourne

SS: You have a successful bridal wear line and recently launched a ready-to-wear line. What’s next for the Christopher Paunil brand?

CP: Well, there are many things that I would like to do. I would like to expand to different markets across Canada and the U.S., and eventually overseas. It takes careful planning and with baby steps I think I’ll get there! I would also love to design beautiful shoes to go with my wedding gowns…maybe jewelry and a fragrance down the road too!


By Hannah Yakobi and Marcus Kan
Photography by Kareen Mallon & courtesy of each designer


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