By Jill Adams
Photography courtesy of Bernice & Barclay
When I spoke to the design duo behind Bernice & Barclay over the phone, Lorianne Hawdur and James Nesbitt were finishing each other’s thoughts, naturally injecting funny banter as if it was an act they’d rehearsed a dozen times. They had just come from their first of two days of hosting a pop-up shop in Ottawa.
“We like to sing ’80’s rock songs together,” admits Hawdur. “Basically, if you’re in our studio…”
“You’ll be subjected to Whitney Houston on end,” concludes Nesbitt.
“It’s really bad singing, constantly,” says Hawdur.
“But it keeps the morale up,” adds Nesbitt.
“That’s what keeps us going,” says Hawdur definitively.
Hawdur landed an internship with Mexx Canada right after graduating from LaSalle College, and she then returned to Ottawa. Nesbitt studied haute couture at the Richard Robinson Academy of Fashion Design and worked his way through retail before becoming a stylist for Le Chateau.
Meeting through Hawdur’s sister, the designers were friends before their common interests evolved into a business venture — Bernice & Barclay — which they named using the combination of their middle names. They are adamant that their friendship still comes first.
“Lori and I, we’re not afraid to communicate with one another. We’re almost like brother and sister at this point, so I find we can be very candid,” says Nesbitt.
He explains that open communication allows them to share ideas freely and neither will shy away from expressing points of view or jumping in to help each other. Both designers have input on each project and share the workload, but Hawdur and Nesbitt frequently branch into their own specialities while they are designing. With a technical background, Hawdur does a lot of the pattern-making, while Nesbitt takes the reins communicating with retailers and styling the collections.
The duo agrees that their other big strengths are each other and constant humor.
“If Lori is feeling a little low, I’ll try on every accessory we have in our closet,” says Nesbitt. “I’ll model them for her and she seems to like that. We’re lucky that we [find] each other pretty funny,” Hawdur chimes in.
The pair, who once viewed their work as a combination of Hawdurs’ minimalist approach and Nesbitt’s classic style, describes a shift that has come from working together.
“Being on our third collection now, our styles have kind of melded from James and Lori to Bernice & Barclay,” says Hawdur. “We’re melding into the same person.” On the rare occasions they disagree, they prefer to either confront each other head-on or take a few hours apart before returning to the project, picking up where they left off. “We both always meet in the middle somehow,” says Hawdur happily.
Appearing on the fashion scene last February, their fall/winter 2013 collection debuted at Ottawa Fashion Week where they garnered attention for chic, yet easy-to-wear pieces. “It’s an approachable line,” says Nesbitt.
They haven’t faced anything too challenging and have had great support from the public, retailers (such as viens avec moi and Fresh Collective) and their friends and family.
Hawdur shares that they set aside a bottle of champagne for the moment when they think “we did it!” However, every time they reach that point, they decide not to celebrate quite yet. “I think as long as we’re in business, we’re always going to be striving for different goals,” she says.
With great ambitions, the designers hope to one day expand coast-to-coast in Canada and build a strong national presence. “And perhaps menswear,” adds Nesbitt, after a reminder from Hawdur. “We get a lot of inquiries from men. So maybe we’ll put the Barclay in Bernice & Barclay!”