By Katia Ostapets
Photography by Tara West
Everyone has a creation story. The Haitian jewelry and fashion designer, Ralph Leroy’s, starts with a kidnapping.
Ever the entrepreneur, Leroy had a successful career in marketing on the island. When he discovered he was about to be kidnapped, he suddenly had to leave everything behind and flee to Miami hoping to return within a few days. When Leroy realized this would not be possible, he settled in New York.
“I didn’t know I was going to be in the fashion industry,” he says. He came into the sector by chance, working as a model to pay the bills. “I worked for some photographers, stylists and did some fashion shows, but I never liked what I was wearing. Then I realized: maybe I should make my own line! Maybe that is where I will be happy.”
Only years later did Leroy understand that fashion was his first love all along. Interestingly, it was also the industry his mother was involved in.
From the age of five, Leroy was on stage, and by 16 he had his own theatre company. A year later, he wrote a play that sold out at a theatre in Haiti’s capital. Combined with his entrepreneurial drive he was unstoppable, later running a marketing company and now his own fashion brand. The designer credits his mother with his ambition, “it was very important for her to teach me how to make my own money.”
Deciding New York was too “fast” for him and looking to live in a place with a European flare, Leroy decided to move to Montréal.
Starting as a jewelry designer, he eventually expanded into womenswear and menswear. His colourful outerwear is particularly popular, especially in Canada where many people end up looking alike in the winter in black and brown.
“I know what I like and what I don’t like,” says Leroy. “The difference between the men and the women is that you can’t get too [colour] crazy with the men.” He adds that although he takes chances with unusual colours and trims, the menswear pieces have to be simplified before they can be sold. On the other hand, women can handle a bit more.
Overall, his focus is a versatile and classic European cut with good quality. Leroy says some people think he is crazy when he wants to make a cashmere coat with silk lining and then sell this statement piece for a reasonable price, but he says if he cannot do it right he will not do it at all.
In general, Leroy’s business strategy is: “’No’ is not an answer.”
Right now he is working on his fall/winter 2013 collection. He has already chosen the name for it and is very excited. Also 2013 will have a larger Ralph Leroy presence in Toronto, with a potential show at World MasterCard Fashion Week. Although the marketer inside him is determined to keep the plans secret, Leroy hints that he may soon be surprising pedestrians with a second ever Flashion Mob, like the one he did in Montréal earlier this year. Hint – look out for Union station and Dundas Square.
The key to Leroy’s business growth is his multifaceted approach. “If you rip me open you will find three men: the bright Caribbean one with the colours and life in him, the American businessman because the job has to be done, and the one with European style – classic tailoring and beauty in everything!”
Ralph Leroy in Toronto