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Dropping by the Backseat: Smythe Designers Andrea Lenczner and Christie Smythe

I have a serious Smythe addiction. If you’ve followed this blog for even a minute, you’ll already know that I have a healthy collection of the Canadian brand’s equestrian jackets and shawl collar blazers in a range of colours and fabrics, and it keeps on growing. Just how many do I have? That’s the very question Smythe co-designers Andrea Lenczner and Christie Smythe asked me when I dropped by their studio for a chat recently, and it got me counting. I stopped when I went into the double digits. My official response? “Never enough”.

As Smythe’s #1 fan, I too had burning questions, and Christie and Andrea kindly answered all of them. Read on to find out how they met, their worst fashion pas, and all about that time everyone’s favourite Duchess famously donned a certain chic navy blazer of theirs.

The Backseat Stylers: What’s your earliest fashion memory?

Andrea Lenczner: My mom had a few items that were very glamourous to me, but she didn’t wear them probably because they were mighty uncomfortable. It baffled me that you wouldn’t wear those things every day: they were sexy, super fashionable. My mom was a stay-at-home, but I was like, “why wouldn’t you want to look like that every day?” On my birthday, she would wear what I liked her to wear and come and get me at school in some fancy outfit.

Christie Smythe: My brother Tommy and I used to play dress-up all the time. It helps to have a gay brother who wants to dress up. My mom had things that were to us really fantastical, like a Mongolian coat, which was crazy and Elton John-looking. It was my mom as well who set the bar for my interest in fashion.

Andrea: When I was in junior high, my mom took me to a store in Yorkville called Sublime to buy an outfit for a semi-formal. That was when Dean and Dan [Caten] were designing for Ports [1961] but I think they secretly had designed their own line on the side and were selling it through Sublime. They were ripping open boxes and making me try stuff on. There I was, these 2 fashion wonders, and they were like, “Oh, you have wonderful clavicles.” I’m sure I had buck teeth and braces and frizzy hair, but I was their model for half an hour in the store. That was my first true fashion experience. It was really cool.

How did you two meet?

Christie: We became friends in high school, in math class. Instead of paying attention, we were always talking about what we were going to wear to the semi-formal, what dress we were going to have designed, doing little drawings of them. Then we started borrowing clothes from each other. [Fashion] was a part of our friendship from the very beginning.

How did you get into the fashion industry?

Christie: After I completed my degree at Parsons, I did several internships. First I worked in shoes for Donald Pliner. I did internships with Prada and W. My biggest stint was at Gap in the design office for about 3-4 years.

Andrea: And I just muscled my way into the Holt Renfrew buying office with no experience…and a scrapbook.

Continue reading →

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Dropping by the Backseat: Joanna Track, eLUXE Founder & CEO

I’m an online shopper. For several years now, the bulk of my wardrobe additions have come by way of the Internet, though in the early goings shopping online from Canada was incredibly frustrating. Between ridiculous international shipping costs, hefty duties and U.S. sites that wouldn’t accept Canadian credit cards, there was a lot to battle in order to get access to the wider selections and more reasonable pricing found on e-commerce sites outside of Canada.

I used to daydream about starting my own e-boutique, one that would be based in Canada and thus avoid all the above problems. I never did act on that idea, but Joanna Track did. Over the last year and a half, the founder and CEO of eLUXE has been building the e-retail site of my dreams, right here in Toronto. Obviously, I had to meet her.

The Backseat Stylers: What’s your earliest fashion memory?

Joanna Track: When I was in 6th grade, OshKosh overalls were a really big thing. It was the trend, but I couldn’t afford it, [so] I went and found them at KMart. They weren’t OshKosh, but they looked exactly the same. I still remember [realizing], “OK, you don’t always have to spend a certain amount. You can do things on a budget.” I was so proud of myself that I had [gotten] the look that I wanted at a price that I could afford.

What inspired you to start eLUXE?

As a consumer myself, I’m an avid online shopper. When I had my son, I went to Florida for the winter and I ordered everything online. It just became my lifestyle; I never had to go to a store. Then I came back to Toronto, and I couldn’t do that. I had been shopping on Shopbop and Net-a-porter, and then I came home [to Toronto] to duties and shipping, and God forbid I had to return something. I thought, there’s a huge opportunity to bring Canadian women the same amazing online shopping experience that all our friends from the U.S. and Europe get to enjoy.

What’s the best part of your job?

Besides seeing all the clothes and being so close to it every day, the people. [The eLUXE team is] such a creative, fun group of people. I always say [that] we’re not saving lives and we’re not necessarily changing the world in a bigger, broader way, but because there are so many problems in the world, we’re giving women a slice of something fun, [an opportunity] to take a mental break.

How has your style evolved since starting eLUXE?

Especially during my Sweetspot [a now-defunct daily e-newsletter] days, I became pretty much a woman of uniform; I would wear skinny jeans, a Smythe blazer, a t-shirt and flats. Starting [eLUXE] and seeing all the stuff in front of me, getting close with Susie Sheffman and being around all these fashion people has inspired me to branch out and try new things.

Tell me about a fashion faux pas you’ve committed.

Well, I’m sure there are many. I don’t know if you would call it a faux pas, but I know that when I wear something that I’m innately not comfortable in, it doesn’t look right.

What’s the one item in your closet you can’t live without?

I have a collection of Smythe blazers. I say this, and then I always break it, [but] I’m trying to go on a moratorium of not having anymore right now. I mean, people will come in and see my closet and say, “Seriously, you need to take a break.” Currently for fall, there are some from last season and a few from this season – there’s probably 8. That’s a lot from one brand and one item of clothing. So that’s pretty much a staple for me. You’ll never see me without a Smythe jacket.

Where’s your favourite place to shop, other than eLUXE?

I love J.Crew, but I shop online. I’m not a mall person; I will go once a year if I’m in an emergency. And I love, love, love Joe Fresh. Pretty much my closet is eLUXE, Joe Fresh and J.Crew. And Lululemon.

If you were throwing a fashionable dance party, who would your three guests of honour be?

[eLUXE Fashion Director] Susie Sheffman, Diane von Furstenberg and Joe Mimran [of Joe Fresh].

Share one item on your bucket list.

I want to learn another language, and I want to learn a musical instrument.

What’s your favourite guilty pleasure?

I do love reading celebrity magazines, but I did make a New Year’s resolution 2 years ago that I wouldn’t purchase them. I’m allowed to read only at the hairdresser or the nail salon…I’m not allowed to purchase them!

xx, S

Image courtesy of eLUXE

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Dropping by the Backseat: Vyara Ndejuru, Marketing Director, ALDO Shoes

I met Vyara Ndejuru (@vyara), ALDO Shoes Marketing Director, last year at the A is for ALDO launch event and was immediately taken by her. At first glance, she is incredibly chic – in that easy, effortless sort of way that makes the rest of us green with envy. But spend a few minutes chatting with her and her passion for her job, ALDO and the fashion industry as a whole shines through; it’s infectious and has left a lasting impression on me. Give my recent interview with Vyara a read and see for yourself.

The Backseat Stylers: What’s your earliest fashion memory?

Vyara Ndejuru: My mother did not allow me to play with dolls for awhile; she would keep on getting me LEGOs. I still remember the aha! moment when looking at a perfect rectangular shaped block, I slipped it into my knee-high red socks, right at the heel, and a perfect block-heeled-knee-high boot was born…

My mother started buying me dolls after that.

How did you get into the fashion industry?

Fashion is my longest lasting love-affair – sorry coco (my husband). I did not even reach the counter the first time I bought German Marie-Claire or Brigitte…I must have been 4 or 5 years old, and yet I knew that this was my “tribe”.

I grew up in Germany. My mother, my role model and a formidable woman, was (and remains) a staunch feminist; she shared with us ad nauseum that fashion was a superficial pursuit and had always argued that thinking women did not waste too much time with it. Enter my godmother: German, a doctor, unmarried and uncompromising; my godmother was the most elegant lady I had ever seen.

Concerned with cut, style and construction, but also literacy, the advancement of women in Germany, Europe and the World, philosophy, child welfare and a million other thoughtful pursuits, my godmother offered a staunch contrast to the portrait my mother had painted of people concerned with style. I went on to model after that, we moved to Canada, I met YSO, etc. But I am sure that Lisa, my older sister, would agree with me when I say that Waltraud Bauer, my godmother, is the reason I got into fashion.

What’s the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is to pay it forward. I come from a traditional, very academic, family and background, and I had to fight very hard to pursue my passion and this career. The best part of my job is hiring/developing young talented people who, like I did early on, have always known that this is where they wanted to be. My team humbles me every single day and it is an honour to work alongside them!

The second best part of my job is learning: about business, my craft, but also about becoming generally better – the ALDO group is second only to my “blood” family in affording me key opportunities to better myself. [Working at ALDO has] undoubtedly made me a better professional but also mostly unbeknownst to me [has] made me a more caring employee, manager and human being.

What’s been the highlight of your career to date?

I want to say that I work hard, but I have been very fortunate thus far. I built the YSO label under Siphay Southidara, in the early 2000’s; we paved the way for Denis Gagnon and Renata Morales and we were ultimately bought out by PARASUCO. Although that venture proved to be unsuccessful, I spent close to 6 years at Salvatore Parasuco’s side, (and) his mentorship allowed me to leapfrog ahead to the career I enjoy today at ALDO.

The highlight of my career is and remains mentors who want to invest in me.

Share one item on your bucket list.

Going to Harvard Business School for my MBA (only when this happens can I go in peace).


ALDO RISE x Patrick Ervell Fall/Winter 2012 pump

If you were throwing a fashionable dance party, who would your three guests of honour be?

Nan Kempner, Waltraud Bauer and Iris Apfel – Grand Dames of Style.

Tell me about a fashion faux pas you’ve committed.

Honey, this is a daily occurrence…there are simply too many to mention. Probably happening as we speak…

What’s the one item in your closet you can’t live without?

iPad.

Which is your favourite pair of shoes?

Right now it is a black moulded rubber-sole ALDO RISE x Patrick Ervell pump.

Where are your favourite places to shop?

Here are my MTL spots: ALDO and Little Burgundy for shoes; Holt Renfrew for make-up and perfumes; Denis Gagnon for whatever I fit into; Reborn for the best Complex Geometries T’s; Want Apothicaire for ACNE and their Want Bag collection; Michel Brisson for when my husband’s been good to me; DUY’s studio for the best slacks and jackets in the world; and The Bay because their turnaround is truly inspiring and because Bonnie Brooks is fierce.

What’s your favourite guilty pleasure?

An afternoon reading in my bed.

Do you sing in the shower?

My children, Charles and Eza-Marie, 7 and 5, are obsessed with One Direction. My shower song is “That’s What Makes You Beautiful”. Sometimes we all jam to it together.

xx, S

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Dropping by the Backseat: The Genteel’s Mona Chammas and Irene Kim

I first crossed paths with CEO and Editor-in-Chief Mona Chammas and COO and Editor-at-Large Irene Kim when writer Paul Aguirre-Livingston featured me in his piece “Taking Blogging to the Bank” for their online design and fashion magazine, The Genteel.

Less than a year old, The Genteel has over 30 writers from around the world on staff who, as Mona puts it, “tell stories that are not normally found in traditional magazines and tend to focus on stories that are quite niche and in-depth.” And though you won’t find your average celebrity style or seasonal trend pieces on The Genteel, that doesn’t mean Irene and Mona don’t have a few guilty pleasures of their own.

The Backseat Stylers: What’s your earliest fashion-related memory?

Irene: I remember probably being 8, 10 years old and being obsessed with Fashion Television. I had to watch it every Sunday. At that age, I was already reading Vogue. I wasn’t gravitating towards teenage magazines. At a very young age, I became very enamoured and accustomed to looking at couture and high fashion, which is just something I loved.

Mona: In the eighties, I used to watch my mother dress for dinner parties in couture. I didn’t understand the context of it all, the fact that she was wearing couture and what that meant in society. All I remember feeling was awestruck at the clothes. It felt innocent, not jaded, pure. I loved fashion for fashion, without understanding that she was wearing Valentino or Hermès or anything like that. She was my portal into loving fashion and it’s really interesting because I’m very much the same way now. I love fashion, but I love label-less fashion.

How did you meet and how was The Genteel born?

Mona: I used to be a street style blogger. I was on a mission, and I saw Irene. She was well dressed and I wanted to take her photo – that’s how we met.

Irene“Can I take your picture?” [imitating Mona]. She was bobbing.

MonaI was not bobbing!

IreneYes, you were. I’m reliving it right now in my head.

Mona: I came to Irene first with the idea of partnering from a legal perspective [since she's a lawyer], but then there was so much more that Irene wanted to and could bring to the table, so we grew the partnership even further. We both have a passion in fashion and it was just a matter of converging. We were both doing fashion on the periphery, and we both knew we wanted to do something more. And here we are!

What’s the best part of your job?

Irene: We’ve built really good relationships with our writers and we want that to develop. Same thing for our interns; they’re in or just finishing journalism school. Seeing our writers and interns progress -

Mona: – and knowing that we had a hand in that.

For me, I get really excited reading the stories that come in. I just get excited at the quality of the content that lands in our inbox, because it means that whatever we’re cultivating as a brand actually means something. We feel validated as a brand and as a publication every single day with the work that comes in through our readers and through the feedback we get from our readers. That is really, really rewarding, because that means we’re doing something right.

If you were throwing a fashionable dance party, who would your three guests-of-honour be?

Irene: Sofia Coppola; Lost in Translation is one of my favourite movies. [Her style is] effortless, understated chic. [Actor] Bill Nighy is brilliantly funny and the man knows how to rock a suit. [Estée Lauder executive and heiress] Aerin Lauder is a natural beauty with immaculate taste.

Mona: Tyler Brûlé, the editor-in-chief of Monocle Magazine, which is my bible, and he is my idol. Hamish Bowles. And my mom (circa the 80′s).

How would you describe your style?

Irene: Hermès hippie. Classical with a little bit of free spirit.

Mona: I have a very masculine inspired style, but bordering on dandy and country. There’s a bit of the rough and refined.

Tell us about a fashion faux pas you’ve committed.

Irene: I used to dress with my clothes too tight. I think I was in a permanent state of sucking in my stomach, for all of high school.

Mona: Through the majority of my high school years, I was in hip hop, baggy, really low waist pants. That was really bad. That was for a really long time – all of high school! I was swimming in my pants and Irene was suffocating in hers.

What’s one item in your closet you can’t live without?

Irene: Spanx!

Mona: My black Prada brogues. They have that elegant masculinity to them. They’re very versatile, but they’re very chic at the same time.

Where are your favourite places to shop?

Irene: I love Barneys. Barneys is like a museum, you just go and pet the clothes. I like Opening Ceremony and their mix of high and low fashion.

Mona: J.Crew, as one of my no-fail stores. I go there and I always find something I like. There’s a vintage design store that I discovered in Toronto and I pretty much furnished 90% of my home with their stuff. They’re called Love The Design, and they’re based in Leslieville.

What are your guiltiest pleasures?

Mona: Gossip Girl is one of my guiltiest pleasures. I’m watching through and through. [My favourite character is] Chuck Bass. First and foremost for his impeccable and versatile style sense. I love his coats, his colorful shirts and his bow ties.

Irene: I could eat all day long. Ice cream, chocolate…Ben & Jerry’s red velvet cake ice cream!

xx, S

Image Credit: Melissa Sung

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Dropping by the Backseat: Nancy Morski, Publicist

Nancy Morski and I share a love for Nicholas Kirkwood shoes and OBJECT for Danier clutches. Naturally, I thought the Toronto-based publicist would be the perfect interview subject. I had an inkling that behind the pitch emails and guest lists was some really fantastic blog fodder. Little did I know how right I was until Nancy started spilling about touring with bands as a teenager and working with Kelly Cutrone (yes, that Kelly Cutrone!) at People’s Revolution. Meet Nancy Morski, PR extraordinaire / shoe addict / Star Wars devotee.

The Backseat Stylers: What’s your earliest fashion-related memory?

Nancy Morski: Stealing my mom’s shoes, wearing them at the playground, and getting them really messy. I used to love shoes, and the babysitter had no idea I wasn’t allowed to take my mom’s really nice, high-heeled shoes. She was so upset. That’s when my shoe obsession started.

How did you get into public relations?

[In 2010], Greta Constantine had a PR internship opportunity; I went in for an interview and got it. A few months after that, I moved to New York for a year. First it was to write for Zink Magazine, then I was interning at Alexander Wang doing marketing and commerce, [and] then People’s Revolution happened. That’s when I realized I wanted to be in PR. I love the rush of it.

What’s the best part of your job?

I love growing with a client, having the ability to get creative with them, [and] seeing an idea the client and I have come up with succeed.

What important lessons did you learn while working at People’s Revolution with Kelly Cutrone?

Everyone is busy, [so] you have to be a little ruthless, you have to be a little cutthroat, but you also have to be smart about what you’re doing. You can’t be shy.

What has been the highlight of your PR career to date?

My first fashion week. I was thrown into it and I had to learn it all right away. I literally had to take on the job of a senior publicist [at People’s Revolution] within two weeks, during fashion week. That was a highlight because I knew that if I could do that, in New York, I can really overcome anything, anywhere.

If you were throwing a fashionable dance party, who would your three guests-of-honour be?

[Fashion icon] Iris Apfel. [She's] so eccentric, so fashion-forward. I’d have [street style icon and former men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus] Nick Wooster there. I like [model] Freja Beha Erichsen; she’s very androgynous and I love that.

What’s one item in your closet you can’t live without?

I still to this day wear this [old] Wilfred boyfriend blazer with oversized pockets. [It] goes with anything [and is] amazing for fashion week because it’s got the big pockets [that] fit everything. That is my go-to for life. I’m going to cry when that thing disintegrates.

Where are your favourite places to shop?

It is important to me to support Toronto boutiques. It’s the small businesses that make our city unique and give local designers/brands an opportunity to get their collections out there. Some of the boutiques I like to support in Toronto are Philistine Vintage, Narwhal Boutique, A2Zane, Bicyclette, Tabula Rasa, The Future of Frances Watson, Fawn and Love of Mine.

The Bay is a big one for me; 3rd floor [of The Bay on Queen Street in Toronto] is my life. All the brands they’ve started to carry, [like Opening Ceremony, Elizabeth and James, etc.], are amazing. I also do a lot of random online shopping: The Outnet, Net-a-porter and OAK NYC.

I couldn’t help but notice your tattoos. How many do you have and which is your favourite?

As of a few days ago I have 14 tattoos! Even though I don’t see them ever, [the] R2-D2 and C-3PO behind my ears [are my favourites]. I really like Star Wars.

Speaking of Star Wars, what are your guiltiest pleasures?

Definitely Star Wars and comic books. And avocados; I literally eat an avocado a day, or more.

Do you sing in the shower?

Oh no, I would terrify myself if I sang in the shower.

What’s on your bucket list?

Getting a book or short story published. And I want to drink Arizona iced tea in Arizona.

xx, S

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Dropping by the Backseat: Vanessa Grainger, Women’s Buying Manager, SSENSE

Vanessa Grainger has my dream fashion job: womenswear buyer. When our paths first crossed, the Toronto native was buying for The White Space at The Bay and I, in turn, was buying a whole lot of what she was buying – Sandro, Opening Ceremony, McQ Alexander McQueen and the like. Now, she’s a freshly-minted Montrealer starting a new women’s buying manager gig with SSENSE, one of my go-to online retailers. Will she never give my pocketbook a rest? I didn’t ask her this during our recent chat, but I did manage to find out her own favourite shopping destinations, what she loves most about her job, and even what she sings in the shower.

The Backseat Stylers: What’s your first fashion-related memory?

Vanessa Grainger: It definitely wasn’t the earliest, but maybe the most important: Tom Ford for Gucci Fall 2003. It was just so lush and sumptuous. Something about it just hit me and stayed with me. Having that reaction and not remembering having had that reaction so strongly to anything else before that, not even knowing at that time what a big deal he was at Gucci and what he was doing for Gucci, and just having that gutteral, instinctual reaction to what I was seeing – I just remember that so clearly.

How did you get into fashion buying?

From watching Fashion Television, actually, I realized what a buyer was. When I was 15 I decided I wanted to be a fashion buyer. So thank you, Jeanne Beker, for giving that exposure.

What’s the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is sourcing out and working with the brands and designers, following through on their creative process, seeing things from inspiration to finish, and being able to then interpret that for the store and the customer that you’re buying for. The ultimate best part of my job is to see people wearing clothes that I bought. I take what I do very personally.

What’s been the highlight of your buying career so far?

Starting The White Space [at The Bay]. It’s such a new, interesting concept for a department store that’s so established in terms of what it means to people. The fact that I was part of the team that’s been able to reinvent and reinvigorate how customers see The Bay, that to me has been the highlight of my career so far.

Where do you see yourself in five, ten years?

The next Jenna Lyons. I’d love to be in that Creative Director position, and really take on a brand and embrace it, live and breathe it, like a Jenna Lyons. I’ll go on Style.com and look at J.Crew and I’m just as interested in the styling [as] some of the contemporary designer brands. I have a lot of respect for what she’s been able to do there. Having that business side and creative side, that’s something I would be really interested in.

Where are your favourite places to shop, other than SSENSE?

The Bay – I have so much respect for what’s been done and continues to be done there. TNT – they’re great at what they do. Aritzia – I like their aesthetic, classic with a bit of an edge.

What’s one item in your closet you just can’t live without?

I’m a t-shirt and jeans girl. I love that whole Parisian, easy sensibility. I’m really kind of obsessed with my Enza Costa t-shirts, just because the fabric on them are so amazing. You feel like you’re wearing pajamas, but you look nice.

If you were throwing a fashionable dance party, who would your three guests-of-honour be?

[Givenchy's Creative Director] Riccardo Tisci, because I feel like he’s so dark and weird [that] he would do something crazy. And then Tom Ford would come and be super snobby. Gwyneth Paltrow, I’d want to hang out with her. [She might even bring her friends, like] Beyonce. Kim Kardashian is definitely not allowed; she’s on the ‘do not invite’ list.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ll watch 3 to 4 episodes back to back. It’s very campy.

What’s one item on your bucket list?

I really want to learn how to surf. There’s some kind of romanticism around it. I also want to drive racing cars. I want to get on a track in a super fast car.

Do you sing in the shower?

Yes! I usually try to be a superstar, like Adele or Rihanna. I’m a great singer…in the shower. ’I want to drive racing cars and I sing Adele in the shower’ – I’m going to be so embarrassed [when this interview is published]!

xx, S

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Dropping by the Backseat: Style Nine to Five Founder Christie Lohr

Looking for work in the Canadian fashion or beauty industries? Then you should get to know Vancouver-based entrepreneur Christie Lohr, and spend some time on the career websites she founded, Style Nine to Five and Beauty Nine to Five. There she connects job seekers like you and me with employers like The Bay, Harry Rosen and ALDO. When she’s not helping us find our dream jobs, Christie is busy blogging, giving expert style advice on local television and…singing in the shower. Curious? Read on.

The Backseat Stylers: What’s the best part of your job?

Christie Lohr: Opening doors for job seekers by creating a place they can find typically hard to find jobs in the fashion and beauty industry.

What’s your earliest fashion-related memory?

Going to pre-school in a loud tropical floral print blouse and mismatched, huge earrings and blue eyeshadow. I thought I was such a trendsetter! I did this after my mom dropped me off at the morning babysitter.

Speaking of trendsetting, tell us about a fashion faux pas you’ve committed.

Wearing men’s plaid boxers and letting them show by having my dickies (men’s pants) hang low. This was during my skater phase in the 90′s grunge era!

Now that you’ve given up your boxers and dickies, what’s the one item in your closet you can’t live without?

A 3/4 length black wrap sweater from JNBY.

Where are your favourite places to shop?

Zara, Topshop and outlet stores in the States!

If you were throwing a fashionable dance party, who would your three guests-of-honour be?

Gwyneth Paltrow, Zoe Kravitz and [fashion blogger] Aureta Thomollari.

What songs do you sing in the shower?

Either an oldie like “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac or a new one like “Pay Phone” by Maroon 5.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

KD and Mr. Noodles.

xx, S

Image Credit: Georgia Esporlas

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Dropping by the Backseat: Fashion and Still Life Stylist Tricia Hall

The first time I ever encountered fashion and still life stylist Tricia Hall, she was working her magic backstage at a VAWK fashion show, and I was stalking her with my camera. I’ve since witnessed her at work numerous times – and even had the pleasure of being styled by her once – but I’m still as fascinated as ever by her and the incredible work that she does. And if you aren’t already as well, I have a feeling you will be too – read on.

How did you get your start in the fashion industry?

My background is in fashion design; I have a diploma from George Brown. Before that I was doing a lot of visual display, window display and in-store merchandising, for stores like Gap, Jacob and Bootlegger.

What’s your first fashion-related memory?

It would have to be the first time I worked with [Toronto and Montreal-based fashion photographers] Lily & Lilac and [our editorial Indian Summer] got picked up in Strut Magazine. It was a submission, [and] I was so confident that the story was going to be picked up. I was so brazen: I pulled some great designers from great stores, and I told them, “Yes, we’re doing this for Strut Magazine,” because I just believed that it was going to be picked up by Strut. And it was! To this day, it’s a favourite editorial any time I show my book to clients, [and] my agent loves it. It’s always in my portfolio, and [it] was from 5 years ago.

Between the different types of styling that you do (editorial, still life), which do you prefer?

Editorial is definitely more fun, because it allows [me] to create and collaborate with all these creative minds. It’s like another art form to me. People have their paintings, expressing with brushes and strokes, and different mediums like oil and watercolour. For me, it’s playing with textures and layers and incorporating hair and make-up to create this picture, work of art.

What’s the best part of your job?

I like always working with new people, models, photographers, clients. I can get very restless if I’m doing the same thing over and over, so I definitely love the variety. Never the same thing twice in my job.

If you were throwing a fashionable dance party, who would your three guests-of-honour be?

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, [because they’re] cool, low-key type of people. I’m very low-key. Alexa Chung would be interesting too. I find her style down-to-earth and unpretentious, even though she’s always decked in designer duds. Maybe it’s because she comes across that way as a person. [Fashion editor of Wonderland Magazine] Julia Sarr-Jamois – she definitely inspires me. Her style is uncomplicated but interesting. It never looks too contrived. I also love her hair. She has awesome hair.

What’s one item in your closet you just can’t live without?

Definitely jeans. I require two different sets. I have one that I only wear for work, because when you’re doing still-life styling sometimes you’re building stuff on the ground [and] on your hands and knees, so they get worn out. And then I have my dressier ones for going out.

Tell us about a fashion faux pas you’ve committed.

Hammer pants. [They were] so awful, I don’t know what I was thinking. It was when MC Hammer was popular, in 8th grade. There was a lot of fabric and they looked especially unattractive when the wind was blowing towards you.  They were just terrible. Now that I’m older and wiser, I don’t really take on any fashion trends that I would regret down the line. As of late, I can’t look back at anything and think, “OMG, I can’t believe I wore that!”

Where is your favourite place to shop?

I’m a very big online shopper. The Outnet…and Shopbop mainly for accessories like shoes and jewelry, and even Net-a-porter on occasion. Gap’s been stepping up their game, really paying attention to the denim, so I’ve been wearing a lot of Gap lately and shopping online.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

I’m very much a lone wolf. I love going to the movies by myself, much to my husband’s dismay, if it’s something he wants to see too. I really love that alone time.

What’s one item on your bucket list?

Travelling more. I would love to go to London, Paris, Italy. Not necessarily fashion-driven, but beauty-driven: the architecture, the culture. I would even love to explore more of Canada. I think it would be a shame to die and not have explored more of this land I call home.

Do you sing in the shower?

No, I’m usually lost in thoughts. Too busy for singing!

xx, S

Image Credit: Kimberly Lyn

Parlez-Vous Fashion?

Dropping by the Backseat: Maelle Designer My Johansson-Ganjoo

I met My Johannson-Ganjoo when we were both new moms with infants, just about to embark on very different fashion adventures – she starting Maelle Vintage Dresses and me creating this here blog. We’ve spent the last few years comparing notes on our mischievous toddlers, but we finally met recently to talk about our other shared passion, fashion. After a requisite catch-up on the little ones and their latest antics, we chatted about the fashion shows she used to put on as a child, her line of late 50s and early 60s-inspired dresses, and how fun it would be to party with Vivienne Westwood.

The Backseat Stylers: What’s your earliest fashion memory?

My Johansson-Ganjoo: Going through my grandmother’s attic when I was…I don’t even know when it started. My mom had this big huge cedar chest in my room filled with my grandmother’s old dresses. I would just put on these outfits and walk around my neighbourhood. In school, they would let me put on these fashion shows; I can’t believe they actually let me do that. I would go through my grandmother’s attic and pull out clothes that I liked, then I would dress my friends and put on the fashion show.

You’ve gone from school fashion shows to designing dresses for your own line, Maelle. What does the name ‘Maelle’ mean?

I’m very much influenced by my grandmothers and the women in my family. I was writing down all their names and it just happened that the first letter of every name formed the name ‘Maelle’. I [also] keep incorporating these women into my design, and I name a lot of dresses [after them]. Most of these women aren’t here anymore, [so] it’s a way to introduce new women to these women who meant a lot to me.

What’s the best part of your job?

Working on a dress. Having a customer come to me, draft the pattern, putting in all the little details, and then having her put on the final version of the dress and seeing it on her. That’s absolutely the best part: seeing my dress on her.

What has been the highlight of your design career so far?

Getting those cold, out of the blue, phone calls. Having someone say, “hey, I heard about you and I want you to make me a dress!”

How would you describe your personal style?

Early 1960s blended in with influences both from the past and now. Lots of textures and colour.

Where’s your favourite place to shop?

I don’t tend to shop that much anymore; I end up making it myself. But I am one of those J.Crew fans for [their] really good quality basics. Then there’s a few really nice vintage stores…like Gadabout Vintage on Queen East [in Toronto]. [Owner Victoria Dinnick] has a great selection of vintage wear.

What’s the one item in your closet you can’t live without?

Dresses, dresses, dresses. I actually have a separate closet for my dresses, and it’s getting bigger and bigger. Lots of colours, most of them knee-length [and] poofy.

If you were throwing a fashionable dance party, who would your three guests of honour be?

Vivienne Westwood; she would probably throw a good party. Mary Quant, the British designer from the 60s. Catherine Deneuve.

Share one item on your bucket list.

I would love to travel by car, bus or train from Victoria [British Columbia] to Newfoundland. That’s something that I always wanted to do, even before I moved to Canada [from Sweden].

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

French pastries. The more butter, the better.

xx, S

Parlez-Vous Fashion?

Dropping by the Backseat: Much Music VJ Lauren Toyota

Watch Much Music host and producer Lauren Toyota on your television screen for only a few minutes and one fact becomes abundantly clear: this woman is a force to be reckoned with. Whether she’s interviewing Lady Gaga, dishing about Gossip Girl, or presenting Justin Bieber with a MMVA, Lauren is always high energy, full of laughs and on her game. Not only is she incredibly good at what she does, she also looks great doing it. We chatted with Lauren recently about her VJ gig, as well as her style secrets.

The Backseat Stylers: What’s the best part of your job?

Lauren Toyota: Interviewing musicians and celebrities.

What’s been the highlight of your VJ career so far?

Interviewing Kermit The Frog and kissing him. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Check it out here!]

What’s your earliest fashion memory?

Wearing Northern Reflections sweatshirts with painted animals on them. When do you think that trend will come back?

Speaking of Northern Reflections sweatshirts, what fashion faux pas have you committed?

Cutting my hair really short.

What’s the one item in your closet you can’t live without?

Skinny black pants/jeans.

Where’s your favourite place to shop?

I am not a one stop shopper. I will go in any store to find a bargain. [EDITOR'S NOTE: A girl after my own heart!]

Share one item on your bucket list.

To be a guest on a late night talk show.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

Movie theatre popcorn.

If you were throwing a fashionable dance party, who would your three guests of honour be?

Lady Gaga, Usher, and Lil Wayne.

xx, S

Images via Bell Media, The Globe and Mail

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