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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.

So why jackets?

Christie: Because we love them. We used to go vintage shopping all the time together in Montreal when we were at McGill. We always just felt like it was a really transformative piece of clothing. We felt a kinship to jackets.

Andrea: And you couldn’t buy them. At the time we started, there weren’t item jackets for sale. They were only part suits. Ten years ago, no one was just making a jacket, a blazer. Now everybody is.

What’s the best part of your job?

Andrea: Seeing a new silhouette and knowing that it’s good. We build loyalty into our silhouettes, so when something’s awesome and new – that’s a high for me.

Christie: When we’re actually designing together, because there’s an awful lot of other things to do to run this business. I also just really love seeing somebody I don’t know wearing it. That’s part of completion for me. We made something, somebody chose it and put it on their back, and paid for it. It took Andrea years to understand that somebody that she didn’t know actually bought something.

Andrea: I still think it’s always just our friends buying it.

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

Andrea: Kate Middleton.

Christie: That was a huge highlight for sure. For me, just that we did it. And we’ve had longevity. Fashion’s not the most loyal business, and we’re going onto our ninth year, and I’m proud of that. We did it, we enjoy it still, and we’re still around.

Describe your reaction when you found out Duchess Kate was wearing your blazer?

Christie: I was eating breakfast with my daughter and our publicist called me and said that she had just been spotted getting on the plane. The Guardian had just released it online that she had got on the plane in it, so I pulled it up right away on my computer and showed my daughter because she knows the princess (we’d stayed up late to watch the wedding). I called Andrea and she was like, “OMG, I’m at Loblaws!” Totally sexy. Everyone says fashion’s so glamourous, but she was at Loblaws getting her groceries.

Andrea: It’s fun to have something like that once in your career. I don’t think we thought it was going to happen the day before, because we thought we would’ve known. We felt blue the day before, so, yeah, there was probably some screaming. I was really happy.

Other than your Smythe jackets, what’s the one item in your closet you can’t live without?

Andrea: I’m a shoe person. And I have quite the collection of dresses.

Christie: As a category, definitely it would be sweaters.

Where’s your favourite place to shop?

Andrea: My favourite place to shop is online. I shop online 90%. I feel like I can peruse there. I’m not restricted by borders; I shop on a lot of international websites. There’s a lot of sending stuff back that goes on. That’s how I shop.

Christie: I’m the polar opposite. I have to touch, try on, marinate about. Makes her mental. She’s much more impulsive about purchasing, she’s totally comfortable with returning. I would never order something online; I don’t think I ever have even once. I’m more boutique-driven. And I’m much more contemplative about my purchases.

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

Andrea: We try to tell each other. She came in yesterday and I was like, “no.” It was a minor violation. And she’ll do the same thing to me. You had a horrendous one, you had a disgusting jacket.

Christie: Oh God, you mean my worst of all time? I can’t believe we even have this business, considering the crime that was committed. I had a – if you can imagine – bubble gum pink, three-quarter length, panne velvet, tie-dyed – all together in the same garment – jacket. It was foul. And I thought it was so great at the time. And I didn’t find out until years later when my husband admitted to me that it was the most heinous thing I’d ever worn in my life and he didn’t have the heart to tell me because I was so excited about the purchase. And I wore it way too many times.

Share one item on your bucket list.

Andrea: To do all the amazing things that Toronto has to offer. To go to the film festival in Toronto. To line up and get tickets and participate in it. To go to Nuit Blanche. All the amazing Toronto events – I want to go to them all.

Christie: And travel. We want to go to India together.

What’s your favourite guilty pleasure?

Christie: Wine and red meat.

Andrea: Mine’s chocolate. Spray tan – it’s embarrassing. US Magazine.

xx, S

Image Credits: Smythe, Fashionista

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