May 25, 2009

Genevieve Graham on Life after Project Runway Canada with JJ Lee

I wanted to catch up with Genevieve Graham. She was a fashion luminary in this town but she fell off the fashion map a few years ago.

She was a prominent womens wear designer for the Vancouver-based luxury label Obakki. It is an ambitious brand with global ambitions.

Genevieve resigned from Obakki when the creative direction changed. And in many ways, Genevieve disappeared from the scene for a couple of years.

But here's the news - this past season she was featured in on Project Runway Canada.

Her public comeback was a controversial. At times she was painted as a villain on the show.

Her expertise in the art of draping came under fire when the judges pushed her to use more tailoring in her designs.

Genevieve stuck to her guns.

She made it to the final four but was bounced off the show this spring. And now that it's over, I wanted to catch up with her.

I met her this morning at the Salty Tongue in Gastown. It was right across the street of a new store called Gentil Alouette that will open this summer. And that's where I asked Genevieve about her future and life after reality TV.

May 24, 2009

Documentary about Chinatown's last tailors to air on the Knowledge Network

TAILOR MADE is a film by Leonard Lee and Marsha Newberry.

It's about Bill and Jack Wong. They've been running Modernize Tailors for almost 60 years.

Modernize Tailors has been a cornerstone of Vancouver's Chinatown and fashion scene but it looks like it is all coming to an end.

The film follows what may be the final (NOT) year of the shop.

Bill and Jack take on their last apprentice (me), make their last suits for Vancouver's elite, and open a museum in their honor before they finally put away the scissors and retire.

On Knowledge Network:

  • Tuesday, May 26 at 10:00 PM 
  • Wednesday,May 27 at 1:59 AM and 7:00 PM

And check out the preview:

May 21, 2009

Arthur Erickson dead at 84

CBC's obituary is here.

For a critical appraisal of his work with Nicholas Olsberg, the curator of the Arthur Erickson solo show at the Vancouver Art Gallery, listen below.

Tailors and Tuxes

Hi JJ,

I’m wondering if you could recommend a local tailor to get some alterations done to my suits. I’m moved from Edmonton and I don’t think it’s practical for me to bring garments back to her for tailoring so I need to find somebody local who will do a good job. I’ve recently lost a few inches around my waist so need to have my pants taken in on 7 or 8 suits.

I’m getting married this summer and am wondering if you know of a local tailor that would be good to make a Tuxedo. I’ve resisted buying one to this point but feel this is as good a time as any to get one made. I traveled to Hong Kong a few years ago and got some shirts and a suit made and thought I might use the same tailor to make the Tuxedo but I’m a bit nervous about not seeing it before hand and the ability to make alterations as required. Do you have any suggestions for me?

Finally, related to the second question, I’d like to know what the best choice would be for a more timeless tux. I haven’t looked at many styles (save for a Hugo Boss one that I tired on a couple years back) so would be curious to know your thoughts on styles, shirt collars, bow-tie vs. neck tie and vest choices.


Hi Robert:

Choosing tailors is a very personal choice. It's about trust and being able to communicate with your tailor

I know Bill and Jack Wong at Modernize Tailors. They were my master tailors when I apprenticed and I love them dearly -- but like I said, "It's a personal choice."

Call them at 604-685-0610 or visit their website:

They will make a suit made-to-measure.

Now, judging from your email. You're the kind of guy who likes to see what he's getting himself into. Off-the-rack might suit you better.

To wit, you may want to try Brooks Brothers on Alberni. They've just opened and they are working very hard to impress Vancouver customers.

(Note, I don't receive gifts or compensation from any kind from retailers or designers I write about.)

I met their head tailor at the opening party, Miguel, and he has a distinguished resume with service at Harry Rosen and Leone's.

You might want to try them because they are quite affordable for the quality -- Brooks Brothers, 1026 Alberni Street, Vancouver, (604) 678-2260.

Regarding tuxes, I've written about it before. For a new source, BB carries a line of dinner jackets and will bring a peak in for you but when I called they only have notches in store. They are off the rack but they'll go to great lengths to make sure it fits right.

Another good ready-made is the Calvin Klein two-button peak. The Tux Store sells them. 
 It takes 7-10 days to get them in the shop.

Now, what is a good tux?  Tuxes are meant to be simple. If you want a classic look, it should be a peak lapel with satin (shiny) or grosgrain (matt and ribbed).

One button is all you need in the front for a single-lapel. Proper etiquette demands you never open your jacket.

Cummerbunds are more comfy because there's less fabric involved. I like them over waistcoats in warm weather but prefer neither if I can get away with it.

I support turn-down collars. I don't like wing collars except on double-breasted tuxedos. My next tuxedo will be a double-breasted because it makes both the cummerbund and the waistcoat redundant. I'm not sure how I feel about turns-downs and DBs.

For pants, plain front are more contemporary AND classic (pleats are an early-mid-20th century fad that has lasted for 60 years).

I recommend bow ties only. Learn to tie it before your wedding day. So that you're an old hand at it when the pressure is on - like practicing free throws.

Trust me, men in long neck ties with tuxes will one day look dated. Classic tuxes and bow ties won't.

Oh, another great supplier of made to measure is:

Claymore Clothes on Hastings. I lot of movie designers use it and so do the police and military. They're not high fashion but they're very competent,

Finally, if you want totally handmade couture by one artist, try my main main, David the Tailor

Good luck, jj

May 14, 2009

Absolute best question of the week

Hello Mr.Lee,My name is Meera, I am a grade 7 student at B-------- elementary.  As a project,  I have chosen to research fashion.  Not what the fashion is now, but how it is decided.  I would like to know who decides fashion trends and how the ideas become what's all the rage in the stores.  I've heard you on the CBC radio and I thought that with all your experience with fashion, you could give me some insight into the subject. 


Hi Meera. Sure, I can help. 

Trends are not often set in Vancouver. But style editors do have an influence on where people shop and what they buy. Trends can be set at two points in the fashion cycle (there's no such thing but it sounds scientific): 
1. Design and production (the high fashion route) or

2. On the Street by how people (ie trendsetters) dress.
If a bunch of kids in London decide to cut up their jeans and use safety pins to decorate it, a la the punk scene in 1976, it can have influence on other kids and start a trend.

Another off shoot of this phenomena are trendspotters. I don't know much about them but apparently they do write secret reports about what they see people wearing and what they soon will wear.

These reports are often purchased by large fashion companies who are not necessarily designer driven. Instead, they have fairly anonymous designers (it doesn't mean they aren't any good, they're just not brand names) working on trend predictions. I suspect they set trends more than observe them. Kind of like me.

Often fabrics, colours are the first stage of trendsetting. The reason is mills have to churn out the textiles, then designers will use the swatches to conceive of a season of clothes.

Another, more exclusive, way is a designer will conceive of a fabric that is currently not being produced and then order a mill to create a textile. That way they have an exclusive access to the fabric (perhaps one season it will be metallic animal prints or bronzed linen) for at least one season.

However, there are companies like H&M and Zara and Le Chateau (an early Canadian retailer who lead the way) that specialize in knocking off fashion-forward clothes.

They aren't counterfeits of designer clothes but they do look at the clothes that hit the runway in the spring to show a Fall collection and then immediately go into production to create a look-alike style.

Some affordable  fashion-forward outlets can even flood the market with the clothes before the luxury/designer labels hit the stores. It's kind of weird.

Often, when I ask a designer what they're thinking about a future collection they have to be very careful what they say -- someone listening may steal their ideas!

Most of the clothes you see on the people around you is inspired by movies and tv. That means, you should blame costume designers.

Very few people can put on clothes and not imagine themselves being someone they saw on screen (albeit many are fictional). You may not get this joke but your parents will: How many Neo's from the Matrix have they seen over the last teen years? I've seen too many!

Another example would be Sarah Palin. She wore a pair of Japanese titanium glasses during her campaign with John McCain. During the months leading up to the US election, thousands of orders were made for those frames.

Later on when Michelle Obama wore a Narcisco Rodriguez and then her inaugural dress by Jason Wu (from Vancouver!!!), she put them on the fashion map.

Note reputations are different from trends. Jason Wu is now a famous designer, however, I can't actually remember what the dress looked like.

So be aware: brands can become trendier than actual styles of clothes. And just because someone wears a trendy label, it doesn't make them stylish.

Wearing an Armani X t-shirt is still just a t-shirt. And I've seen people wear Hugo Boss suits and still look shabby and not a bit chic.

I saw a young man the other day at a Brooks Brothers opening and he was the epitome of stylish but most of his clothes were either vintage or discount. He was totally original in his manner of dress (Clark Kent meets Flock of Seagulls - again, ask mum or dad) and who knows --- he
may start a trend but it won't be based on labels. It will be based on a look. That's how streetwear or street style works. You see something, you think its cool and then everyone does it.

For your project, try an experiment.

Get three male friends to wear belts but get them to put it on with the buckle on the side -- even better, get your dad to do it and two of his coworkers.

The buckle should be closer to one of the side pockets. Fred Astaire used to do this. Make them wear it for a week. By the end of the week, find out if a fourth person decides to try wearing his belt like that too.

It'll be hilarious. The owner of Solly's bagel wore his belt like this, when I saw him on Main Street a few years ago.. I still wear it like that time to time. If I did it enough, I'm sure I would start a trend. 

Cmon Dad. Do it for Meera.

May 13, 2009

Brooks+Brothers=Bowties and Boaters

It's finally here.

New York's oldest purveyor of prep fashion, like, the original, has opened its first Canadian store in Vancouver. At the opening party on Tuesday, I saw plenty of bow ties. Finally, I'm not alone.

See me (circa 2007), see the boys at BB, plus I also saw one young man, an intern at Fashion Magazine, sporting a frayed, grosgrain. Shabby chic, indeed. I loved it. This is the year the trends takes hold. Mark my word (I've been saying this for the last three, mind you).

More notes:
  • One fashion editor  doesn't think Brooks Brother straw hat is worth eight times more than my find at the Bay (bottom). Four times, yes. Eight, no.

  • If I had the cash, I would buy pairs of boy-sized penny loafers for my twin terribles ($118).  And I must get them those teeny tiny blazers. My boys will hate me later, it's true.

  • I also loved the very affordable repp nylon watch straps. Buy a Timex, get a BB strap ($18) and you can take a break from your heavy and overostentatious piece of Swiss heavy metal.
Brooks Brothers, 1026 Alberni Street, Vancouver, 604-678-2260