“Where’s Christopher Bates?” The menswear designer has been a mainstay at Toronto’s World MasterCard Fashion Week for many seasons though he is noticeably absent for the upcoming fall/winter 2015 presentation. In a city where it is notoriously hard to make money if you work in fashion, the immediate assumption is that Christopher Bates either went out of business or left for more international pastures a la Dsquared2. Luckily for Bates’ fans, it is the latter.
The menswear master has relocated to Milan. Having received his education at the prestigious Istituto Marangoni, the transition seemed only natural when seeking an international fashion capital. Oh yes, and the climate and food don’t hurt either.
Interestingly, Christopher Bates still presented at the most recent Toronto Men’s Fashion Week (TOM). While the event itself was given a lukewarm reception by much of the city’s fashion establishment, Bates’ show was standing-room-only and well-attended by local media who otherwise shunned the week. This speaks to his draw: the fact that he is no longer based in Toronto and can still command such attention.
“I call the collection ‘Modular’, which refers to Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man”
For those of us in attendance, the influence of Milan on the Christopher Bates A/W 2015 collection was palpable. Working with a third-generation Italian knitwear factory, the stars of the show were the luxurious merino wool knits. Other highlights included texture details from laser perforations, colour blocking, and impeccable craftsmanship – craftsmanship you can only find by producing clothing in Italy. While Torontonians love to throw around the term “world class,” having a collection of such international quality certainly added credibility to the city’s ability to produce fashion talent.
Vv Magazine sat with Christopher Bates to talk about the big move to Milan, the state of fashion in Canada, and where this menswear maestro is headed next.
Vv Magazine: What inspired the move Milan? How is it compared to Toronto?
Christopher Bates: It has been an incredible experience. It is something that I’ve been working towards for quite a while because I wanted to produce my entire line in Italy, and that is something I am doing now. I am working with some incredible suppliers and I’ve also hired a sales director from Italy. I’m working with him on expanding the business internationally and, because Milan is a fashion capital, it is the perfect place to do so. It really is an inspiring place to be.
Why do you think so many designers leave Toronto?
I think that Canada, particularly Toronto, is the perfect place to develop a brand. If your goal is to be an international designer, I think that you have to go to an even bigger market like London, New York, Paris, Milan, or Tokyo to take the next step. You can still have a presence here; Canada is a strong market, particularly in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.
There has been huge growth within Toronto’s fashion industry over the past decade. Do you think that Toronto will ever be comparable to New York, Milan, or Paris?
It’s possible. I think that Toronto is an emerging fashion capital. There is a strong, vibrant scene and it is developing but you need to be close to a big market as well. The problem with Canada is that the population in cities is so spread out that no matter where you are based you are still a bit isolated. In New York you have immediate access to a really large market. The same applies to Europe. If you are willing to travel a lot then I think that Toronto can still be a vibrant place to be based.
What did you think of Toronto Men’s Fashion Week (TOM)?
It has been a great experience. I really enjoyed myself in the first season and the most recent iteration was a great success. They have a lot of really interesting things happening that designers can benefit from. It’s got a great buzz and a great energy so I plan to continue to be a part of it.
Was your collection inspired by one theme in particular?
I call the collection “Modular”, which refers to Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. What he was really exhibiting with that work was the concept of the human anatomy, proportion, and geometry, and these are actually recurring themes in my work. When I start my design process, I think of the actual human anatomy and how I can augment it and make it better. I look to compliment or enhance the male form stylishly and comfortably.
“World Master Card week and Toronto Men’s Fashion Week are world-class events, and I think that they are a great opportunity for the government to get behind the industry and help us grow.”
Do you think menswear has changed drastically over the last few decades?
I think that menswear has taken a giant leap within the last the last 10 years and it is now a well-respected part of fashion. It’s not just clothing, suits, and sportswear; it’s really dynamic and exciting, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to get into menswear. For me, that process started in 2006 when I decided to become a menswear designer; I saw an opportunity to create a niche for myself in the market, which is what I’ve been working on since.
In Canada the fashion community is barely supported by the government. Because of the growth of events like TOM and World MasterCard Fashion Week do you think that the government will start offering more funding to the fashion industry?
That would be wonderful. There are a lot of jobs in fashion and it’s a viable industry. I don’t have all of the statistics at hand, but I’m assuming that in certain sectors it’s growing and that it’s bringing in tourism dollars. World Master Card week and Toronto Men’s Fashion Week are world-class events, and I think that they are a great opportunity for the government to get behind the industry and help us grow.
Are we ever going to see you at World MasterCard Fashion Week again?
Potentially. Next season, my goal is to show in an international market — maybe Tokyo, somewhere in Europe, or even New York. Let’s see what happens. I have to see how this sales season goes, and how my next sales season goes. I support retailers in the markets that carry my line. Canada has been a great market for me. I am expanding to Japan this spring, so we might be there next season.
And TOM next year?
Most likely. At this point, I’m planning to. So far, TOM’s been a great experience and I’ve enjoyed participating. They reach out to international press and a lot of exciting opportunities seem to come out of it.
“If you can dream it, you can do it.”
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
My goal is to be an international designer. Ideally, I’d like to open some of my own monobrand boutiques, which I have a really strong concept for. I think that would be the best place to showcase the entire vision I have for my brand so that customers could really experience it. Perhaps I’d include some women’s wear as well.
Do you have any advice for young Canadian designers?
I would like to quote Walt Disney who said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” It’s true. If you follow your passion, I think that’s when you start to become successful. With talent and a lot of hard work, nothing can stop you. Follow your dreams.
What are your thoughts on Christopher Bates and his journey on becoming an international designer? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.