career karma – Tom Tierney

If you have any interest in paper dolls, you have encountered the work of Tom Tierney. Mr. Tierney is the quintessential 20th century paper doll artist, perhaps the only paper doll artist in the world who has created a name known outside the world of niche collectors. His prolific body of work covers vast swathes of popular culture – film stars, politicians, literary and historical figures, mythological creatures, the camp, and the bizarre. If a human-shaped subject could possibly be adapted to the paper doll form, Mr. Tierney has probably already done it.

Now in his eighties, Mr. Tierney lives and works in Texas and from everything I’ve read about him, he is a charming man with tremendous enthusiasm for what he does. Recently, he suffered a stroke, which must be a very frustrating experience for someone who lives to draw – and yet he has a wonderful sense of humour, is constantly working on new projects, and radiates inspiring vitality through his correspondence.

Before his iconic contribution to the world of paper dolls, Tierney was a commercial fashion illustrator in the 1950s and 1960s, when fashion illustration was still considered a necessary – and therefore even lucrative – aspect of the fashion industry. The nature of this career couldn’t possibly be more different now than it was then, and it’s fascinating to get even a small glimpse into that lost world. I am honoured that Mr. Tierney agreed to share some of his significant experience with me. Below, he offers his thoughts on creating paper dolls, and his passion for his work.


How do you choose a subject for your paper dolls, and subsequently research and choose the poses and items? Are the subjects inspired by popular demand, or your own interests?

As for choosing a subject for my paper dolls, I will have to give you a rather nebulous answer. Sometimes I will contact my editor at my publishers and suggest an idea for a paper doll book. Generally I do not get an answer right away because he then presents the idea to their editorial board for their approval. Sometimes the answer is “yes”, others “no”. Sometimes they come back to me with suggestions for changes in direction and if I agree then a contract is in the offing. Sometimes the editor will come to me with an idea and if I think I can do it justice, then we will go to a contract. Actually, if someone in the general public wants to see me do a book on a subject dear to their heart, it would be better to write the editor of the publisher and suggest the idea and that it be done by me (if they want me to do it, that is). Just remember that often the idea might already be copyrighted and owned by someone else! “Superman, for instance”.

Are there any “rules” for creating paper dolls? What do you believe are the defining characteristics of an excellent paper doll?

So far as I know there are no “rules” for making paper dolls. In fact when I first started making my own paper dolls and started putting a colored columnar base behind the legs, I got several rather uncomplimentary letters saying that I was wrong and breaking tradition in doing so, because there would be no shoes to put on the dolls. I tried politely to say that shoes and hats were the first thing lost once the doll was cut out, and further if people did not like what I was doing, they had the option of not buying them! Perhaps the only valid “rule” is that the clothes fit the doll and the tabs are in the right places.

So far as I know, there are no Paper Doll Police!

As to defining characteristics for an excellent paper doll, I really know of none. They are as varied as the artist and the viewer. After all, some people prefer Rembrandt and others like Picasso!

Can you describe your studio environment and how you like to work? What types of media and techniques do you use to create paper dolls? How long does it take you to develop a paper doll book from start to finish?

My studio is rather spacious as it is the 2nd floor mezzanine of an old 1894 building. I have divided it into two sections with the front 2/3s as a display area for my art and the back 1/3 as my actual work space which has a drawing table, a large table sized paper cutter, a desk with my computer, and shelves all around for storing art materials, folios filled with my finished art, and book collection. The furniture in the display area is mostly Victorian, including a 2-3 hundred year old wooden painter’s mannequin, a couple of antique music boxes, and a large Victorian styled doll house and several metal doll houses of the 1940-50s era. As to media, I prefer to draw and paint on Bristol surfaced 2ply illustration board in colored inks. I usually work about 1/4th larger than the printed work. I generally draw everything out on tracing paper (to be sure the costumes fit) and then transfer them to the illustration board. The longest part of doing a book is the research which can take a week or two. The actual rendering of the book is about two more weeks, give or take.

You have an enviable background as a fashion illustrator at a time when there was much more practical demand and professional validation of the craft than there is now. Can you describe what it was like to work as a freelance fashion artist for department stores and other clients in the 1950s and 1960s? What would a typical work day be like?

Doing free lance fashion (and movie poster) illustration in the 1950s & ‘60s was oft times pretty grueling for me. I was a greedy little cuss and often put in 12 to 18 hours a day, often 7 days a week. I was lucky to always have a rather large studio, first a loft on the lower East Side and later my own brownstone with a floor through studio and four floors of living space for me and my family. I had several agents in the years I was in Manhattan so I had little contact with my clients except through my agent who was responsible for pick-ups and deliveries, etc. My Father was my business manager and he and my mother lived with me, freeing me to do little else than draw, and draw, and draw. Usually my agent would arrive in the afternoon with the merchandise and layouts around four in the afternoon all of which would be due back to the store the next afternoon. There were days when I would turn out as many as eight fashion figures a day, sometimes more before Christmas and holidays. When I was doing movie posters I had more time and they were fitted in between fashion jobs. Fortunately there were slow times during the year when you could get out and meet people and do other things than just draw. I guess I have always been somewhat a workaholic.

After a successful career as a freelance illustrator, you have managed to establish a well-earned reputation in a very specific niche. What do you think are the qualities and circumstances that have allowed you to not only make a living from your passion, but thrive on it?

I suppose that the secret to my success, such as it is, is that I love to draw. There are times when I feel rather naked if I don’t have a pencil or a brush in my hand. Also, I love the research and “getting to know” my subjects, if they are historic, down to studying their body language and incorporate that in my paper dolls… Right now I am in a bit of a pickle due to a recent stroke. My drawing hand is still a bit weak, but improving daily, and hopefully I will soon be back in the saddle again.

Thank you Mr. Tierney for sharing your time with me. Wishing you a speedy recovery!

career karma – Corey Lee

While I was dissolving my studio in Toronto and moving over the Atlantic to London, fellow illustrator and internet friend Corey Lee did the same, passing over the Pacific from Los Angeles to Tokyo. (I virtually met Corey when he did the first-ever-and-only fan art of me I’ve ever seen.) Naturally I’m curious about the parallel nomadic lives of my colleagues – Corey kindly answered some of my questions about making big international moves as a freelance illustrator.

What made you decide to move to Japan?

Back in June 2009 I visited Japan for the first time and I think it was love at first sight. The countryside is beautiful, but I really love Tokyo. It’s like an intricate machine with millions of pieces all working together harmoniously. Being in the center of that really inspires me everyday.

Was the transition smooth from a work standpoint? How much of your business is internet-based versus location-based?

It was nearly seamless. I do almost all of my work online, so besides the time difference my workflow hasn’t changed much.

How do you handle the costs of relocation and travel? Do you have to take on other jobs besides illustration?

I decided I wanted to live and work in Japan about a year in advance, so it gave me a lot of time to save up for my travel expenses and about three months of living expenses. Although I arrived with a decent amount of financial padding, I really tried to be as frugal as possible until I felt financially stable.

Initially I wanted to focus solely on freelancing in Tokyo, but after some research I realized I needed to secure I job at a Japanese company in order to obtain a work visa. It’s very difficult to sponsor your own work visa as a freelancer unless you’ve previously worked in Japan.

After about a month of hustling I managed to land a position at a small Japanese company where I did graphic design and illustration for mobile applications. This gave me a stable income and a work visa, while also allowing me to freelance.

How do you approach meeting friends and networking in a new country with a new language?

This is tough because I’m really a shy person when it comes to introducing myself and meeting new people. Along with networking online, I try to attend various events and meet-ups around the city as much as possible to network. The language barrier is difficult though. I spend a lot of time studying Japanese so I can improve the way I communicate with people.

What types of promotion do you use for your illustration work? Has that changed now that you are in a different country?

The way I promote online hasn’t changed too much. I still try to build traffic and web presence by getting my work featured on various websites and uploading my work to design communities like Behance, etc. The biggest difference now is I spend significantly more time networking in person. I’m still trying to break into the market, so I need to use every opportunity I can to promote.

Can you describe your current illustration studio setup? How do you do your work?

Right now my current setup consists of 21.5” iMac, large Wacom Intuos4, and a simple table for drawing. Because I’m kind of a minimalist and I work from my small apartment I like to keep things simple to conserve space. I really hate having clutter in my life.

When I create a new illustration I usually have a rough idea of what I want to draw, but gather my reference materials so I can decide on the details of what I want to create. I have a few folders on my computer where I save reference material like fashion magazine scans, and street style photos that I look at while drawing.

I draw my line work with just paper and pencil or sometimes ball point pen. I’ve been trying to migrate to drawing on my computer directly, however it still feels too unnatural. After completing the line work on paper I scan the drawing and add color with PhotoShop or SAI Paint Tool(a popular Japanese program). I’m constantly trying to tweak my technique so I don’t really have a standard process.

Do you think location matters for a working illustrator? Why or why not?

I feel like location is becoming less and less relevant. When you can promote your work and deliver worldwide with just an internet connection, location doesn’t seem to matter. There are no longer limits to who you can work for and where you can work from.

What are the greatest challenges in relocating as an illustrator? The greatest rewards?

The fear of failing. The fear I don’t posses the skills or drive to succeed. Even though I have goals I’d like to achieve I have doubts about my ability to accomplish them. At the same time, the most rewarding thing is the challenge itself. Succeeding in starting a career in another country, and living in an inspirational place is my reward.

career karma – Debra Goldblatt

Debra Goldblatt of rock-it promotions is one of Toronto’s top publicists for fashion, lifestyle and celebrity clients, and has been a great connector and supporter towards the fashion bloggers in the city for years. Her straight talk, genuine warmth and love of the business makes her a total PR darling.

This year rock-it promotions launched their own blog called On The Fourth Floor, and one of the most popular features is called Media Darling, asking PR-related questions of various personalities in the media (including me). I turned the table to get her perspective from the other side.

Who are your PR heroes? What inspires you about the leaders in your profession?

I have many colleagues that I work with in the PR field that are heroes. Some are owners of their own agencies and some are more junior and starting out. I don’t kiss and tell, but I will say that PR people who handle themselves with grace in difficult situations as well as have a sense of humour are my favourite people in this profession. It’s not always easy and it’s a very demanding career and a smile can go a long way.

What do you wish people understood better about PR, especially when it comes to fashion events?

I wish people understood how difficult it is to please all the people, all the time. There is a lot of ego in the fashion world which, to be frank, is quite unlike the other fields we work in (film, lifestyle, health, hospitality, etc). During a really large scale event like a show during Fashion Week, we really do try our very best to ensure that everybody is treated with the utmost respect and occasionally, there is a mistake. It could be a seat forgotten, a volunteer making an error, or an rsvp missed. Trust us that we kick ourselves harder than anybody ever could when those situations happen, so no need to kick us when we’re down (unless you’re dealing with a PR person who isn’t remorseful – then you should kick them. Hard.).

How can an independent blogger grab your attention? What do you look for when you choose the bloggers you want to work with?

I think this is very similar to the feedback we hear from media about PR professionals. I hate spelling errors and I hate it when somebody addresses a note to another agency and sends it to me. It’s impersonal and shows they are saying the same flattering things to another agency to get into an event. I like sincerity and soul. And a blog that is clean, well written and has relevant content for my client(s).

What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to bloggers?

Not acting professional. Don’t get hammered at an event b/c there is an open bar. If you want to work with us, save the slurred rants and drunk tweets until after you’ve been our guest. It’s no different than us inviting you into our house if it’s our client’s event. You look bad, we look bad. We want everybody to have fun, and believe in freedom of speech, but work with us, not against us. Positive energy is so much better than being a bitch.

Rock-it now has its own very lively, content-rich blog, On The Fourth Floor. What are your thoughts on the blogging experience?

It’s a TON of work! I’ve always had major respect for our friends in the blogging world, but it has been a really eye-opening experience to be the editor of our own site. It’s a collaborative effort in our agency, but most of it falls on a few specific team members and we def. feel the added work. We’ve had a ton of fun getting ‘fan’ mail and we just got our first piece of critical mail, which was equally fun. The Media, Darling posts have been wildly positive. I wanted to create a blog that PR professionals and students, in particular, would subscribe to because it was fun, digestible and offer something of value while being fresh. The fact that other agencies out there have been reading it and letting us know how much they enjoy it, totally rocks. I love that kind of good karma.

Full disclosure: rock-it promotions is a sponsor of Final Fashion. Thanks Deb!

career karma – Tatiana Read

Tatiana Read is a curator of connections, social, ambitious and organized. In other words, she’s a total PR pro.  Words can’t describe how grateful I am to her for introducing me to so many new clients and working her network to make cool projects happen.  In 2009 she started her own firm, Knot PR. Tat has mad momentum and it seems like she gets busier all the time – so I really appreciate that she took a moment to answer my questions.

Can you describe a typical day as PR entrepreneur?

This is a great question and something that I’m sure aspiring PR practitioners are curious about. I’ve done my best to outline the daily happenings of yours truly.

7:30AM Check the blackberry for any must-respond-to emails – European inquiries/contacts are a few hours ahead.

8:00AM Starbucks. Americano w/ cream + yogurt parfait. To go.

8:15AM In-office: sending previous night’s drafted emails ‘first-thing.’ I receive/send up to 200 individual emails daily (I prefer sending emails in the morning when people are fresh vs. late at night or EOD (end of day).

Media monitoring: review google alerts in detail, read dailies (online and in print) and get scans / obtain copies. Review links and google analytics for websites.

8:15-30AM Review meetings and day’s task list, confirm day’s appointments (I sometimes have up to four a day).

Log-in to HootSuite; check activity on twitter accounts, review twitter fashion lists for the day’s buzz, review general news/trending/favourite twitter people (some examples: @lisatant @OscarPRGirl @dkny @raymondgirard @mashable @scobleizer)

8:30-9:00AM Touch base with clients by phone if needed, follow-up with email and deliver action items as appropriate. Liaise with any vendors (e.g. for upcoming client event, designers, web guys, etc) on special client projects first-thing.

9:00-11:15AM If a Knot press release is going out we aim to have it out by 10:30 – at this point we’re uploading finalized documents, finalizing hi-res drops and flickr galleries, reviewing media lists. (By ‘we’ I mean me and my new coordinator, the amazing Ryan Cheung)

All same-day couriers must be filed by noon – so we’re usually putting a sample request or two together by this time.

Mail! Who doesn’t like receiving mail? Review new magazines, invitations, bills!

11:15-12:00PM Late-morning coffee with friend/industry colleague/media/fellow entrepreneur

Skype UK-based Knot Market Consultant Sarah Joynt

Call Knot advisory team member to discuss a percolating business idea / strategy (I regularly call up professionals from non-fashion or pr backgrounds to get their point of view and learn from their experiences, business practice)

12:00-12:30PM Lunch! I eat at my desk usually – I prefer booking meetings around lunch (but do enjoy a nice lunch meeting) as it makes you focus on task at hand vs. dining experience distractions.

Catch up on twitter chatter.

12:30-6:00PM Get lots of work done – copywriting, researching, knowledge management, brainstorming, media relations, strategic planning.

Also work on Knot admin/management tasks: pay bills, invoicing (freshbooks!), website (launching March 2010), communications industry trends/research

6:00PM Committee meetings – I am personally involved in a few extra-curriculars, including the upcoming Reel Artist Film Festival, The Canadian Art Foundation’s Young Patron Group (New Contemporaries), The Textile Museum’s Style Advisory Council, Hope House Fundraiser


Attend event – launches, cultural / networking events – all opportunities to touch base with colleagues and make new friends.

7:30PM Occasionally I go back to work post-event or have a secondary event.

9:00PM Draft event follow-up emails to new contacts (always, always get their business cards!). Review night-time emails and draft important responses/follow-up for next morning. Remotely review/draft important files via Dropbox.

10:00PM Touch-base with friends over phone, read a book (currently reading Corked) watch mind-numbingly bad tv (rarely)

How did your life change when you went from being an employee at a PR firm to owner of your own business?

The joy of PR (to me) has always been rooted in helping businesses grow. I am a natural entrepreneur (a competitive middle child) and running my own business has better equipped me to understand the challenges and goals of my clients.

To answer your question: my life changed overnight. As an entrepreneur, every second of every day counts – there’s no end to what you can do for your business and nobody cares more about your business than you do. Whereas client targets are more tacit and quantifiable, my business goals are lofty and seem endless. I am used to working long hours (I have had up to 3 jobs at a time and remember a stretch of 8 months with but a single day off) but being a PR entrepreneur is a lifestyle choice, truly. I have always been attracted to knowledge management and the ‘bigger picture’ as it’s energizing, motivating and highly rewarding to see ideas come to life.

You were one of the first PR professionals in Toronto to make a real effort to reach out to fashion bloggers. How do you think fashion PR has to adapt to the growing influence of online voices?

I grew up amidst ‘online voices’ and I think my first experiences on the web (think: gopher and Eliza) resonate with what’s happening today (and make me apt to understand the ‘blogosphere’ and web 2.0). At 15, in 1996 and, I had a website which I programmed myself (it’s still out there on Web Archive – I may admit to a Prada mention, shoes specifically). It was my first foray into an exotic and alluring community of talented early-adopters. In particular I remember Jeffrey Zeldman being an influence – he’s now spearheading designing with web standards (I think I even got him to critique my site! *Embarrassing* but part of the allure of the online community: access).

As soon as I got started in fashion PR I recognized that fashion bloggers were important voices (the notion that it’s a passing fad strikes me as misinformed). Now we have twitter (micro-blogging!) and facebook to contend with. What does this mean to PR practitioners and specifically, the fashion PR people? It means engaging these voices/platforms and starting your own conversations, being responsive and open to new technologies. It also means lots of learning.

What advice would you offer to those who have an ambition to start their own fashion PR firm?

I’m new at this but here are some highlights of what I’ve learned so far: you must want to work hard, keep learning everyday, be organized (personally and professionally), meet people and learn from them. It’s not for everyone.

Can you describe the proudest moment in your career so far?

Validation is important to me as I work in a service-based industry. I take pride in doing the job well; whether it’s running my business and getting an office within 6 months or having a client tell me “job well done.” Also seeing a good idea come to life is thrilling.

Photo Credit: Raymund Galsim

Career Karma – Tricia Campbell Hall

Tricia Campbell Hall is a stylist, I can’t remember when I met her because I often see her when I go out to events, and she’s always friendly and fun to talk to.  Later I became aware of her blog, and found out more about what she does, including this lovely reveal of the design and development of her wedding dress. Tricia loves to find unknown designers and support them in the early stages of their career.

Tricia is having a busy month – she’s jetting her way to fashion week in NYC in a few days to check out Rad Hourani‘s show among others… looking forward to reading what she posts about the trip.

In the meantime, she kindly answered a few of my questions about her career.

You’re a stylist who-blogs – why did you decide to start a blog, and how does the blog complement your career?

i decided to start a blog as a way to share with people the work that i do and it gives me the opportunity to share the behind the scenes process, pictures and stories of the end result.

blogging provides an additional platform to support canadian designers who i love wholeheartedly.

it also helps to put a personality to my name because i type like how i talk. i take my work very seriously but i don’t take myself too seriously and i think my writing style shows it. it allows me to give additional exposure to the designers, clients, photographers, models and hair/makeup artists that i get to work with because i provide credits from each shoot. posting in a manner that allows the reader to feel like they were present, be it for a shoot or even an event i attended, along with providing pictures i took myself or that the event photographer took makes my blog approachable and easier to read (at least i hope so).

You’ve applied your skills to many different types of styling – off-figure, photography, styling celebrity clients for shoots, and fashion shows. What type of styling is the most challenging? What type is your favourite?

the most challenging type of styling i think is off-figure, mainly because it’s the most misunderstood and underrated. those carefree and loosely stacked polos shots that you see in a j.crew catalogue actually took a lot of time to be pressed and steamed just right, folded a specific way, organized in a particular colour order and lit to perfection for that end result. each one of those shots can take a couple of hours to produce and not all clients are aware of the time it requires to achieve that look they request. an editorial fashion shoot for five looks (hair + makeup included) will easily go by much faster than a high end off-figure shoot for five product shots.

as much as i enjoy off-figure my favourite type of styling would have to be fashion, be it for a creative shoot that i do on my own time or for a magazine. i really love creating beautiful images with clothing and accessories, a great model, a great photographer and a great hair + makeup artist on board. i was very much a visual arts geek back in high school and i still love visual arts to this day. to me (fashion) styling is an art form.

Can you describe a typical day as a freelance stylist?

because it’s not a monday to friday 9-5 type of career your days can be really inconsistent and unpredictable. one day i’m chillin at home watching oprah and the next day i’m running around the city pulling clothing for a magazine shoot all because of a phone call from my agent.

there are different levels of crazy depending on the job. the more laid back sort of days (in regards to preparation) would be ones in a production studio for a commercial catalogue client-often times all styling materials are provided and you just have to show up, no full styling kit required (i’ll just roll with a downsized version). because it’s catalogue the product (clothing, shoes, accessories, etc) is provided for you and with it being in a production studio there’s usually a set time as to when your day is done.

the most crazy would be a call for a magazine shoot, some in as little as 2 days. you have to always make sure your contact list is up to date because at the 11th hour you have no time to waste. calling and emailing designers, showrooms and stores, making appointments to pick up the clothing and even have some itemscouriered to you because you don’t always have time to pick up the items yourself. though there is a specific call time for you to begin on the day of the shoot, it doesn’t end until you get all the desired shots and that can sometimes mean that your day can run late.

What fashion professionals do you admire, and how do they inspire you?

i really admire nicola formichetti‘s work, where he’s at in his career and what he’s accomplished. he’s fashion editor, creative director, contributing fashion editor, he styles ad campaigns, videos and celebrities; having all that on his plate and doing all jobs well reminds me that there’s nothing that can’t be done, that you don’t have to be one “type” of stylist only.

Can you describe the proudest moment in your career so far?

a satisfied client is something that i’m always proud of, but i will tell you about the happiest moment of my career: being hired as an in-house off-figure stylist back in july of 2004 after being let go from a sucky retail job at the end of 2003; that’s where my career as a stylist began.

career karma – Joelle Litt

The first time I saw Joelle Litt was when she was walking the runway, modeling for Ula Zukowska, with a swatch of black lace embellishing her gorgeous jaw.  Joelle is a stunning example of a human being, with long limbs and longer neck – but what makes her stand out as a model to me is a certain quality of awareness and maturity. She is a model that I have an ambition to draw, and if my dreams come true she will be posing in my studio very soon.

Besides being a model, Joelle is a writer – I used to be a regular reader of her old blog, Mad Glam (RIP), and now she writes for Women’s Post and is also building a portfolio as a stylist.  I asked her a few questions about having multiple careers in the fashion industry.

How has your modeling experience helped you as a fashion writer and stylist?

Being a model allowed me to become a part of the industry at a very young age. You get the opportunity to work with people in every single aspect of the fashion industry; working with designers, stylists, photographers, hair & make-up artists, show producers, and the list continues. A smart model will take from that experience and grow…and make contacts. As a fashion writer, I see things from a different perspective…and as a stylist…I have basically been assisting stylists for years (as a model) and was always learning tips and tricks. So there was no need for me to assist anyone when I woke up one day in October and thought, ‘I am going to be a stylist.”

You have visibly and vocally contributed your talents to the fashion community in Toronto. Why does local fashion matter to you?

Local fashion is important, not just in Toronto. Wherever I am I try to get involved in the local fashion scene. I like to be able to meet and talk to people face to face. If I have the opportunity to understand someone’s character on a personal level than I will take it, especially someone who’s work I adore. And the sense that there is a ‘community,’ is a great thing. The more that the fashion community of Toronto comes together in a combined effort, with all of its talents, the greater the fashion community of Toronto is.

Having been both a participant and an observer of the fashion scene in Toronto, what is your sense of how fashion in the city is evolving?

It’s evolving. The fashion scene is much more than just fashion week….but I need to talk about that for just a minute. When I first started doing fashion week in Toronto, back in the days of Matinee, my taxi driver would always ask, “What exactly is going on here?” And now, all I have to say is ‘to the tent!’ and they know exactly where to go…(most of the time).

The fashion scene in Toronto is much more accessible to the public. People know more and more about it, and people are in to it.

The industry is a little bit more accessible now too for people starting out…which is why alot more talent is developing, from what I can see.

What are your favourite blogs and fashion publications?

Should I lie or be honest? I don’t have any regulars that I follow…I pick up what catches my eye, and I am constantly looking for what is out there that I haven’t yet come across.

But I must say, Final Fashion just keeps getting better and better

What fashion professionals do you admire, and how have they inspired you?

I think I meet new people everyday that inspire me. This industry allows me to meet so many new people all the time – -and I love that.

But there are a few people that I have admired from the very beginning; like Pat McDonagh. I find her so inspiring because she has been a part of the industry for so long and shows no signs of stopping. She lives fashion. I hope that my career will be as long-lived. I can’t really see myself ever retiring a career as a writer.

I find the way fashion illustrator, Frederick Watson, sees the world to be so very inspiring. The world is so pretty through his eyes.

Photo credit: Richard Dubois

career karma – Ryan Taylor of FTJCo

I became aware of Ryan Taylor through the magic of Twitter – besides being an incredibly active philanthropist and organizer of successful fundraisers such as HoHoTo, he is an entrepreneur who is transforming a storefront in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighborhood.  His company, the Fair Trade Jewellery Company, is dedicated to creating customized jewellery using materials that are sourced fairly. Ryan is an enthusiastic and passionate individual who is keen on sharing ideas, space, and galvanizing the community around him.  You can learn more in this video. I asked him some questions about his vision for a jewellery company with a difference.

You use a CNC machine and software to design and prototype your customized jewellery. How does your equipment affect the way you design?

I have two answers .

1. For our collections and my personal design process it doesn’t affect me at all. Computers and rapid prototyping are no different than a hammer, torch, or file, each a tool in my bench.

What it does do is affect the way clients engage the design process. Traditionally water colours are/were used to illustrate a concept, then wax models produced by hand. People still employ this process today, the challenge is who pays for this time? Visually translating from paper to physical model is difficult for some people which means the process is often repeated (at a considerable cost) until the client is happy. For our clients we don’t charge for the custom work because these tools help me reduce both time and labour. The entire process can be completed during a single consultation, or over a few emails. The wax model is an exact replica of the photo realistic renderings which significantly reduces any confusion, and even if there is a change remaking it isn’t a problem.

It’s worth noting that there are a lot of faux-cad suites on counters in Jewellery stores, these are generally fool proof stock computer models sales people are trained on to give the illusion of ‘custom design’ and improve margins. Others may offer CAD but it’s simply a process of emailing a doodle to China, which can become expensive if multiple changes are needed. True custom (CAD/CAM) allows for infinite design possibilities and the ability to add special details like a finger print, illustrations or complex architectural detail – the options are endless. It’s my job to guide people through this exiting process, and resolve any technical restrictions.

Despite using a machine for much of the modelling process, jewellery is still finished by hand. Here the new world tools meets the old, it’s one of the reasons I love what I do.

2. A common goal amongst designers who use CAD/CAM

This would depend entirely on the mandate of the company or the project. The ‘holy grail’ for most designers, in any field, is to really create something so perfect a human hand couldn’t reproduce it. But the most common goals would be: improving production capabilities, and cost.

Building the point of difference of your business on the notion of a higher standard of ethics is certainly admirable. Is building a truly “fair” for-profit business achievable or just aspirational?

Totally achievable. Because we’re already doing it. The biggest risk we face isn’t consumer demand, or the supply chain but the Jewellery industry itself. Getting up the nose, and facing off with the PR agencyies of multinational corporations is not a matter of if but when. The industry itself needs new thought leaders, they (will) see us as a threat to the status quo. What they should understand is; we don’t want to take the establishment down we want to reform it, preserve it, save it from itself, and by doing so also change the communities and regions affected by it.

Have you ever encountered a moral grey area where two ethical priorities (say, labour versus environment) compete? What would you do in such a situation?

Not yet. If I can’t deliver I’m honest with the client. This type of conversation often happens around coloured stones because there isn’t a body that independently certifies the supply chain(s). And there may never be, but clients are always receptive to education about the product, and bit of transparency.

Another question clients ask that I’ve always been reluctant to accept is the idea of ‘recycled metal’. How this idea could be marketed without question really illustrates how desperate the industry is to preserve their commodity model and how lazy the green movement has become. Jewellers, Goldsmiths, Manufacturers have been recycling fine metal for centuries, there isn’t a landfill for old jewellery. Branding it and selling back to consumers as some sort of ‘green strategy’ is quite brilliant in some ways. When I began searching for ‘recycled’ options I called one refinery because they advertised ‘eco metal’: I asked “Are you 3rd party certified”, answer: “Yes”, “Great who certifies you?”, reply “We do”. This interaction sums up the current industry pretty well, another case of foxes guarding the hen house.

That’s not to say a solution didn’t exist, we found one. To fulfill requests for Platinum (currently limited supply from our partners in Colombia) and Palladium (not available) we found found a parter who is certified by: SCS this allows us to offer a post consumer 3rd party verified product with a minimum of 88% (18% post-consumer 70% pre-consumer) recycled content without any moral dilemma.

You’ve alluded to a change of direction for FTJCo in 2010. How has your vision for the business changed since you began?

The vision remains the same. We’ve responded to feedback already by getting sample product in showcases, scaling our production ability, improving availability, and did a bit of a flip-flop on how we offer custom. These are all boring operational refinements though.

My greatest disappointment was not being able to offer the 10-15% of retail as an investment back into the communities of the Choco. I believe this to be temporary set back, as we generate more business and refine our financial model I hope 2010 is the year we achieve this goal.

What have you learned from the process of “soft-launching” a business?

  1. People entering a “jewellery store” are always on the defensive. And understandably so. I despise going into Jewellery stores.
  2. No one knows what an atelier is.
  3. Education not sales.
  4. Honestly above profits.
  5. Admit you were wrong.
  6. At whatever the cost “Make it Right”
  7. Love your community(s)

What designers and entrepreneurs do you admire, and how do they inspire you?

For a designer I only have one answer. Goldschmiedemeister Karl Vigelius. My mentor and friend. His work is elegant, technically brilliant, and he has shared the world with me. 50+ years experience, formally trained in Germany – he is a rare find. We spend every Tuesday together it is the highlight of every week.

Entrepreneur. Steve Jobs. I can identify with him on so many levels, I even haz a Woz :)

career karma – Briony Smith

Briony Smith is the best kind of fashion writer to meet at an event – she is always wearing an outrageous outfit and a smile. She has the winning combination as far as I am concerned – she is observant, opinionated and optimistic.  I asked her a few questions about her career and craft.

Photo Credit: Kinetic Form

One thing I admire about you is your style – you wear bright colours, unusual items with a sense of humour.  How would you describe your sense of style?  Where do you find your striking fashion items?

It’s all about confidence and trusting your wilder instincts: stay away from safe. My sense of style is “not-safe!” (And, okay, okay: throw “sometimes sexy” in there as well: I do have a well-known penchant for anything short, slinky, or sheer. Blame it on the formative influence of nineties-era Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, and Gucci.)

Life’s too short to look like everyone else, so even my everyday pieces are a bit outrageous! I get recognized all the time for my glasses (pale-pink Rapp cateyes, or Cutler & Gross gray round frames) and the massive 1940s amethyst cocktail ring I wear every day.

I always incorporate at least a few eye-catching, unique pieces per outfit, whether it’s a colourful scarf, a chunky necklace, a print dress, a big-ass pair of heels, or some texture, like sequins, cashmere, or silk. (And I wear some form of vintage every day.)

As an example, I think that one of my most outrageous ensembles (pictured here) was also one of my best. On paper, pairing just a bra with a lacey vintage bolero, paperbag-waisted capris, red leather mules, long silver earrings, and a vintage hat sounds a bit crazy, but when it works, it works.

I try and avoid shopping at chain stores anymore, preferring instead to buy from independent designers (especially Canadian!), and vintage pieces. Some of my best treasures came from sources as diverse as a Nashville vintage store, high-end boutiques, the Hamilton Value Village, sample sales, hand-me-downs, roadside garage sales, my late mother’s jewelrybox, clothing swaps…

You post about fashion on blogTO – perhaps the most challenging audience for fashion news in the city.  How do you deal with all the disparaging comments?

The majority of the nasties are just writing a knee-jerk response without reading carefully what I’m saying. I always make sure to point out the good parts about stores and fashion shows, rather than harping on about what I hate about them, but people still often accuse me of being a snobby jerk. I kind-of am, but, ironically, I’m careful not to rage as much as I might like on stores or shows that aren’t my style—they might be someone else’s!

What fashion writers do you admire and find inspiration from?  What qualities does a good fashion writer have?

Probably my favourite fashion writer is Andre Leon Talley of Vogue. I’m in complete awe of his fashion knowledge: he reels off past collections and trends in his show coverage so breezily. He’s also lived such a glam life, traveling, interviewing, and hanging out with the best fashion minds of our time (and wearing ridiculous outfits—the man swathes himself in massive capes, for god’s sake).

But the best part is his humbleness and passion: even though he’s been doing this for decades, his enthusiasm is unwavering. That to me is the single-most important quality a fashion writer needs: excitement! So many fashion industry people are so jaded (and, frankly, cranky), despite the fact that they get to write about clothes and, essentially, art for a living.

Would you ever consider starting your own fashion blog?  Why or why not?

I have been pondering this for quite some time, and have a whole concept worked out, even! I’ve just hesitated taking the plunge because, as a freelance writer in the current climate, it seems a little reckless to embark on yet another unpaid venture. The Internet is also glutted with so-called fashion blogs, so I’d want to make sure that my voice was loud enough to be heard over the din. I think the focus is unique enough, and my passion strong enough, to get it going, but what form it will take remains to be seen!

Describe the proudest moment in your career so far.

It’s often the firsts in my career that have stuck with me, the ones where I remember grinning and tearing up a little, or squealing and jumping up and down, as I held the new issue in my hand, including: my first published article (a pair of movie reviews in my university paper), my first magazine piece (a tiny sidebar in Seattle magazine), my first article in a fashion magazine (an interview with Jay Manuel in ELLE Canada), and my first few fashion stories (covering Fashion Week for blogTO, and writing about film fashion for ELLE Canada).

Really, there is so much talent in the world, and I just feel lucky to write about it!

career karma – Rea McNamara



Rea McNamara is a magpie both in style and in practice – someone who collects the discarded, the colourful, the rare, and assembles her findings into stories, experiences and communities.  I asked her about her multi-faceted perspective on the culture of style.

(If you are in Toronto, you can meet Rea (and me, and a bunch of other fascinating folks) at the Hi-Style Holladaze party tonight.)

I would like to describe you as a glorious generalist – someone who is curious about many aspects of culture. Is there a common thread in your careers as a stylist, writer and DJ? Why have you chosen the path of the polymath as opposed to focusing on one specific calling?

To be honest, I’m not so sure if I chose the path or the path chose me. Up until very recently, I felt like a Jack of All Trades — bouncing from writing stories to styling shoots to organizing party nights to playing in bands and deejaying to coordinating art programs.

But I’ve been very lucky to have people in my life who’ve encouraged me to be stubbornly true to my passions, and not be so caught up with expectations. By letting impulse and sheer accident guide my work, I’ve been able to understand what my process is and the ideas that drive it.

The common thread is probably the desire to create an immersive experience. Ultimately, I’m a storyteller, but I don’t think stories are solely told via words. Sometimes it’s an image or a sample. Most of the time, it’s the image and the sample and the word. That’s why it’s so difficult for me to limit myself within a particular form or genre. I’ve always been fascinated by the things that exist between boundaries.

Your new gig is writing about social media for a paper-paper. You’ve been called out for not being much of a social media guru – not having a lot of twitter followers or being an insider in the social media networking scene. How do you justify your take on the subject as an outsider?

I don’t know about you, but I’m so over this popular idea of social media being all about the Twitter followers and AdWords ROI. (No wonder why Camille Paglia called Twitter ‘so high school’.) I’m more interested in looking at social media in relation to the on/offline statuses of emerging/pre-existing niches and subcultures.

That’s why my column’s covering Gleek re-doing vids, Tavi, and ONTD: I want to examine social media from a truly open perspective. I’m very conscious about this column being read on the subway, or readers following the meta-fragments via the Posterous. Often, I might even write two different versions of the column (a good example of this is my print and online takes on the popular Tumblr oversharer jaimeleigh), because people forget how fast online moves, and how important it is to dissect it in such a way that it’s fully understood via different platforms.

But I don’t necessarily see myself as totally an ‘outsider’. In 2008, I was a resident in the CFC Media Lab doing their TELUS Interactive Art and Entertainment Program, so I’ve been fairly immersed in new media before. I’ve also been observing and studying online fandom culture (specifically fan fiction and slash) for a number of years, and guest lectured on the subject at York University.

You are also working with Art Starts, a grass-roots community initiative exploring the unique style of some of Toronto’s suburbs. What have you discovered about the style scene outside of the downtown core?

Art Starts is an amazing Toronto non-profit committed to arts-based community development. It’s an organization that uses the arts as a medium for engaging residents, creating a shared sense of identity, identifying challenges and collectively working to overcome them in particularly underserved neighbourhoods.

The Style Council puts into practice the ideas I have about fashion community-building, and where style exists. I think it’s so limiting to think about style simply emerging from the runway or on Queen West — it should also be recognized that it can be determined on the streets of Eglinton West West, and in communities like Jane & Finch or Little India.

So for the past ten weeks, I’ve been working with ten amazingly talented writers, photographers and stylists to document the collective fashion senses of the Dufferin-Eglinton and Oakwood-Vaughan communities. The participants — many of whom are in high school or in university/college — are a mix of area residents and outsiders, and are for the most part interested in fashion and/or media careers. They received workshops in styling, writing and photography, and were responsible for creating a double-paged spread in what we’re calling a community ‘Stylebook’. As a result, these participants have filed interviews, essays and fashion editorials that explores the impact of what we choose to wear as an expression of ourselves and our communities.

My goal is to work with Art Starts to develop a funding strategy so that run the Style Council can run in other underserved communities. I love this idea of every community getting their own Stylebook — and in the process, creating a city-wide support network for past and present participants.

One of the subjects you explore that fascinates me is the forgotten recent history of the fashion scene in Toronto – specifically the eighties. What have you learned about how fashion in the city has changed over the past 30 years?

I’m by no means a true fashion historian — my work pales in comparison to David Livingstone and Alexandra Palmer. But I’m def interested in the 1980s era, because the community was really on the cusp of being an international contender. You talk to anyone who was there — Linda Lundstrom, Wayne Clark, Comrags’ Judy Cornish and Joyce Gunhouse, Brenda Bent, etc. — and they’ll tell you how much opportunity there was. Judy and Joyce would just leave the key in the door of their studio when the buyers came. It wasn’t a big thing to see a sequined Wayne Clark number of Dynasty. There was actually a garment industry on Spadina. You had the Festival of Canadian Fashion, which really sold to a mass audience Canadian fashion.

What really drove this era was this democratic idea of fashion: The Bemelman’s crowd co-existed and often crossed over with the Century 66/Peter Pan crowd. Someone like Sandy Stagg — who in the 1970s, owned Amelia Earhart, one of the first Toronto vintage shops — did fashion, but was closely involved with General Idea and ran Peter Pan, which was the it-spot on Queen W. in the 1980s for the arts scene. Fashion was intimately involved with art, music and design, which really drove the innovation.

So it’s sad that this is forgotten by the present local fashion community. It prevents us from connecting the dots between the works of Toronto designers in the past with the present. We’re robbed of context. New York City and Paris are considered fashion leaders in part because their histories and traditions are so visible. It’s a historical reference that helps critics to properly assess the collections (ie. the Dior New Look, or the Ralph Lauren Great Gatsby thing). We’re losing something vital if we continue to disregard past designers and labels like Marilyn Brooks, Zapata, Bent Boys, etc.

Do you have any insight on where the fashion scene in Toronto might be going in the next decade?

I’m optimistic that we will start to make the connections. Individuals like FAT’s Vanja Vasic, Toronto Craft Alert’s Jennifer Anisef, Fuller Woman Expo’s Georgia Greenwood, 69 Vintage’s Irene Stickney and Kealan Sullivan are leaders in their particular style subcultures who I believe have the right to just as much influence as Robin Kay, Joe Mimran and Barbara Atkin. But it’s up to us to dig deep and not appropriate these subcultures ruthlessly into the mainstream, but truly absorb the value of their politics and ideas.

This is why I get the sense — especially from my community work, and my own personal interest in Caribbean designers like Meiling and The Cloth — that we are going to see more diverse perspectives emerging. I hope that we just let go of trying to make Toronto be like New York and Paris, and maybe try to see it as something like Belgium, or even Trinidad & Tobago. These contexts that we privilege so much — Paris chic, New York sportswear — are old. We need to wake up and take on a more globalized view, and assess the relations between mass-producing fast fashions in Bangladesh with the rise of haute couture in Dubai. Or, you know, @-replying to a Lisa Tant tweet discussing the latest Flare shoot in Barbados by asking whether or not local designers were pulled. If Toronto recognizes and even empowers these diverse stylish possibilities, that might actually make us a world contender.

Photo credit:  Alyssa Katherine Faoro.

career karma – Sarah Lazarovic


Sarah Lazarovic is one of the people I met thanks to curiousity.  I had heard about her garage-based gallery, the Montrose Portrait Gallery, somehow on the internet, and I went there by myself, not knowing anyone who would be there, under the pretense of writing a post about it for blogTO.  It was a good example of why it is a good thing to seek out the unfamiliar – I instantly liked Sarah, her plucky and prolific approach to projects, and her group of brainy, creative friends.  I asked her a few questions about her various pursuits.

Sarah Lazarovic

Last year (was it last year? I can’t seem to access the D&S archives) you made a pledge on your fashion blog, Dress and Suit, to limit the amount of clothing you buy. Did the experience change the way you shop and the way you dress?

(Sorry D & S is quasi-defunct, I switched it to Posterous for email posting, and lost most of the archives. Plus the hubby and I realized we weren’t really interested in fashion, and didn’t want to blog w/no focus)

It was a couple of years ago now, but I’m thinking of doing it again. I’m not a person who is ever on trend, but at a certain point, if you haven’t grown taller or wider in ten years, you have every possible item of clothing you could ever need. Including Capri pants. The challenge was good for me because it made me aware of how casually and absentmindedly I had shopped. I wasn’t the kind of person who ever went shopping. I’d just walk by a store, pop in and pick up a dress. Or I’d accompany my sister shopping, she’d find nothing, and I’d come home with three frocks. I did buy mostly vintage stuff, but I also bought stuff at sweatshoppy fast fashion emporiums, and I wanted to stop that regardless.

Before I decided to do the year of no shopping, I realized there were a few things I was always looking for but never able to find. I kept buying things that came short of what I wanted in a coat. So I had a seamstress make a cashmere winter coat based on some sketches I drew and I bought a proper pair of winter boots. After that I didn’t need anything else. I started wearing things I’d neglected for years. I had the heels mended on pairs of vintage Gucci and Ferragamo pumps my grandma had given me. I fixed things that had been languishing untended in my closet for years. And I wore old dresses and remembered why I loved them. It really wasn’t hard at all to work with what I had and not want for new duds.

Since then I’ve allowed myself to shop. But I think I’m going to not shop again come January 1, because if I make the commitment I’ll do it. Otherwise, clothes just seem to swan dive out of store windows and into my closet.

You’ve lived in many places, but you chose to make a home in Toronto – and you draw a lot of inspiration from the city for your art. What is it about Toronto in particular that intrigues you?

Hmm. Toronto has a strange pull because it’s a place that reveals itself slowly. I’m not a native Torontonian, only been here for about seven years, so my art projects are a way of getting to know the city and Canada. I didn’t grow up with the Polkaroo and Maestro Fresh Wes, and I still don’t know all my Toronto neighbourhoods or who was mayor before Mel Lastman or what an Avro Arrow is, so I guess all my projects are at least tangentially about exploring, archiving and getting to know my newish surroundings. When I first moved here I worked as journalist for TOist, The Globe, Elle, etc… which immersed me in the city right away. I was always researching artists, restaurants, new shops, etc…a hired flaneur of sorts. Which helped me get to know the city on the quick. And buoyed me to continue investigating the city through art.

And sappy as it may be, I just love Toronto. I did love living in New York and London and I’ll always love Montreal, but Toronto is just such an easy, low-key place to live. It’s still relatively affordable, which makes for a city where artists and young creatives can live downtown. The people are great. And it’s much easier to mount art projects here. I am a bit of a nerd cheerleader when it comes to Toronto. I love showing people around. I grew up in geriatric Florida, so for me Toronto is a fantastically vibrant place. I love everything about it. Except for the weather and the paucity of good sandwich shops.

It appears you have co-directed the ultimate hogtown hipster rom-com, No Heart Feelings. It is described as a collaborative, improvisational process – can you explain further? What would the usual shooting day be like?

A few friends and I got talking about two years ago . We were all on the same page about the kind of feature we wanted to make and knew we couldn’t realize such an undertaking without each other. So we workshopped a loose treatment, cast friends and acquaintances, and shot mostly over the summer of 2008 and intermittently in 2009. Geoff, my co-director, and I shot, while Ryan, our other co-director, would boom and get coffee for our actors. Usually, we worked with a crew of four to five people, shooting whenever we could get our actors together for an hour or three. The actors would be given bullet points of things that needed to come across in the scene as well as a few good lines/ideas to put forth if it felt natural. The rest was up to them. The result is a film that’s almost painfully real at times. Having just come off a rigorously shot short with a crew of thirty, I found shooting with a bare bones crew and non-actors extremely liberating, and infinitely less stressful.

It was also a great exercise in compromise. Working autonomously most of the time, editing with two other people was a really good experience for me. And having grown up on the cusp of the analog/digital switchover, the fact that we’re able to shoot and create features with tiny crews and budgets will never cease to amaze me. I dropped out of film school at Florida State because I chafed at the restrictions of film. So much time, money, waste. It’s absolutely amazing that we can work so freely these days. Get a few friends together and you can really make anything you want. Okay, now I’m nerd filmmaker!

As for subject, we were all tired of the way Toronto was depicted in films. Toronto filmmakers would boast of making movies in which Toronto played itself, but it was usually more like Toronto playing Toronto playing New York. These films would always try to make the city look chic and cosmopolitan, instead of leafy and neighbourhoody and a little bit jolie laide. We wanted to make a film set in the Toronto that we knew.

I am always impressed with how prolific your projects are and the frequency that you do them at. The daily portrait project was the result of painting every day, but only for a limited time per portrait. Did you see your technique develop over that period of time? What did you learn?

I learned that my skills at capturing likenesses needed daily practice, like anything else. I do think I got better, quicker and more agile with my brush over the course of the year, but since then my skills have totally atrophied. I painted Lil Wayne for my brother-in-law last week, but it ended up looking like Whoopi Goldberg. Then I did another one, and he came out beautifully (for Lil Wayne, anyway). The idea is that I need to warm up. I’d never go running or take a ballet class without stretching. It’s no wonder that I need to warm up before I sit down to draw, even if I do most of my illustration work digitally these days.

It’s nothing revolutionary, of course, this one-a-day stuff, the Internet has just made it easier to document process. And it’s a great way of holding oneself accountable to personal challenges put forth in moments of grand overextension.

We met at the Montrose Portrait Gallery in your garage. Are there any future plans for the gallery?

The roof is caving in! Luckily, I got approval to renovate it at the Committee of Adjustments this week – to raise the ceiling, add windows and put a green roof on top, and INSULATE! Of course, this’ll take a while. So yes, the MPGC will be shuttered (like the NPG) as per usual this winter, but will no doubt rise again soonish! Thanks for participating, I have to get you your piece back to you!