Canadians take their outerwear very seriously. While we wear padded coats that rival duvet covers for most of the year, we also have a passion for beautiful blazers and jackets. Andrea Lenczner and Christie Smythe tapped into this and created Smythe in 2004, a label which has spread the Canadian addiction to coats and has become one of the most sought-after labels to ever come out of the country. Smythe has created essential wardrobe pieces that are both modern and emotional. The contemporary, flawlessly-tailored jackets and coats feature nostalgic colours, textures and prints that are distinct in their traditional menswear tailoring details. This artful tailoring and sartorial fit made Smythe an instant success that conquered, not only the heart of Canada’s fashion elite, but also that of Tina Fey, Kelly Osbourne, Blake Lively, Sophia Bush, Rachel McAdams, Kate Hudson, Lindsay Lohan, and the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton (that isn’t the end of the list though... seriously). Smythe's made-in-Canada jackets and coats are iconic silhouettes that are clean and modern. Time to put the duvet back on the bed and don a cozy coat with killer princess seams.
What made you choose the field of jacket and coat design?
We wanted to design one thing and design it well. When we started there was a gap in the market for an “item” jacket, yet the designer denim market was exploding. If a woman wanted to wear a blazer with her Sevens, her only choice was the blazer from her Theory suit. We thought, if men can have the sports jacket category, why can’t women?
What was it like starting up as designers in Canada, and as solely jacket designers?
The Canadian press and customers were immediately supportive. Our first, and today’s largest, retail partner, Holt Renfrew, initially placed us in their Design Lab, which serves as a creative incubator for new designers. This is where they take the most risk, and it is still our favourite area of the store.
Looking back at your success, did you realize there would be such a market for impeccable jackets, not only in Canada but also worldwide?
Once it became time to cross the border, it got a little tricky. It’s hard to believe now, with the prevalence of single-category designers, but we encountered many roadblocks like: “We don’t have an item buyer”, or “We don’t know where to put you on the floor.”
Who is the Smythe woman?
One common thread amongst the Smythe customer is that she has a lot of different needs in terms of her wardrobe. She appreciates a well-tailored garment and wants to feel current, whether at the office, a social event, or traveling. She is willing to invest in clothing she feels will be relevant for more than one season.
How would you describe your style?
We love trying on different personalities and absolutely have our phases. Sometimes we are boyish, sometimes we are bohemian, sometimes a little more punk or minimalist, and then sometimes we wear a bow blouse and dirndl skirt…it really depends. We really do believe that as long as your clothing is tailored to you, you can play with different styles.
When was the moment that you realized Smythe had made it big-time?
We never think in those terms, so we haven’t had that moment.
Who was the first celebrity to wear your designs?
Kate Hudson, and we happily continue to spot her in Smythe.
Who would you most like to see wearing one of your designs?
Where does your inspiration come from?
Inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere. It’s a difficult question to answer because it’s not always conscious. We do find inspiration in each other; a girl on the street; a colour in nature; textiles; vintage clothing; art & movies; music; other designers, etc. We find that the best ideas usually come after some sort of break from our daily work routines. There is nothing like not having your head in fashion to return and to be creative.
Being that your pieces are so well tailored, did you have any formal training in fashion design?
Christie did her degree at Parsons and, just before we started Smythe, was on the product development team at The Gap in New York. Although she isn’t technically trained, her experience in executing a garment was invaluable to starting Smythe and to teaching Andrea how to realize a concept. We work with skilled pattern drafters and cutters to perfect our tailoring.
Why is it so important to you to keep the company local?
We definitely feel proud that we are contributing to Toronto’s economy, however, to bring your customers the best value, and to remain competitive, you do have to think about manufacturing globally. Certain commodities should and must be manufactured offshore. As long as you make well-researched, socially responsible decisions, then contributing to other global economies is also wonderful.
What are your favourite materials/textiles? Any that you’re craving to work with?
Well, we love wool. It’s by far our favourite ‘medium’. We have always been inspired by traditional men’s suiting wools in donegals, tweeds, herringbones, houndstooths, and tartans, which are recurring themes in our Fall Collections. Worsteds, felteds, alpacas, gabs, twisted, carded, combed, shoddys…we love all wool and its natural proclivity for memory, mobility and drape. God bless wool.
What are the most important things a woman should be looking for in a blazer/jacket?
The cut and the fabric.
Do you have a favourite piece from amongst your designs?
We really built our business on our equestrian silhouette.
When did you decide to expand beyond jackets into trousers?
Personally, we were looking for alternatives to denim. Christie and I will wear properly tailored trousers with t-shirts and sneakers, just like we would a jean, or with a heel or little bootie. In other words, they really are another daytime option and should not be treated exclusively as office wear. Also, we were loving the return of an advanced suit as something to be worn for cocktails or evening; it introduces an element of masculinity and, really…what could be sexier? The most interesting women in the room at last year’s Met Ball were Giovanna Battaglia, Miuccia Prada, and Anna Dello Russo, who all chose trouser suits for this formal event.
Do you have any other plans to expand your line?
We are enjoying flexing our design muscle and learning how to design new categories. You will definitely see us broadening our horizons.
Any advice for aspiring designers?
Yes; in addition to being creative and productive, you must know some retail math and understand basic accounting. If you don’t, team up with someone who does.
What are your goals for the next 5 years for Smythe?
To enjoy design and to survive fashion.