Brian A. Richards is one of the three founders of the brand focussed fashion production team - THE COLLECTIONS. We got a chance to sit down with Brian in his extremely chic Rosedale apartment to catch-up on all things Canadian Fashion.
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When you founded THE COLLECTIONS with Mel Ashcroft and Dwayne Kennedy, what were some of your overall goals? Have those goals changed and evolved over the years?
When we first launched THE COLLECTIONS, we felt like the fashion that was being represented on the mainstage of Toronto Fashion Week, and therefore what was covered in the local press, just didn’t reflect the actual scene that we felt was emerging at the time. There were a bunch of contemporary designers that existed in the fashion underground and we just thought it was time to update the image of what Canadian fashion was. I felt at the time we only had Dsquared and I suppose Jeremy Lang was doing his thing, but that was about it. Erdem I suppose existed, but no one cared about anyone actually here in Canada, so we thought we would at least try to represent that scene a little bit. Promote it, market it. And has the objective changed? No. It’s still the same mandate, still the same objective. To continue to try and reimagine and change the ideas people have around what Canadian fashion is.
What was the transition like from your branding of The Fashion Collective to THE COLLECTIONS.
You know what? At the time if felt like a nuisance. But I think, given the way the company was changing, namely a founding partner leaving, it just felt like it was an opportunity to shed that skin. It felt like a maturation, changing from The Fashion Collective which we thought, in retrospect, was really on the nose. The Fashion Collective and then all of these collectives emerged soon thereafter and we just thought we wanted to become more of a hard noun, so, THE COLLECTIONS. It was a maturation. It felt organic.
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Is there an achievement you’ve accomplished in your career so far that you are most proud of?
Literally, I am most proud of the fact that we still exist seven years later. That we’re still finding designers and designers are finding us. That inspires us to continue to champion Canadian fashion and try to take it international. There have been many groups that existed when we started and they don’t exist now. It’s a tough game, so I’m really just proud of the fact that we're still here and relevant.
When and how did you develop your love of fashion?
I guess it was ingrained in me, being the child of a church-going family who only wears their best, “for the Lord.” We had an outfit for everything. We grew up having an outfit to play in, an outfit to sit inside and eat dinner. I had an outfit to go to church in. I had an outfit to change into when I got home. And it compounded with my love of fashion television as a child. I mean, Jeanne Beker, what can I say? I think that show really sparked my interest in the world of fashion. Alexander McQueen- I first discovered him for myself on that show and he quickly became an idol for me as far as fashion production, runway productions and the spectacle of fashion presentations. So, I would say mid-nineties, early-nineties.
Was there a specific moment you knew THE COLLECTIONS was making such a significant impact on the Canadian fashion industry?
Well, my standards are high, so I feel like we still have a lot of work to do. I guess I wasn’t even aware we were making an impact. Sometimes when you’re in it, when you’re in the trenches, you’re not really aware of any sort of impact you’re making. I think with the continued support of our creative community and designers, graphic artists, videographers and photographers all banding together to try to support and create content, we can promote and, which actually stands on the international stage. And corporate sponsors that want to build this scene here and be a part of that. It would be great if our federal government could support fashion and talent here in Canada. At that point, we could really make an impact. Right now we’re making a little bit of a dent.
When a brand approaches you to help them launch, how do you begin? What is the process like?
It depends on the capacity in which they want to work with us. Let’s say they have a brand that they just want to launch. First, we would have a look at the brand to be honest. Based on that, we would have a conversation based on what their objectives are, if they’re trying to hit press or if they’re trying to hit consumers, and then we would take it from there. Based on initial details, we could then begin to build an event that best accommodates their objectives and leaves a lasting impression on whomever their target audience is.
What are some qualities that make Canadian fashion brands unique?
I always wrestle about what that is, because we do have something that’s very unique, and I’ve boiled it down to simply function. Function rules all here. It’s got to work. We like great quality clothing. We like things to last. We have four seasons and our clothing has to withstand all four of them. I think it can look beautiful, you can have ruffles all over the place, but it’s got to be comfortable for the season it’s meant for. I do appreciate the fact that we’re very rich in textiles, we’re very concerned with the science around textiles, we work with skins. We have a very functional role in the industry, I like that.
What are some staple pieces that you currently can’t live without?
Hats and sunglasses. I’m obsessed with sunglasses. I’m not wearing them now, but being indoors hasn’t stopped me before. Those are my two staples, I can’t leave the house without a hat and shades. Even on a rainy day.
Describe your style in three words.
Playful for sure. Playful prints. Nomadic, I tend to collect ideas as I wander around through life, whether it’s a random Hawaiian shirt that I find in cottage country or a cute, Kenyan hat found in the junction. I tend to create my style as I go along. And then the last is Easy. Easy fit, everything’s got to fit easy, comfortable, loose. I don’t love close-fit clothing. I just like to feel like I’m being hugged by clothing. And I like when my clothing kind of flows around my limbs.
Have you received any valuable words of advice that have helped you thrive as a young entrepreneur? Who were they from?
I’m sure I have, but none come to mind, because at the end of the day, who can give us advice for what we do because no one’s really done it before? We’re literally looking inwards for reference. What we did the year before, what worked. If I had to give anyone advice I would say “remember names.” Remember names. You can take that in whatever way you want, but I think I mean that we’re in just too small of a town to have too much of an ego. I think it’s always important to just remember everyone you’ve worked with along your journey and have the respect to learn names. It really makes a big difference and you’ll know it when it happens, when a door is opened for you, because you’ve remembered someone's’ name. I think in the fashion game, people tend to be a little bit selfish. I find that Toronto is too small of a town to be selfish. Don’t be a jerk and try to move along in life and think you’re not going to face repercussions for being a complete jerk that day, for whatever personal reason you had. Have respect and a common sense of civility. And remember a name!
Who inspires you, both in fashion and in life?
Canada inspires me in both life and fashion, because I really just want us to be embraced on a international level, being this incubator of amazing contemporary fashion. I see so much of it here, and Canadians are such well-traveled and cultured people. I love that we bring that back to Canada and we respectfully reference it and infuse it into our work. I think that should be respected a little bit more. So, that drives everything I do. Trying to put Canada on the map. I live in Toronto, so to put Toronto on the map.
Are there a set of rules you like to follow when styling others or are your looks created more freely?
I definitely like to style freely. But ultimately, my only rule is “how does it feel on?” The person you’re styling, they have to feel comfortable. Even if it’s something they would never wear, the job of a stylist is to interpret an abstract idea into something that is understood by the most, quote, unquote, average person. That’s part of your job. I think you should do whatever it takes, but you ultimately want to style looks on your subject that make them feel comfortable or feel like some sort of character that they never really get to be. This is a fun opportunity to explore that side of themselves’, as long as you’re bringing out some kind of positive feeling in them. So that’s why I always say “how do you feel?” every time I style a look. “How do you feel?” And based on their response, I’ll alter the look, or completely dismantle it.
You’ve expressed your belief that one can determine someone’s personality by their outfit choices. Can you give us an example of how?
Of course, as a preface, this is completely subjective to my own life experiences. Okay, how about this… If you wear something that’s short and/or tight, right off the bat, you can assume that person is comfortable within their skin. So maybe they’re more comfortable in their life in general. And maybe, just maybe, they don’t really care about the opinions of others. That person might be outgoing. They might have an outgoing personality or spirit. Or someone who wears bright colours. They’re not afraid of being the centre of attention, meaning they might have something interesting to say. Or they might be funny, or have an interesting perspective, because they’re attracting attention. And then there are suits. If I see a man in a suit, even if he doesn’t have a job that requires him to wear a suit, I think that perhaps denotes a structured way of doing things. They tend to be a methodical thinker. Even if you’re a jobless person and you’re wearing a suit, to me that kind of says you’re a go getter, you know? You understand that appearances are everything, You have that very functional way of seeing the world. You’re a hustler.
What’s the biggest fashion faux pas, or can anything be pulled off with enough confidence?
Ultimately I guess anything can be like… you know, if you want to wear a trash bag and look crazy, just act crazy and you start pulling it off! So, I guess you CAN pull off anything. But, living in the realm of reality I suppose. One thing I am over are guys wearing no socks with shoes. No socks in dress shoes, no socks in casual shoes. But then again, some guys really pull that off! Some guys have that sunbaked skin, they look like they’ve been cutting lawns all summer. And they have beat up chucks and they’re not wearing socks, and they kind of have a leather choker on and like a shitty, moth-eaten t-shirt and cut-offs. Yeah, that guy can do it! That guy’s fine. To each their own! But there’s this try-hard style now. You know, suit and no socks. It’s the new metrosexual. It needs to go. That’s my only faux-pas. Otherwise, to each their own.
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Can you tell us about a project right now you’re particularly excited about?
As of May 11th 2017, we are currently in the process of planning out next RE\SET fashion event, which will feature contemporary Canadian designers in traditional and non-traditional platforms, static and moving runway presentations. We’re also going to have a showroom and that’s going to be taking place September 5th and 6th 2017 at The Great Hall, which is right in the middle of Toronto’s most fashionable neighbourhood, Queen West. We’re looking forward to that. And we’re excited to announce the calendar, because we are looking forward to hosting a great roster of designers, not that we haven’t before, but we always aim to get better and better. So, that’s exciting for me right now.
If you could raid anyone’s closet, who would it be?
I would raid the closet of any Black Panther from the 70’s. I love their outfits. All of their outfits. I know that’s so bad, it’s all political statement, I get that too. But, the black turtle necks, the leather jackets, the black bell bottoms, the berets, the sunglasses. It's perfection. And then the other person is… any old man I suppose…. Yeah, any old man who lives in Palm Beach pretty much, I’m down for. I always have a theory if young people dressed like old people, they would look amazing. I’m pretty much already an old man. But let’s just stick with Bobby Seale. Bobby Seale, he was the head of the Black Panther Party. Also, Dwayne Wayne from A Different world. The flipped glasses, the army brat look. The high waisted denim, the high tops. The flip glasses are absolutely key. ya that's good.
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Is there a funny fashion nightmare story you can tell us?
2005 pretty much. Moccasins, skinny jeans, pinstriped vests. With acid bleached t-shirts and bandanas. Oh, this is all one outfit! That was a… That was a look! Ugh! And the visor sunglasses. Ugh, yeah, the nerd glasses, everyone was wearing nerd glasses. God! The early aughts sucked! They are coming back. I don’t like that the early aughts are coming back. Que sera, whatever, it’s coming back. And then what are they going to do after? They’re going to start all over again, start back in the 1800s. The suffragettes, like is that what they’re going to do? Anyway!
What is your favourite movie of all time?
I alternate. I alternate between Casino. Casino’s so good. Sharon stone. If I were a woman and I could raid anyone’s closet, it would be Sharon Stone in that movie. And I love Fight Club. I love the cynicism of that movie. And Brad Pitt. I literally tried to dress like Tyler Durden when that movie came out. Hawaiian shirts, corduroy, faux fur jackets, pink lens glasses. I wanted to be Tyler Durden. And I like Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, such a good caper film. I love Pam Grier--the original Foxy Brown. Yeah, so it’s not one movie. But you get the idea.
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If you were a cartoon character who would you be? Or which historical icon’s personality would best represent your outlook on fashion?
I would be Bugs Bunny for sure. Ultimate chill, ultimate player. That guy is so fucking smart. Oops, I swore. Sorry! He’s so smart. Just him and his carrots. Yeah, I used to love Bugs Bunny. Always got out of jams. Ambivalent about everything and I loved that. Yeah, what’s up doc?
Warm weather’s finally here! What do you love to do most in Toronto when it’s gorgeous outside?
I love taking advantage of our city’s green spaces. I live in Rosedale and there’s an amazing ravine in the neighbourhood. It leads you to all different parts of the city, including the Brick Works which is also a great area to have a little hike. I also like walking along our lakeshore; always a calming thing to do in the city, and if you have some time, go to the Island! It is such an experience. An out of city experience, in the city. So I can’t wait to do that!