With a celebrity following including Kate Middleton, casual never looked so elegant!
Behind the scenes at Holt Renfrew, Vancouver, Toronto-based womenswear designers, Andrea Lenczner is dressed in casual luxe Gilet Jacket with detachable Waistcoat, jeans and hot orange stilettos while partner, Christie Smythe wears a masculine-cut, Classic Blazer in Dragon Print, over loose trousers. They’re prepping models for a fashion show hosted by Chatelaine’s Susie Wall, launching their eponymous Smythe 2015 Spring Collection and the two seem as cool and unruffled as their contemporary made-in-Canada creations.
“For me, Smythe means mix and match, dress-up or down, East Coast meets West Coast,” says Andrea.
“We’ve got a really broad base of women of every age who love our jackets and coats.” Even our Moms wear them,” pipes in Christie. “They pick the same jackets but in different colours,” she laughs. While the two designer dynamos, (friends since high school,) joke about being joined at the hip, “we even go on family holidays together,” admits Christie, it’s their ability to see each others’ strengths and capitalize on them that has catapulted their brand into the U.S. and international markets.
“Before we started we noticed that if you wanted to wear a jacket with your jeans it was usually part of a suit,” says Christie who graduated in Fashion and Merchandising from Parsons then worked in product development at The Gap in New York.
“So in 2004 we saw a niche in women’s fashion based on the British men’s Savile Row blazer and we designed our take with impeccable tailoring and great colours that filled a void,” explains Andrea, who went from a banking background to buyer at Holt Renfrew in Toronto.
Two partners, two names, how did they decide on Smythe for the label? “Well Smythe sounds more preppy, ‘Old English’,” admits Christie.
”Yah and ‘Lenczner – Smythe’ sounds like a law firm,” deadpans Andrea. “So we just went with Smythe. ”
“Besides, Andrea has no ego,” says Christie.
“And Christie lets me boss her around to make up for her name on the label!” Andrea laughs.
The duo could never have calculated the impact on their brand, now known as ‘The Kate Middleton Effect’ when the Duchess of Cambridge wore their line- twice!
In 2011, The Royals embarked on their first tour of Canada on their honeymoon and Kate Middleton, was seen around the world wearing the Smythe navy one-button blazer with an unexpected twist at the back: instead of venting, there was a squared cutaway detail. The jacket was an immediate sell-out everywhere. And, HRH wore it again attending the equestrian event at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
(Bravo for re-cycling Kate! But I digress…)
Smythe hit the jackpot again recently during the 2016 Canadian Royal Tour, when Kate wore their ‘Duchess Blazer’ in Army (that’s the colour not to be confused with her security,) to the opening of the new Haida Gwaii Hospital and Care Centre, in British Columbia. She even wore it canoeing with William!
“Slowly, every year we’ve introduced new categories to include blouses, knits, trousers, and skirts and a few of the fabrics are milled in France,” Andrea explains.
For Spring 2015, the unexpected twist has become a Smythe trademark; the utilitarian doctor’s lab coat has been translated into the colorful, Tribal Weave Lab Coat, the Smoking Jacket in Hawaiian Print ( sans cigar,) channels Cary Grant, Fred Astaire and Hugh Hefner while the Louche Blazer and Pant in Python Print is a slinky riff on the slim leg pant suit. Several blue and white striped pieces including the cropped Fisherman’s Pant and Apron Wrap Skirt, give a fresh nautical nod to the season.
Smythe also collaborated with Toronto’s beaufille sisters, Chloe and Parris Gordon (known for their ready-to-wear and accessories lines,) for the elegant, hand-painted Chinoiserie Smoking Jacket, based upon imagery derived from a vintage brocade and painted by artist, Eve Gordon, their mother. The intricate jewellery-like brass embossed dragon button was also designed by beaufille.
The Smythe label has a following with stars like Kate Hudson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Charlize Theron, Sienna Miller, Rachel McAdams, Blake Lively and one of those Kardashian girls. In addition to Holt Renfrew, it’s carried around the world at other leading department stores such as, Mitsukoshi in Japan, Barneys and Nordstrom New York and Selfridges and Harvey Nichols in London.
Says Andrea, “By keeping things casual the Smythe brand is destined to become a classic.” Seems like it has already.