Halifax’s fashion influencers
Left to right: Mo Handahu, Angela Campagnoni, Lisa Drader-Murphy, Gary Markle and Tori Poynton. Photo: Steve Jess
Good fashion hunting
Mo Handahu’s last name means “lion hunter” in Tonga, and it fits. “I see myself as a hunter,” she says. “I love thrifting, I love vintage shopping. I love finding new fabrics and sharing all this with my readers.”
A self-described “late bloomer,” 31-year-old Handahu says she used to be a tomboy until she fell for fashion five years ago. She is a now a clutch designer, plus-size style expert and fashion writer with her own blog, lion-hunter.com
Originally from Zimbabwe, Handahu now calls Halifax home and appreciates what the city offers designers. Yet while Handahu sees Halifax as a great launching pad, she emphasizes how important it has been for her to venture into larger cities such as Toronto.
Found prints inspire her Clutch Culture line. One of her favourite finds is the African fabric Ankara, with its vibrant colours and bold pattern mixing. She loves clutches for the power they can bring to outfits. “Even if you dress down, if you have a fabulous clutch, it can really pull your outfit together,” she says.
Handahu thinks plus-size style options are lacking in Halifax, yet with a bit of creativity she is able to turn her thrift finds into beautiful outfits. As for new season clothing, she applauds Biscuit General Store owner Wendy Friedman for offering a curvy-friendly section in her boutique.
It is Handahu’s dream to one day found a fashion magazine, in part to give a special voice to demographics that she considers underrepresented: fashion as it relates to black-related issues, and the plus-size community.
“When I flip through a magazine, it’s hard to find articles that discuss natural hair, shopping and style tips for my kind of body, or even celebrity coverage of women who look the way I do,” she says. “One way I can give voice to that now is through my blog.”
Thirty-year-old Australian-born designer Tori Poynton shares the inspiration behind her jewellery line tori.xo: “If it’s not a found object, it’s about nature and free movement.”
Poynton conceived the design for her 2014 summer collection after a snorkeling adventure in Australia, where the beauty of ocean corals, reeds and grasses and the animals swimming through them, struck her.
Poynton also finds inspiration in treasures she finds while travelling—a set of antique keys from Sicily, a doorknocker from Buenos Aires. Her very first collection, Chantilly, was shaped by a piece of 19th-century lace she found at a flea market in Paris.
While she travels for ideas at least a dozen times a year, she finds the long winters here conducive to buckling down and working hard. She makes each piece by hand in her Pier 21 studio space. “The secret ingredient to all my work is the trusty rolling mill,” she says.
She places the lace over the silver, and cranks it through the press. The lace disintegrates into the piece, leaving its imprint behind. This is her signature finish. “I understand silver,” Poynton says. “It’s beautiful, it’s timeless. It takes the lace impression really well. It’s like fancy paper.”
Power clothes for women
Lisa Drader-Murphy, the powerhouse designer and owner behind the Turbine label, left behind a lucrative business in Calgary to open up shop in Halifax.
On the East Coast, it took a lot longer to get established. “It took a lot more humility, grace and limitations to finally get people through my door,” she says. However, once they stepped through, she says her relationship with her clientele was more intimate and meaningful than she had ever experienced.
She celebrates versatility and ingenuity in her design, valuing garments that can be worn many different ways, such as a piece that triples as a beach cover-up, a night gown, and formal evening wear.
“The common thread is fashion for women who are creative, outside-the-box thinkers, taking chances, working hard at their careers and trying to find balance,” Drader-Murphy says. “These pieces will take you from the boardroom, to the grocery store, and to the playground with your kids.”
Equally passionate about the practical business side of the equation, Drader-Murphy devotes 15 hours a week to mentoring new entrepreneurs. She says she often refines her production techniques and knows her costing inside out. With her new storefront opening this fall at the Sunnyside Mall in Bedford, she now has three retail shops around Nova Scotia.
Angela Campagnoni has worn many hats. She is the founder of Atlantic Fashion Week, the former owner of City Models Talent Agency and designer of the new Rosina Jaymes Maternity label. Although she believes that the Maritimes will always be the “smaller cousin” of the Canadian fashion industry, Campagnoni sees Halifax as an emerging presence in Canada and wants Atlantic Fashion Week to reflect this budding talent.
Unlike in cities with larger industries, designers do not have to pay fees to participate in the show, and there is no panel. “If we had a panel at this point, I feel that there really wouldn’t be much content,” she says. “Everyone is still getting their feet wet, and they may not be full-production ready.”
When it comes to new designers, Campagnoni says she is confident at spotting the ones who will last. She mentions Conni Zafiris, the 27-year-old owner of the Halifax label Zafira Apparel, as a talent to watch out for.
Campagnoni appreciates the open nature of the industry in Halifax. “People don’t talk to each other in the big cities,” she says. “Here, people are willing to barter.”
Atlantic Fashion Week returns for its eighth season October 2 to 5.
Sow the seed, sew the fabric
Gary Markle, assistant professor in the textiles/fashion department at NSCAD, has been a key collaborator in the design of the hybrid program. In addition to learning about fashion theory and business, students learn the technical roots of garment making: weaving, dye and print. “This is on par with the revaluing of the hand, DIY culture and haute craft,” he says. “Suddenly you are at the front of the line.”
Markle also challenges everyone involved in the industry to look deeper into how fashion can be a part of what is happening with the “local” movement in Halifax. With the emphasis on quality and the connection to the source, local fashion can be nurtured as radically as growing crops to make fabric. “Sow the seed and sew the fabric,” Markle says.
On top of teaching, Markle has received a $100,000 grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to research and design a clothing line for the elderly. Drawn from his relationship with his mother, who has Alzheimer’s and lives in a nursing home, Markle’s inspiration came from wanting her to be as comfortable and dignified as possible, through functional, elegant design.
Markle is looking forward to the fall 2014 opening of the Nova Fashion Incubator on Grafton Street. The not-for-profit endeavor, co-executed by Amanda Kincaid, owner of Line Magazine, and Laura Corkum, a Centre for Arts and Technology graduate and designer, will be a shared space for designers to access the tools they need to build their collections. It will also hopefully be a means to retain talent in the province.
“I want to be cautiously optimistic about the future of fashion,” he says. “And the honest-to-goodness, collaborative, grassroots industry we could have here in Halifax.”
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.