ModeCanada150 introduces notable stories of the early days of fashion in Canada from the memory banks of those who were there.

Joan Sutton Straus

Formal organization of fashion in Canada began in the sixties. In Montreal, Iona Monahan promoted individual Montreal designers with very sophisticated presentations. In Toronto, my office, Joan Sutton & Associates, organized the Ontario Garment Manufacturers (and there were quite a few of them) into the Ontario Fashion Council. That organization worked with the Hon. Stanley Randall to produce the Eedee Awards, (designs for excellence), with major fashion shows in the Canadian Room at the Royal York Hotel and at the O’Keefe Centre. Buyers from the United States were brought in to look at lines. We also worked with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, to develop the first Canadian fashion press kit.

International Ladies Garment Workers Union flyer calling for union recognition for workers at Woolworth’s department stores, United States.

Before that, fashion writers across Canada depended on American or European wire service for photographs to illustrate stories. We also promoted individual designers, John Warden, Claire Haddad, Elen Henderson among them. We booked the first black model in Canada….and took a show of Canadian men’s wear across the country. One of the models missed the plane, and therefore the next show, which was very annoying, as Audrey Levtov and I had to stay up all hours, reassigning his clothes and reworking the lineup. When he arrived, finally, he said to Audrey, “Don’t be mad at me. Not only did I miss the show, but I didn’t get laid.”

Montréal designer, John Warden (1965)

The Canadian government soon followed suit, and organized a national show of made in Canada garments…….some of the top models then were Ulla, Christa Matt, Yanka, the Knight sisters, Dorothy and Rusty, Audrey Arnold, and many, many more…totally professional, with a better walk than you see on the runways today…

Simpsons did big shows in the Arcadian Court; Posy Chisholm did the commentary (the Tely Fashion writer, Lillian Foster once stood up in the auditorium to correct her); Eaton’s had the auditorium in Eaton’s College Street, with Horace Lapps orchestra, and Dora Matthews at the microphone. Specialty shops also did regular shows – Creeds, Jean Pierce, (Jean had a house couturier, Everett Staples who made the MOST beautiful clothes), Ira-Berg, Norman Rogul…The big spring show was the Princess Margaret auxiliary show…It was truly an exciting time!

Model, Annelisa Lisa Posen with Russell Berg of Ira-Berg

Paying the models upfront meant that we often had an overdraft, I can’t remember which bank, or the name of the manager, but I recall vividly his Scottish accent and his advice, “Miss Sutton”, he said, “IF I promise not to go into the fashion business, will you promise not to go into the money lending business?”

And that’s only the first layer of my memory bank…

Joan Sutton Straus

Joan Sutton Straus

Joan Sutton‘s byline has appeared in The Toronto Star, The Toronto Sun, The Houston Post, The Boston Herald, Cosmopolitan Magazine and the Reader’s Digest. Her commentaries have been aired on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as well as CFRB radio and her columns have been collected in three best selling books. She is also the author of A Legacy of Caring: The History of The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She has served on many non-profit boards, including The Citizens Committee for New York City, The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, The Banff Center and The Shaw Festival and is currently a member of the Board of Overseers of The Alzheimer’s Discovery Drug Foundation. She is a recipient of The Theodore Roosevelt Award for Public Service and is an honorary Freeman of the City of London. She lives in Manhattan and Bellport, Long Island.