TORONTO - From London-based Erdem to Milan-based DSquared2, some of Canada's top talents have made major waves in the fashion world since setting up shop across the Atlantic. Now, Christopher Bates is hoping to make a splash of his own.
Eight years since Bates first moved to Milan to study fashion, the Toronto-based menswear designer is returning to the style capital in hopes of further expanding his label.
Bates said DSquared2 — helmed by twin design duo Dean and Dan Caten — is an excellent example of how to successfully transition from smaller homegrown origins to a larger platform.
"They started their business off in Canada and in Toronto and got some good traction here and support and they moved to Milan and took the next steps in their career. I think that's a natural evolution for a Canadian designer to take," Bates said in an interview ahead of his spring-summer runway show at Toronto's World MasterCard Fashion Week on Wednesday.
"In my opinion, Canada has been the perfect incubator for my brand to grow and to figure out what works and what doesn't, and to get to a point where it's strong and then: 'What next?' I think for me, it's Europe for many reasons."
In addition to creating custom suits, tuxedos, coats and dress shirts for men, Bates designs seasonal collections in his ready-to-wear line. His label is carried by Holt Renfrew and a number of boutiques, with fictional leading man James Bond among the style icons who influence his dapper designs which offer a modern take on classic styles.
While he will divide his time between Milan and Toronto, Bates plans to produce all of his clothing in Italy and wants to be on the ground there to work closely with manufacturers. He has also hired a European sales director whom he'll be working closely with to help expand his business across the continent.
"Europe is still the world's biggest luxury market and any success that I have there, (it will) reverberate around the world, whereas in Canada, it's more of an isolated market," Bates said. "It's a smaller market, it's a good market, but relatively, in a global sense, it's quite small and isolated.
"Any success that I have here really kind of permeates throughout Canada. And my goal from day one is to become an international designer."
Bates attended fashion and design school Istituto Marangoni which counts Domenico Dolce of Dolce & Gabbana and Franco Moschino among its famed graduates. The 35-year-old was initially drawn to Milan for his schooling because of the city's established fashion tradition.
"There's such a great opportunity now for me to work with these manufacturers and to have this really world-class product so I'll be able to sell more clothes. But I'll also be developing a very strong brand founded on the highest quality standards.
"Aside from that, it just happens to be where I have my best connections and people in place and people who believe in me and want to help me, and be a part of it and help me be successful," he added. "I went to Milan in the first place because in my opinion, that is the heart of fashion, particularly in menswear. There's just such a legacy there that I've wanted to be a part of and to adapt my brand accordingly."
Bates was among the designers who took part in the inaugural Toronto Men's Fashion Week this summer, and was recently announced as a nominee for menswear designer of the year for the upcoming Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards.
With the recent opening of standalone store Holt Renfrew Men and high-end retail players like Saks Fifth Avenue poised to enter the Canadian market, Bates said he looks forward to the chance to expand his line to both newcomers and existing retailers here at home.
"People are seeing menswear now as a large market and a viable business," Bates said. "It's not as niche as it was when I started."