01/28/2015 02:48 EST | Updated 03/30/2015 05:59 EDT

Canadian Arts & Fashion Award nominees make stylish splash with accessory design

TORONTO - Accessories play a pivotal role in accenting — and even elevating — ensembles with classic touches or bold contemporary strokes.

Homegrown purveyors of unique earrings, necklaces, bags and baubles will be in the spotlight on Saturday at the Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards in Toronto.

Jenny Bird is in contention for the accessory designer of the year award, while Jon De Porter and Kat Marks are nominees in the emerging talent in accessories design field.

The trio discuss their decisions to pursue accessory design and strategies for success.


When the Toronto-based designer launched her eponymous line in 2008, she sought to fill a void in the market for accessible luxury.

Bird is well-known for her serpent jewelry and her products are sold by more than 600 retailers in 14 countries, with showrooms in cities including Toronto, New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo.

Bird forged her path by finding a sales partner in the U.S., and landing what she described as her first big break: a trunk show at upscale New York specialty store Henri Bendel.

"There isn't one resale partner that makes your business. There isn't one celebrity. It certainly all helps. You need many," she said.

It is possible to establish a successful line headquartered in Canada, Bird said, provided designers view the world as their marketplace.

"Of course, it means you have to travel a lot often to the trade shows that are bringing in your orders; but as long as you have an international outlook you can be established anywhere."

Bird said she's noticed distinct preferences among consumers in international markets.

In the U.S., relaxed, bohemian pieces do very well on the West Coast, whereas the East Coast tends to be more "structural and forward," she noted.

She even created a collection called Superfine specifically for Japan to appeal to their desire for delicate pieces.

Bird said it's an interesting time for jewelry with people wanting more minimalist, sculptural pieces. What's more, the accessory industry has "completely shifted" in recent years, with people not wanting to wait six months to receive the next season's worth of inventory. As a result, Bird said they're refreshing the line at least five to six times a year with new collections.

"I have an unlimited amount of ideas. I just feel like I don't have enough time in the day to get them all out," said Bird, who also creates private label designs for several companies and a special collection for Holt Renfrew's H Project.

"Creatively, I think it's what drives me versus tires me out. I think I'd be bored if I only did two collections a year."


It took a trip overseas for the Montreal native's fashion career to truly take flight.

Finding work opportunities lacking, De Porter — who studied fashion design in his hometown — became a flight attendant to pay the bills. On a trip to Beijing, he discovered the city's bustling pearl market which housed about 1,000 merchants.

"There were all kinds of colours, all kinds of shapes, all kinds of textures. It was really an eye-opening moment for me," De Porter recalled.

"I thought that I could make a difference by showing pearls in a way that's a bit more modern, that is less elitist but always classic and always in good taste."

The Toronto-based De Porter registered his business in 2012, with his namesake line featuring an extensive collection of pearl pieces, while also incorporating precious metals and crystals. He creates earrings from simple man-made and freshwater pearls and counts a multi-hued, three-strand necklace as his bestseller.

"I found that the way I saw pearls and my take on pearls was a bit fresher than most people, and that's how I was able to make a difference and differentiate myself," said De Porter, whose designs are carried by Montreal department store Ogilvy and bridal salon Kleinfeld Hudson's Bay in Toronto.


The Calgary native's experience wearing a back brace helped launch her career.

In junior high, Marks wore a Boston back brace, which is used for the treatment of scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. She later produced and designed a set of three rigid corsets called "The Braces," winning an International Design Award for the collection in 2009.

Marks commercially launched her brand in 2013 and works mainly with leather. Her expansive collection includes vibrantly hued monogram bracelets, handcrafted bow ties crafted from PVC plastic, and hand-dyed leather and suede-lined chokers.

The Ryerson University graduate said building an online presence — which has grown into four separate sites — has been the most important tool in representing her brand on a global scale.

Living in both Toronto and London also connected her to the industry.

She also worked with professional stylists for magazines, creating a set of armour for photographer Tim Walker for W Magazine.

"It was really about self-promotion, self-networking and ultimately collaborating with industry to launch myself into the industry," said Marks, who holds a master's degree from the London College of Fashion.

Marks said she is honoured that her work is being embraced both by consumers as well as peers with the Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards nomination.

"I always think of accessories as an exclamation point on any sort of outfit," said Marks.

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