Christopher Bates by Jenica C for Assignment Fashion
Last week, Christopher Bates menswear celebrated its official arrival to the Holt Renfrew Vancouver branch. And who better to commemorate the occasion than Toronto-based designer, Christopher Bates, himself? Standing tall and lithe, from shiny shoes up to groomed hair, Bates seems to be a living example of the dapper in glossy menswear catalogues. But unlike the typically broody model, his expression maintains a dreamy-eyed look, as though in wonder, or in search of someone. His fine suit is a classic black with matching bow tie, in contrast to a white dress shirt bearing his brand’s famous signifier:a printed lipstick kiss on the collar. People’s eyes zoom in on the scarlet mark. They ask who’s kiss that had been, to which he happily responds, this is his own design.
As founder, creative director and namesake of Christopher Bates menswear, Bates has fueled his designs with the jet-setter’s flare, with an interesting cocktail of Italian and Scandinavian influences. He has lived and travelled through Europe, garnering fashion experience in the Istituto Marangoni, Milan. But Vancouver will always be his hometown and where he made his fashion debut.
Now, Christopher Bates makes a return to Vancouver as an established luxury line. “It’s a triumphant homecoming of sorts,” says Bates, regarding this event as one career milestone. “It’s great to be able to do what I love in my hometown.”
It was not long ago back in 2008 when Bates launched his first collection, then under the label ULTRA, in a local lounge downtown. It was a promising start, which ballooned to the nationally acclaimed brand we know today. “I think Canada is a good place to start [a fashion business]. Because you can figure out what works, what doesn’t, and it’s a fairly nurturing market.” says Bates, admitting that despite harsh criticisms of the Canadian fashion industry, people have been immensely supportive.
As the evening wore on and the crowd builds up, Bates seems to be constantly shaking hands, and giving warm smiles. Once in a while, he eagerly sifts through his rack of dress shirts, a sort of show-and-tell to inquisitive guests. He seems composed, even soft-spoken. Though there is nothing timid in his work, which emulates the literary icons like James Bond, Dorian Grey and The Count of Monte Cristo; all of which, Bates has avidly read. He isn’t simply a designer; he is also a storyteller in his short films, giving life beyond the thread and fabrics of Christopher Bates menswear.
There is always more to talk about in Bates’ designs. Which is why last year in Toronto Fashion Week, he took spectators by surprise when he stood at the end of the runway, microphone in hand, to narrate the individual details of his design.
“That was something designers used to do a long time ago. I just wanted to do that, to change things up a bit. Get the most impact out of the show that I could, and give it a different angle.” says Bates, glad at how the reaction to his stint went well. “It was a crazy thing to do on hindsight. I didn’t really script anything, ‘just went out there and started talking.” he laughs.
Likewise when it comes to his forecasts, Bates firmly owns up to them, with the confidence of an innovator who has the scheme all planned out. Last year, he made a bold prediction for suspenders to make a huge comeback. “Absolutely”, he remarks, still sticking with his word. However, in addition to suspenders, he adds another forecast to the mix: men’s tailored shorts. “Because tailored shorts you can wear and still be dressy and respectable,” he says, hopefully to give men better options than boring shorts and athletic gear in lieu of dress pants. “It’s an awesome look for the summer.”
Photos are courtesy of Kuna Lu Photography