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This time it’s personal

Montreal’s Travis Taddeo is back to walk Canada’s biggest runway this month — on his own terms

Young designers — often so hungry and, by consequence, so unfocused — know they want to go somewhere but aren’t quite sure how. When I first saw a Travis Taddeo show at Toronto Fashion Week’s tents in 2009, I knew there would be none of that — he’s got plenty of fire in his belly, and a vision in his head. At the ripe old age of “twenty-something” Taddeo has consistently worked at mastering his craft since migrating from Calgary to Montreal to attend LaSalle College’s illustrious fashion design program. He’s been relentless in carving out a look and manipulating a niche that works for him, dubbing his line a “lifestyle brand for individuals.”

Last October, Taddeo returned to Toronto to participate in the first annual Mercedes-Benz Start-Up competition aimed at helping the country’s top emerging stars. He didn’t win, and it’s not something he talks much about, but the competition served its purpose: placing him back on the runway and catapulting him onto the country’s collective radar as part of the 588 million media impressions garnered for last season’s shows.

Taddeo is so, so good at blending a street-savvy, ear-to-the-ground approach to garment construction that works in tandem with a luxury aesthetic in fabrics, and vice versa — plus it’s all made in Montreal. He’s a risk-taker, both in business and design. The brand is one of the few Canadian houses able to concurrently produce equally-strong menswear and women’s wear collections, and Taddeo doesn’t shy away from translating a look for another gender. For the current spring collection — available in Toronto and Montreal boutiques and across the country online — this resulted in relaxed leather pants (and shorts!) for men, bleached denim for everyone, and feathered tank tops with mini skirts to match for women.

In advance of his return to the Toronto runway to present his fall 2012 line with a solo show at Fashion Week, I caught up with Taddeo to talk shop and find out if he’s ready to run this town with what sounds like his strongest collection yet.

You’ve officially been around since 2007. How would you describe your journey into the fashion world, making it on your own?
It’s a challenge. I was designing the whole time I was in school, selling my clothes. I knew what to expect coming out. For me, it’s just about getting stronger and better at what you’re doing, constantly surviving.

When did you realize you wanted to design clothing?
I guess when I figured out I couldn’t sing, so I couldn’t be a rock star. Kidding. In Calgary, I took a fashion design class in high school and started making clothes for friends. It just went from there.

Why Montreal? Why not come to Toronto or move internationally like many of your peers?
Montreal is pretty much home base, and it just made sense to build a foundation here, and maybe explore travelling later on in life. I could have picked up and moved, I suppose, but I don’t think it would have been any easier anywhere else. The point is you have to get strong regardless of where you are, and Montreal feels right for what I’m doing.

The biggest difference between Toronto and Montreal’s fashion scenes?
Montreal is a lot more carefree — hemlines can go as high as you want, there are very few rules and limits. I find Toronto can be a little more conservative. If I had to define each city, I would say Montreal is a little more “edgy,” and Toronto perhaps a little more “cosmopolitan” — if those descriptions make any sense to you.

Let’s talk about the spring 2012 line that’s out now — the leather shorts, the bleached denim, the light-as-air silk chiffon creations.
We called it “Dry Heat.” It’s basically trying to find an adventure in the middle of summer. It’s restless and hot, like scouring the Arizona desert for a party.  

What can we expect for the upcoming fall 2012 line?
The new collection is called “The Doomed Generation.” It’s about this girl (or guy). She’s not happy, and she’s not sad, but she keeps on fighting anyway. Even though the world is shit, and there’s chaos everywhere, she’ll keep going until the end. You’ll see some wool jerseys, more silk chiffons, a lot of Japanese leather. If there’s a budget, maybe some fur accessories.

Describe the Travis Taddeo customer in a few words.
It’s about someone who wants to be an individual, looking for a cut that’s above market standard. I design for strong and confident people — it doesn’t matter what age you are. We have a broad range of customers shopping, from teenagers to baby

I read that you like to blend “luxury and street wear.” Elaborate on that.
We take street wear fabrics and looks and incorporate it in a luxury way. It can be leather sweatpants or a leather sweatshirt, or a fur bomber instead of a jean jacket. It’s bringing that luxury element to street, and that street element to luxury.

You’re one of the few Canadians who has managed to balance both a women’s wear and a menswear collection. Do you have a preference?
I always feel one can’t exist without the other. Inspirations come from both, and I often create one look for men and one look for women, changing with just the right tailoring. This season, we’re shifting focus more on the women’s collection, but there will definitely always be the men’s items.

What made you decide to return with a solo show this upcoming schedule?
Toronto is just the right place for us in terms of a fashion week in Canada. It’s the most “bang for the buck.” What happens in Quebec tends to stay in Quebec, and there’s really no comparison in the amount of coverage. [Fashion council president] Robin Kay has a vision and I admire her greatly. She believes in something, and that’s important to me.

What does the future look like?
We’re looking to expand into stores across Canada, and look at markets with bigger numbers strategically. Maybe head to Russia or South America. My ideal goal is to have a brick-and-mortar store in Montreal.

FASHION WEEK Travis Taddeo shows at 5pm on Fri, Mar 17. worldmastercardfashionweek.com. travistaddeo.com.