Tag Archives: Fashion

Model and Talent Agent Ben Barry

28 Jun

Lunch with Mary 040

Date of lunch:
Monday, June 28, 2010

The company:
Ben Barry is the CEO of Ben Barry Agency Inc., a model and talent agency in Toronto. It’s a pretty amazing story because Ben started the agency when he was only 14. Ben is from Ottawa like me and I remember hearing about him and his agency when I was in high school. A friend of his was told she was “too big” to be a model by one of the local agencies so Ben called a magazine on her behalf and got her a gig. And the rest is history. The Ben Barry Agency focuses on representing models of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities, and is bringing diversity to fashion and the runway. Ben Barry is also partnered with a previous lunch guest of mine, Sunny Fong, as business director of Vawk.

The food:
We ate at Kokyo Japanese Restaurant at Yonge and Alexander. They have a huge patio but it was so hot out today that we chose to sit inside. I’d love to come back and sit on the patio when the air is a little less muggy. We both had lunch specials, a variety of sushi rolls, salad and miso soup. The sushi was fresh and delicious. We both drank water and green tea. Total bill was $22 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Ben has also written a book called Fashioning Reality – A new generation of entrepreneurship. As an entrepreneur, Ben has a definite business mind and it’s fascinating to listen to him and how he sees business opportunities in everything. He offered advice to me regarding my blog and how I might be able to add a bit of a business slant to the whole thing. It’s something I have been struggling with for awhile, had some hits and misses. But listening to him talk about business possibilities, as well as his book, has re-ignited my lifelong dream of writing a book – and hopefully using this blog and what I’ve learned and done so far as a great first step.

The lunch:
Although it’s hard to understand how a 14 year old can become an incredible advocate for diverse definitions of beauty and healthy body image, I am glad it turned out that way. And I’m not the only one.. He was noticed by the talkshow queen herself, Oprah, and appeared on the show as one of 20 teens who will change the world. I’ve never met anyone who’s met Oprah. Incase you’re wondering, he says she’s very nice. Him and his agency have also been featured on CNN, People Magazine, Globe and Mail and more.

When Ben explains what he is doing with his company, it makes so much sense. Women come in all sizes, ages, shapes, etc. so why not make and showcase clothing that fits all of these variations. And Ben also was sure to point out that he isn’t trying to eliminate thin models but instead co-exist in the industry and offer an alternative. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty really embodies this belief. Incase you were wondering, Ben’s agency provided the models for the campaign.

Ben explained that at Toronto Fashion Week, Sunny Fong was the only designer who used plus size and older models (although Joe did have one plus-size model in their show so I don’t want to forget to mention that). But Ben is seeing a shift in the industry and how it is regular people helping to push this forward. Fashion isn’t only for the big designers anymore. With blogs like The Sartorialist just picking people off the street and showcasing their awesome style, it becomes obvious that fashion really is defined by the people and it should look like the people – from skinny all the way to plus, all shapes, all backgrounds, all ages.

Aside from running the agency and working with Vawk, Ben is also working towards his PhD at Cambridge. He is doing research into whether women are more interested in buying products that are advertised using the typical model or using models that more represent regular women. I’ll let Ben discuss those results once his research is complete but I think it’s pretty obvious what I think the results will be.

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Fashion Designer and Project Runway Canada Winner Sunny Fong

17 May

Date of lunch:
Monday, May 17, 2010

The company:
Sunny Fong was the winner of Project Runway Canada Season 2. Since winning, he has shown at Toronto Fashion Week twice with his Vawk clothing line, including his debut show at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I remember watching Project Runway and Sunny’s designs were always pretty amazing. I’ve never lunched with a fashion designer before so I knew this could be a great opportunity to learn about a profession that I know little about.

The food:
We ate at Sambucas on Church. It was actually quite difficult to find a place to eat, as a lot of the restaurants on Church are closed on Mondays. Who knew? I had the pasta special, which was a chicken pesto blend of delishness. It also came with a garden salad and garlic bread (which I did not have room for). Sunny had stuffed French toast, which came with bacon, fruit and fries. The portions at this place are ENORMOUS! I had a diet Coke and he had an iced tea. Total bill was $26 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Sunny talked a bit about his research process when he is designing. He chooses something as his inspiration and then builds from there. His most recent collection was inspired by mushrooms after Sunny was watching Planet Earth. He said he would look online for images and information on mushrooms. He then went back and watched Planet Earth again and the documentary spoke about decay during the mushroom section. He then started looking at images of decay and the inspiration grew and grew until it was an entire collection – all started with mushrooms. This creative process is one of Sunny’s favourite parts of designing. As someone who also works in a creative industry, it’s always interesting to hear how others go through the process and get inspired.

The lunch:
If you watched Sunny when he was on Project Runway, you would know that he came across as really nice and genuine and he is just like that in person. A really great person to lunch with!

Sunny and I soon figured out that we both went to Ryerson. He studied Film and I took Radio and Television. His fashion and design knowledge is all self-taught. His sister studied fashion and Sunny let me know that he did read some of her textbooks. Filmmaking was another creative outlet for Sunny and he also has taken some of the skills from this to build his own web design company that has helped bring in funds allowing him to focus on fashion designing.

Since I know little about how one does put a line together, I asked Sunny if he sewed all of his own clothes or simply created the designs and had others put them together. He says at this stage of his career, he likes to sew everything on his own. This way, through the process he can figure out if the design works, what does, what doesn’t and fix along the way. He says someone like Karl Lagerfeld, who has so much experience designing, can simply draw a design and trust that it will work. Sunny still sees the whole process as a learning experience.

As Lagerfeld was mentioned, it got us to talking about the stereotype of the fashion industry, with Lagerfeld, Anna Wintour and The Devil Wears Prada, that you need to be mean to get ahead. Again, Sunny doesn’t really fit this stereotype. Fashion is a business like anything else, he said, so you do need to have that killer instinct, to stand up for yourself and be assertive or you’ll be left in the background. But like any stereotype, there is some truth and also some fiction in these fashion industry assumptions.

I asked Sunny about his favourite designers. He couldn’t narrow it down to one. He looks to Alexander McQueen for construction (we agreed on our love for his lobster claw shoes), Cavalli and Gucci for the sexiness and his list went on. It seems that Sunny is able to take inspiration from all sorts of designers, which again speaks to his creative process.

Having lunch with Sunny and speaking to him about his work was really quite amazing. He has such a passion for what he does and such a strong commitment to doing it well. Sunny is at the start of a really exciting career and I can’t wait to watch him succeed. And of course, I can’t wait to buy one of his pieces!