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Creative Process: Lauren Bagliore
Christian Allaire: "It hasn't been an easy ride and there's torn ligaments in her wrists to prove it"

This week, the first round of designer finalists competed in the Mercedes-Benz Start Up show in Edmonton. Talents included Calgary’s Rebecca King, Vancouver Island’s Eliza Faulkner, and eventual winner Malorie Urbanovitch who will go on to compete in the final rounds. But one other finalist stood out from the crowd: Lauren Bagliore.

I got the chance to catch up with the designer in New York and see what exactly goes into designing an entire collection. Turns out, it’s not as fun or glamorous as it looks.

Bagliore, who’s in her late twenties but won’t specify – “a woman never discusses her age” –  is one of the industry’s most promising young designers. Her sharp monochromatic designs, which exude a downtown-cool vibe via shades of mostly black, white, and grey, have already graced the Toronto runway last spring. This season, Jully Black modeled one of Bagliore’s signature draped dresses (in red!) at The Heart Truth Fashion Show as well.

But it hasn’t been an easy ride and there’s torn ligaments in her wrists to prove it. “I can’t even carry a Starbucks latte in this hand right now,” says Bagliore, half-jokingly, half-seriously about the laborious side of fashion.

A native New Yorker, Bagliore studied merchandising and design at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), worked with Zac Posen, and apprenticed with the eccentric Vivienne Westwood. “The most important thing I learned there was to keep true to your vision and never compromise it,” she says of the experience.

Along with participating in the Mercedes-Benz Start Up competition, Bagliore also did the Polyvore Live show in February. With such a heavy schedule, Bagliore states that she is most definitely not – I repeat, not – living life in fashion’s fab lane. The fast lane, maybe. “I have a big Canadian hockey bag, my homage to Canada, filled with my 60-piece collection,” says Bagliore. “Carrying that up and down the streets of Manhattan to showroom appointments with buyers — it really does wear on you. And you do it in heels because you have to look good.”

Her efforts are paying off, though. Bagliore’s clothes are now available on a global scale, sold in popular spots such as the Denis Gagnon boutique in Montreal and Outerluxe in Manhattan. Special custom orders are available via her showroom.

What caught my eye about Bagliore is her attention to detail; her clothes don’t elicit screams of oh my god I DIE, but they are understated and sophisticated — a rarity in today’s look-at-me street style culture. Her eye and talent is best admired up close and personal, like an animal in its natural habitat. So instead of asking her questions about how she approaches the design process, I asked her to show me… to let me observe her in her element, on the prowl.

Thus began a mini-tour of her favourite midtown design haunts, from Manhattan staples like Pacific Trimming (Zac Posen apparently comes here) to the Project Runway-famed Mood. If one thing Bagliore knows, it’s where (and how) to get what she wants and not settle for anything less. “Even though New York is my home city, because it’s such a saturated market, and there’s so many people, there’s a lot of competition — but I kind of like that. I’m a competitive person,” says Bagliore. May the odds be ever in her favour.

First up, Bagliore takes me to Pacific Trimming. Here, she shows me the bare bones details needed for any garment: thread, buttons, zippers, trims, more trims. A Riri zipper, just one unassuming little silver zipper, costs $50 — and that’s just the starting price for quality zippers that won’t break after a week. While the cost of quality products adds up, one can see how it’d be tempting to take the cheaper way out, but Bagliore is dead set on customizing, not cutting, when it comes to her designs’ finishes. If she doesn’t see something she likes, she’ll just make it herself.

“I’m a little fabric developer. I love creating something different. I created a Japanese nylon with my mill and sometimes we sketch our own prints as well, but it’s a lot of work,” says Bagliore. “It’s very convenient in New York, you can get what you want on the spot, but for custom things I order well in advance — and you have to leave time with the Italians.” Bagliore is Italian, so she can say that.

Next she heads to Panda International Trading down the street, to purchase garment bags. Easy… it’s just a plastic bag, right? Wrong. She needs a specific type of extra-long garment bag: seven 54-inch garment bags, to be exact. She gets them. They also aren’t cheap. I begin to see where design gets expensive; Bagliore hasn’t even created anything yet but her Visa has sure gone through a respectable workout. Like a chef, designing is mostly prep work – a list of never-ending to-do lists.

Our final stop, Mood, has one of New York City’s few elevators still operated by man (so old-fashioned, it feels like you’re taking an elevator up to 1954). At Mood, Project Runway-celebrity Swatch, the French bulldog, acts as the greeting host. The multi-leveled emporium is lined with any and every fabric you can think of, from silks to furs to velvets and feather. A designer’s candy store.

The jersey wall, a favourite fabric of Bagliore’s, immediately catches her eye. But no two jerseys are the same, she explains, so be careful: “This one has great stretch to it. You have to be careful with this one because it pills. This one feels a little cheap.” Let’s see Project Runway contestants tell you that on the fly. Bagliore has built a strong following because of these jersey fabrics, but I ask if she would ever consider a foray into bolder colours or ‘trendier’ items and silhouettes. Would she sell out for the potential to earn more dough and grow her demographic?

Her answer is hella no. “I have a strong sense of who I am as a person and as a designer. Trends come and go, and I find it exhausting to keep up with that. That’s not something I’ve ever been interested in,” says Bagliore. “What I want to show the world is the architecture, the fluidity, the draping. That’s what I do.”

What makes Bagliore’s work even more impressive is the time and profit she puts toward philanthropic work.

Bagliore fights to end human trafficking in war-torn areas like Cambodia and Thailand and works with non-profit organizations like Ratanak International to aid human trafficking victims. She doesn’t do it for publicity purposes or donate, like, just a cent of her profit either; she is involved in the truest sense of the word:  “The man who started Ratanak was an RCMP officer for over 20 years, and when I heard him speak — I actually wasn’t even at the conference, I heard the podcast — I was wrecked. I wept. Forever changed. I knew that this had to be a part of what I did.”

For the past few years, Bagliore has travelled  the world to be a part of various charitable causes like Ratanak. Her Spring 2012 collection was even inspired by the broken-down streets of Thailand. “My husband and I were with a team of people in Thailand this past summer. We’re really trying to get our hands dirty and be a part of this,” says Bagliore. “I just have a heart for those children.”

Bagliore has also begun mixing business and philanthropy by donating generous portions of her profit (which, as a young label, can be little to none) and personal money towards various human trafficking causes. She even held a fashion show in November solely to raise awareness for human trafficking — raising $10,000 in one night and $82,000 in total this past year. Cha-ching.

She admits it can be hard to stay positive in such a ruthless industry and want to help others when she already has struggles of her own, but Bagliore perseveres. So keep an eye out for this one — she’ll be the New Yorker in heels, carrying a thousand garment bags and her heart on her sleeve.


Christian Allaire writes about style for Toronto Standard. Follow his tweets here: @chrisjallaire.

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