It‘s fitting that Paul Hardy‘s spring/summer 2013 collection is a coming-of-age story, as it also marks his 10th anniversary in the business.
Dozens of fashion editors and bloggers from across Canada joined some of Calgary‘s most stylish citizens for a day-long celebration that culminated in a dramatic 40-minute runway presentation of 60 looks at Hardy‘s new design studio in a renovated warehouse in Calgary‘s Inglewood neighbourhood.
“I‘m so thrilled that everyone is here to celebrate with me,” Hardy said earlier in the day at a brunch at Calgary‘s River Café, where he thanked his family, current and former interns and even his Grade-7 teacher, who flew in from his hometown of Winnipeg for the festivities. “When I was in junior high, Irene never wore the same thing twice,” he said with a laugh. “She really inspired my career in fashion.”
A few hours later, we got a good sense of how those early fashion ambitions have materialized. Titled “Breaking Amish,” the runway show was divided into eight chapters (each carefully paired with live music) that told the story of a nameless girl who decides to leave her colony to discover the glamour of the big city—only to become disillusioned before eventually finding her own balance in life.
“My collections always have a theme or a story,” Hardy told me post-show. “The reason I didn‘t name the girl is because I think we can all relate in some way. We all come from a sense of innocence or some sort of a reverent tradition and then go through a period of brokenness that leads to a reconciliation where we must marry our past with the struggle of finding our own identity.”
The idea of an Amish theme came to Hardy when he was at the fabric trade shows in Paris. “I was meeting with our embroiderer, and there were some motifs on ribbons that looked like necklaces. I was looking at them upside down and I was imagining them as the Amish bonnets with the ties.”
In Chapter 1: “Down to the River to Pray” (also the title of the accompanying song), the opening looks were simple, soft and innocent (a sky-blue peplum top and patchwork sheaths) and featured raw edges with long, loose threads. The show notes indicated that the girl “flees the colony in vestments from off the drying line.”
But, as she reaches the city (Chapter 4: “NYC”), the looks evolve with a mix of contrasting textures (there was lots of lithe black leather) and layers—both are signature Hardy elements—and more intense colours, including a pop of tangerine.
In Chapter 5: “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” the girl gets caught up in the glitter of the city‘s “speakeasy world of prohibition,” and the coats and dresses gain volume and shine, including a significant hit of bling. A floor-length champagne-coloured sheer gown embroidered with swirls of crystals and sequins earned a round of applause from the audience. Several silvery-jewel-encrusted black-ribbon necklaces also made an appearance as the show progressed.
By Chapter 8: “Nimrod,” the girl is “renewed and softened by embracing the truth of who she is,” according to the show notes, and you could see this in the clothes. An airy nude layered dress worn over a matching corset incorporated some of the innocence of the first looks—but also retained a hint of the sophistication that followed.
What really set the show—and the chapters—apart was the live music, which included covers of songs like the Civil Wars’ “Kingdom Come,” Johnny Cash’s “For You” and even a moody version of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” performed live by Canadian country music star Paul Brandt, along with his wife, Liz Brandt, and fellow musicians Greg Sczebel, Peter Barbee (from Among Savages) and a quartet from the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.
Hardy often uses music as part of his design process, and the song lyrics were almost perfectly in sync with the storyline. “We did a lot of research to select the music,” he said. “I had known of the songs before and I was able to piece it together like a puzzle. It was almost eerie how well the songs were able to tell the story.”
Brandt, who has enlisted Hardy to create his on-stage looks, was thrilled with the energy in the room at his first fashion-show gig. “I love that Paul has such a clear artistic vision,” Brandt told me. “Paul’s been to New York and Paris and done the whole international thing, and then has come back to Calgary, like I have. He has an uncompromising vision for his art, and he‘d rather create it in a vacuum and bring people to him. We have a lot of that in common, so it‘s been a great collaboration.”
Hardy believes his biggest strength has been his ability to listen to his clients over the years. “I’ve worked really hard to do that, and I want to maintain that consistency going forward,” he told me—right as one of his regular clients, Calgary media personality Joan Crockatt, rushed up to put her claim on a sequined back cowl top from the show. “If I don’t speak up now, it will be gone!” she gushed. “There are five things I want, but that’s top of my list.”
Like his collection’s nameless Amish girl, Hardy, it seems, has found the balance he craves. But, unlike this muse, Paul Hardy’s name will be known for some time to come.