For as long as Toronto has hosted a fashion week, Comrags has been a fixture on the runway. From the original Festival of Canadian Fashion in the ‘80s to the FDCC-organized fete we know today, Comrags designers Joyce Gunhouse and Judy Cornish have been there to take their final bows after each presentation. “Showing at fashion week really creates a lot of excitement and we just love to do runway shows,” says Joyce. “ Plus the FDCC runs a really tight ship—they’re easy to work with and it gives us a lot of time to be creative.”
The two designers met in the fashion arts program at Ryerson University and launched Comrags in 1983 after they graduated (they recently celebrated 25 years in the biz). “We try to design clothes that make women feel individual and attractive,” says Judy. “We hope part of our success is that when someone wears a piece of our clothing, she gets a lot of compliments.”
The new fall collection is inspired by the concept of hunting and collecting in both an urban and a woodsy sense. “You’ll see it in the colour choices and the texture of some of the fabrics, plaids that look like traditional hunting jackets, things that feel like blankets, and there’s a bit of safety orange dappled throughout,” says Judy. “It’s a very Comrags collection. We were very true to ourselves.”
From their favourite designers and style icons to who likes eating popcorn with their red wine (Judy?) and who secretly wants to take up midwifery (Joyce?), get to know these fashion week veterans in our latest installation of Designer DNA.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
JOYCE: Just knowing everyone in my family is safe and happy.
JUDY: Having no responsibility.
What do you consider your worst trait?
JOYCE: I’m too judgmental. I’m working on it, though.
JUDY: Joyce can probably answer this much better than I could but I think intensity.
JOYCE: I’d say that’s a little concise.
If you could choose an occupation other than your own what would it be?
JOYCE: A mid-wife. When I was young I didn’t really know that was a job, I always thought you had to be a doctor but it’s just something I’ve always had an affinity to. I love having babies and being around babies, I don’t know why, but I would love it.
JUDY: Anything that involves using my hands. I’ve always just enjoyed making things.
Who is your style icon?
JUDY: We get asked this a lot and it’s always, always changing but right now probably Grace Coddington.
JUDY: For me, it’s my daughter Georgia.
If you had to choose one designer to fill your wardrobe, who would it be?
JOYCE: Christopher Bailey.
JUDY: Junya Watanabe and Marni together.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
JOYCE: Judy says “really” too much.
JOYCE: And I always say “no yeah.”
What’s your usual?
JOYCE: A latte, no foam. That’s my treat.
JUDY: Red wine.
Iphone or Blackberry?
JOYCE: Just a regular old cell phone. And I’m still texting in full sentences so it takes me about three hours.
JUDY: I have a 10-year-old phone that’s taped together right now.
Heels or flats?
JUDY: Popcorn with my red wine for dinner.
What is your greatest extravagance?
JOYCE: Hockey for my son even though I know he’s not going to end up in the NHL.
JUDY: …I don’t know, what’s my greatest extravagance?
JOYCE: Organic food.
JUDY: Yeah, organic everything.
Latest beauty discovery?
JUDY: I’m using a relatively cheap skin cream from Olay and complete strangers have told me that my skin looks better than it’s ever looked so go figure!
JOYCE: I like going to the baths at Body Blitz.
How would you describe each other’s personal style?
JOYCE: I would say grunge for Judy but she probably hates that term. Today she’s got on an army shirt, jeans and worn out boots.
JUDY: Joyce wears tees instead of shirts and sneakers instead of boots but otherwise she looks like me.
JOYCE: Yeah, we’re both grunge.
JUDY: This morning, Joyce walked in wearing a dress and I immediately panicked thinking we were doing something important that I’d forgotten about.
Best and worst part of showing at Fashion Week?
JUDY: I think it’s like looking forward to anything—half of the pleasure is in the anticipation. It’s always a bit of a bummer afterwards.
JOYCE: I find as I get older I can’t handle chaos the same way. Sometimes its just a little more chaos than I’m happy with backstage, which is normal, I just don’t like it anymore.
JUDY: the best part about showing is that the people at the FDCC take care of so much on our behalf.
JOYCE: And we get to see a lot of our friends who we don’t see on a regular basis.
What other shows are you looking forward to seeing at Fashion Week?
JUDY: We’re usually working to the last minute on our own stuff so we don’t get to see other shows.
JOYCE: Actually most designers do invite us which is very generous.
JUDY: This year we had the time so we saw our friend Izzy Camilleri’s show on opening night.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
JOYCE: I think having a staff that has stayed with us, some of them, for the entire time we’ve been in business. So I hope our achievement is having a happy productive workspace.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year?
JUDY: It was a rough year for a lot of people but we stuck to our guns and did what we do and it paid off.
JOYCE: So we learned that Comrags has value.
Describe your perfect Sunday?
JUDY: Waking up at the cottage, swimming, having breakfast and going back to bed.
JOYCE: Having my entire family cleaning the house, doing laundry and working in the yard while I lay on the couch and watch them put everything together. It happens occasionally.
What do you most value in your friends?
JOYCE: Just that they’re straightforward and say what they mean. I don’t like when people hope, I like it when they just ask.
Finish this sentence:
JOYCE: “People think I’m
Judy but I’m really
Joyce.” I also have a twin sister named Judy.
JUDY: “People think I’m
self-confident but I’m really
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