Paul Hardy: Rough Luxe on the Runway
While the who’s who of the industry refer to Paul Hardy as a star of this generation’s Canadian fashion designers, the subdued, self-described recluse hardly fans the flames of his ego. “I always felt like it was a bit of a dangerous thing to buy into your own fame,” says the Calgary designer, who was feted by notable guests at a hometown bash commemorating his decade in fashion last year. “The first five years I was working in the basement of my house and travelling, so there wasn’t much opportunity for me to know what was going on.”
Hunkered down in his Inglewood atelier in the Canadian Prairies, far away from the combustible fashion hubs of Paris and New York City, Hardy’s ability to forgo a romanticized perception of his work to instead weave transcendent messages through his garments has led to a brilliant career. His spring/summer 2013 collection, “Breaking Amish,” is an evocative reflection of a coming-of-age story; the spiritual journey of a girl purposely without a name so one can find common ground with her experience, explains Hardy. Apart from the collection’s impressive use of leather, silk and tulle, the profundity of his work expresses a voyage of self-realization. “I believe my work is used as a tool to teach me life lessons that I’m learning personally,” says Hardy, who grew up in unostentatious Winnipeg. “That’s really why I design clothes. I’ve always believed that we’re sort of spiritual beings living a human experience.”
Before settling in Alberta in 1998, Hardy received a fashion degree from Toronto’s Ryerson University and moved to New York City for six months. After careful consideration, he turned down a Nashville record producer that was willing to financially back his work to instead take a job as a personal shopper at Holt Renfrew in Calgary. Many viewed his move as peculiar, but the unconventional decision to work directly with clients would become the linchpin of his success. “I did a collection once that was based on the idea of not existing at the mercy of your circumstances,” says Hardy, who began the non-profit organization, Reversal of Fortune, partnering with marginalized women in Rwanda. “That was a bit challenging to articulate in a visual form, so what I did was rather than dictate to people how the looks should appear and be worn, we did the runway show where we showed all the tops with no bottoms and then all the bottoms with no tops. The idea was that people wouldn’t be fed a concept that says ‘this is how it’s supposed to be worn,’ it was really about them seeing an individual idea and how they could personalize it.” His ability to understand what a woman is missing from her closet has won him a long list of supporters, including Sarah McLachlan, who endorsed him to design the costumes for Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, an Alberta Ballet performance featuring her music.
Referring to the term “rough luxe” to describe his esthetic, Hardy’s appreciation for clothing and spaces that exude comfort and character over polish and pomp are reflected in his work. Blending luxurious fabrics with slightly weathered or distressed pieces in his clothing and interior design projects is his way of constantly reinterpreting design with juxtaposing concepts. “I have some beautiful Victorian chairs from 1860 that I’ve recovered in speckled longhorn with upholstery tacks and lingerie elastic trim. It just makes very vintage pieces new and interesting again,” says the avid traveller, who’s away on work-related trips five months out of the year. He’s currently developing a fall/winter collection of shearling jackets for women and men in Europe, and hopes to add handbags and an online store to his repertoire.
Although a decade in the biz has formed the basis of an eminent career, Hardy has had his eye on design since he was a young boy. Introduced to the world of haute couture by his Grade 7 teacher, he became transfixed by the Christian La Croix pom-pom-fringed jackets she wore to class. “I thought she was the coolest thing because she always came to school wearing a different outfit,” says Hardy of his childhood muse, who he invited to his 10-year celebration. From a lineage of bankers and accountants, his parents encouraged his rare creative gene, bringing him over to the house of his great-aunt Marjorie on his days off from school. The 1940s-power-suit-wearing esthete taught him the techniques of embroidery and cross-stitching, the art of setting a table and how to host a party. “She was very eccentric. Once she got fascinated with the colour pink, so she painted her whole house pink, including the piano and the telephone. I’m definitely a legacy of hers, that’s the only way I can equate it.”
Photography by Phil Crozier