AT YOUR SERVICE

You Mean All That Stuff Is Canadian!

Clothes, furniture, all of It — made In this country by the 20 companies in a new sprawling design conglomerate that dares to be known by its Canadianism alone

MARJORIE HARRIS June 1 1970
AT YOUR SERVICE

You Mean All That Stuff Is Canadian!

Clothes, furniture, all of It — made In this country by the 20 companies in a new sprawling design conglomerate that dares to be known by its Canadianism alone

MARJORIE HARRIS June 1 1970

You Mean All That Stuff Is Canadian!

Clothes, furniture, all of It — made In this country by the 20 companies in a new sprawling design conglomerate that dares to be known by its Canadianism alone

AT YOUR SERVICE

DESIGN

MARJORIE HARRIS

EVERYTHING YOU SEE in these pictures is not only good, it’s also Canadian. And, in a way, that’s news. It’s only very recently that it has become possible to equate Canadian clothes and furniture with real style. The clothes on Canadians’ backs and the furniture in Canadians’ homes were almost always either dull and Canadian or well designed and imported. Now, however, there’s a revolution in style under way in this country, and what you see on these pages is part of it. Here’s how that particular corner of the revolution has come about:

Three years ago five Canadian millionaires got together and decided to risk almost every business asset they had — money, energy, manufacturing savvy — on the premise that good design and original ideas could actually be Canadian. Their gamble was not taken simply on grounds of burning patriotic fervor. They also thought they could parlay it into a lot of money, and they have.

It wasn’t hard for the five to get together. Four of them are named Posluns — that's L. H. Posluns, and his three sons, Irving, Jack and Wilf — and the fifth is an old friend of theirs named Jimmie Kay. Anyway, they pooled their companies, bought several others, and they decided to call themselves Dylex Diversified. Today, they own 20 com►

Everything here is made in Canada. Left-hand row,

from top to bottom.Floor lamp by Sidney Gibson for Singer Lighting. Leather Indian-inspired pantsuit from Irving Posluns Sportswear, man’s ensemble from Harry Rosen, child’s raincoat from Junior Deb, woman's raincoat from Irving Posluns (shoes from David's Footwear). Jumpsuit and midi coat by Pat McDonagh for the ReEstablishment, man’s jumpsuit from Big Steel.

Centre row, from top: Chair designed by David Wollin for Artâge International (jumpsuit available at Fashion Council stores). Midi-skirted rainsuit from Junior Deb. Midi dress over trousers by Pat McDonagh for Re-Establishment (jewelry by Victor Secrett, Toronto).

Right-hand row, from top: Sweater from Big Steel, leather skirt and vest from Irving Posluns.

Outfits by Susie Kosovic for Big Steel. Table lamp by Sidney Gibson for Singer, acrylic table by David Wollin for Artâge International.

IT'S ALL CANADIAN! continued

With 20 companies under its umbrella, Dylex is working to raise the level of manufacturing standards in Canada. Its five millionaire bosses believe Canadiandesigned goods can sell anywhere in the world

panies and, taken together, these holdings are as varied as Kurly Kate (scouring pads and green garbage bags) and Tip Top Tailors. Dylex intends to keep on expanding but, from now on, mainly on the design and sale ¡ of clothes and household furnishings.

The men of Dylex found right ; from the start that, though they needed many companies to realize their ambitious plans, they needed people even more. Talented people, and preferably talented young people. Result: in 1970 there is only one executive in Dylex who is more than 50 years old, and some very responsible positions are held hy people who are under 30. To achieve the kind of style, the level of taste that the Posluns and Kay sought, they gave their bright young stars a great deal of freedom. There was no Big Boss for ever hanging around and asking, “But will it sell?'', before an idea could get off the ground.

Consider the case of Irving Levine, one of Dylex's early captives. Levine used to run a modest chain of womcn's-wear stores, which mainly carried American and European imports. Now. with Lionel Robins, he heads a chain of 33 stores under the title of Fashion Council. He wanted to open hip boui tiques for young people within the Fashion Council enterprises and, to everyone's subséquent good fortune, he happened to meet Susie Kosovic. She had already introduced mod designs to Canada. She was not only a I first-rate designer of clothes for young

people, she also had a pretty hard business head. The perfect Dylex executive. “I gave her complete freedom to do her own thing,” Levine says. “If she wanted her sales staff walking around on their hands, that was okay with me.”

As it happened, she did not want her staff walking around on their hands. And her own thing turned out to be a bunch of shops — called Big Steel — within the Fashion Council stores. They're filled with mirrors, shiny steel, hlack lighting and blaring rock 'n' roll music. Young people of both sexes increasingly enjoy shopping together and Susie therefore made Big Steel unisex. Big Steel is jammed with stuff that's hot off her designing board. Some of the designs are the inspiration of only last week or the week before. Dylex research showed that young Canadians everywhere want to dress in pretty much the same styles, and Big Steel's designs are uniform in five cities. Dylex’s own factories and knitting mills turn the clothes out with a speed that’s not characteristic of the rest of the garment industry. Consequently, Big Steel offers Canadian kids exactly what they want exactly when they want it. Another upshot is that, although Big Steel was originally intended only as an effort to jazz up six or seven fusty old-lady stores, it is now expected to do four million dollars in business over the next few years.

The clothes are inexpensive, the turnover is extremely fast, the stuff is not magnificently constructed. But, for the price, the quality is so much superior to that of most cheap, knockedtogether imports that Big Steel’s styles can't help but elevate the entire level of mass - produced clothing in Canada. Their influence on other Fashion Council stores has resulted in a new emphasis on buy-Canadian design, and Dylex doesn't care whether the design comes from one of its own employees or not.

The Dylex promotion of the midi is a similar story. Jack Posluns and Company was a rather stodgy manufacturing company. It was known for quality but not for any hot insight into high fashion. Its manager. Jack Kirstein. wanted to hype the old place up a bit so he suggested that Dylex sign up Pat McDonagh. Kirstein had wandered into Pat's Re-Establishment boutique in Toronto and been impressed by her colorful and startling ideas for dressing women. He got Dylex to buy royalties on her name and. more important, to buy her designing talent.

She produced instant results. This spring, smack in the middle of the mini-midi-maxi controversy, she went flat out with the midi (two examples are shown on the preceding pages), and her decision may prove to be a fortunate example of the Canadian flair for compromise. She felt that certain looks go with the kind of life Canadian women lead. The life dictated the need, and the need was for sophisticated spring and fall clothes. And, besides, Pat felt it was time for a return to elegance. Conclusion: the midi. Chic

women love her midi and so, apparently, do certain stores in New York. Healthy orders have come in from Henri Bendel and Lord & Taylor. Whether Canadian women love them won't be known for some time but, with the Dylex millions backing her, the gamble was at least possible. Without this sort of experimenting, it’s unlikely that an original Canadian style will ever come about.

Dylex has also gone a fair way toward the radicalization of the men’sclothing business. For starters, it bought out Harry Rosen, an urbane tailor who owned a slick men’s store in Toronto. Rosen’s shop had attracted not only young men with highly contemporary ideas about what they wanted to wear, but also older businessmen who wanted to get some enjoyment out of dressing. Dylex already had 62 Tip Top Tailors stores, so it hardly needed Rosen’s place; what it did need was Rosen's talent for merchandising. He moved in pretty fast. He has reduced Tip Top’s made-to-measure department. And he has begun to work up a new Tip Top image. He commissioned Robert Meiklejohn, the best store designer in the country, to redesign all those drab old shops. Rosen's intention was to stress a small-store feeling in a largestore environment. He doesn't expect thousands of Canadian men to appear overnight in the sartorial vanguard. But, with the number of stores he now controls, he thinks he can influence male taste in subtle ways across Canada.z

Rosen has also taken Canadian Clothiers, a huge manufacturing firm owned by Dylex, and insisted on an upgrading of the quality of its goods. He is determined to replace the firm's traditional habit of just turning out the same old goods every season, with a fresh emphasis on fashion. With Dylex backing, he can get a vest suit into the fall line. The suits won't he a big item, but even if only 50 of them sell in the whole country they will at least be on public view. They'll

continued on page 60

be on racks and in windows, and maybe a few men will be inspired to try a new way of dressing. The only other place where you’re likely to find this sort of outfit is some super-hip boutique that most businessmen just wouldn’t enter.

The furniture interests of the Posluns and Kay also needed revving up. Dylex had three firms that manufactured pretty straight middle - of -the - road goods. They started their renovation with Singer Lighting and. to do this, they hired Harold Vogel, an enthusiastic manager who knew nothing at all about the furniture business. Vogel watched a competing company go out of business and then, as he puts it, he moved in like a vulture to snap up two of their key people. “Everyone else bought up bricks, we bought people. They ended up with empty buildings. We ended up with the creative staff.”

One of these creative people is David Wohin, an inventive young designer who is among the few in Canada who consistently win international awards for their work. Dylex built a new company around him, and called it Artâge International. The idea is that Wohin should produce a limited quantity of prestige items, and that these will filter down to influence the massmarket goods and thereby upgrade the whole lot. Wohin works in plastics, new fabrics (some of them snitched from Dylex’s fashion divisions) and new ways to be comfortable. The chair in our illustrations won a prize in the January Furniture Mart. Artâge International had been in existence exactly three days.

The sense of excitement that all these Dylex companies generate affects even those who do not work for them. Sidney Gibson, a bright young designer, had a new idea for plastic lighting based on theatrical techniques. He did his homework and figured out that the place to sell his idea would be Singer Lighting. Singer’s enthusiasm for ideas, and its ability to get the stuff on to the market without watering down Gibson's designs, made it an effective ally. Dylex hopes this sort of thing will encourage other young people who’ve got good marketable ideas.

In the meantime, the whole gamble is looking pretty sweet. Last year, Dylex grossed $80 million. Their most conservative predictions indicate they'll be grossing $180 million in five years; and that's a very nice way, indeed, to advance the cause of a distinctive Canadian style. □