The Talented Duo Behind Canadian Brand Smythe
Toronto-based brand Smythe has gained international recognition thanks to celebrity fans and a certain Duchess of Cambridge.
As co-creators of Smythe, long-time friends Andrea Lenczner and Christie Smythe have turned their bond over fashion into a successful business. Currently in its 13th year, the Canadian brand best known for its tailored women’s blazers has blossomed into a highly covetable collection that now includes jackets, coats, dresses, blouses, pants and, most recently, knitwear. Ingrie Williams caught up with the dynamic duo at their downtown Toronto studio, where they shared tales from their early days and discussed why health is a priority.
Andrea Lenczner: “We have been friends since high school and lived together in university. We talked about doing something together and our ideas took many forms, but it was always related to fashion.”
Christie Smythe: “We had a real connection together over fashion. If I bought something amazing, I’d tell her ‘Run, don’t walk – you have to get this top!’ There was always a dialogue.”
A.L.“We took different paths in our education but always kept in touch. Christie did design at Parsons and went on to phenomenal jobs at the Gap and Céline. I did my MBA and took a circuitous route to becoming a buyer at Holt Renfrew.”
C.S. “Our business started when I called Andrea and told her that my husband and I were moving back to Toronto so if we’re ever going to do it, it was now. I loved my work at the Gap design office in New York at the time, but I didn’t think I’d be able to recreate that experience here. The only thing I felt would be parallel to it – or even better – would be doing our own line. The second I said it, Andrea said yes.”
A.L. “The blazer was Christie’s idea – it came up very quickly in the initial conversation and I was like, ‘Yes!’ Twelve years ago, as a buyer, there was a whole denim craze happening. 7 For All Mankind jeans were the Holy Grail – everyone was buying $300 pairs. We didn’t have that before, and what did you wear with it other than your suit blazer? A lot of young women were buying jeans but weren’t able to afford a designer blazer, and that was really the only option. The second Christie said ‘blazer,’ I saw the gap in the market – the opportunity.”
C.S. “Men had the sportswear jacket and so many choices, but women didn’t have that choice. Back then there were no novelty jackets at all, whether it was a blazer or a weekend jacket. Andrea and I always loved the jacket as a piece of apparel. We would hunt them down while vintage shopping in Montreal – ones we still own. We loved it as a piece of transformative clothing. You put a jacket on and you can have anything on and feel put together, cool and polished. It’s a powerful piece of clothing.”
C.S. “When we had our first cute sample jacket that we were super-proud of, I thought, ‘OK, we can do it. We can make it.’”
A.L.“I think it took me a bit longer. I needed to see multiple cute samples and different styles.”
A.L.“Yes, and then I knew when we showed the collection to a fashionable friend of ours who was very enthusiastic. She was the first person we shared it with before our initial meeting with Holt Renfrew. That’s when I felt encouraged. Holts picked our first season and really put us on the map – it was a huge deal.”
C.S. “Another milestone for me was when I saw the first person that I didn’t know wearing one. In my head, I was like, ‘She spent her money on that. She chose it when she had other choices.’”
A.L. “For a while, I thought it was just all our friends and family buying the blazers.”
C.S. “Andrea thought that for years and I’d have to say, ‘No, babe, we don’t know that person.’”
A Healthy Schedule
A.L. “I look at working out as my responsibility, not my indulgence. Before, as soon as things got very busy at work or at home with my children’s schedule, it was the first thing to fall away. Now I look at fitness as part of my job, and that has really turned things around for me. I try to go to the gym or studio at least three times a week and in the morning because it’s the only way to guarantee a workout. I have been weight training for the last decade with Paula Ryff of Ultimate Athletics. She is amazing.”
C.S. “I’m less into athletics and more into spiritual health, also known as ‘lying down while you exercise.’ I do a private Pilates session once a week with a trainer because I don’t like gym culture. I don’t like running into people and being social when I’m exercising, so I was really happy when I started those private sessions. In the past year I’ve gotten into yoga, following a girls retreat in Tulum, and I’ll do any form of it. Andrea and I have enjoyed restorative yoga together, which is a lot of lying down. Plus, there are blankets – that’s my vibe.”
C.S. “I’m very much a ‘this too shall pass’ person, whether it’s a small situation or a big issue to deal with, personal or business. It’s also important to take time to reflect when something good happens. It’s really hard to do when you’re busy.”
A.L. “‘Buy the best and you’ll only buy once’ is such a good credo. That’s the type of clothing we’re trying to make.”
A Royal Affair
This bestselling silhouette makes an appearance every season and has officially been renamed after you-know-who.
Smythe Patch Pocket Duchess Blazer, $695