Style

Ten years in, the Canadian designer is seriously hitting his stride.

Christopher Bates Lets His Clothes Do the Talking

His shoes and his hair are both silver, bookending his otherwise all-black outfit. It’s the first thing I notice when I walk into the No Bad Press Showroom in Toronto to meet Canadian luxury menswear designer Christopher Bates. Later, he’ll notice how my shoes and hair also match, only they are both purple. With a man like him, there are always two conversations happening at once: one with words and the other with style.

“I don’t want to be the same as other brands,” he says while lounging on the couch. “I want to have my own style, but I want people to understand it.”

You say “understand it” as if fashion is some sort of language, I say.

“It is. Fashion is actually really powerful. Clothes are the best way to communicate how you’re feeling to the rest of the world.”

So what are you communicating right now? I ask.1

“I’m letting the shoes do the talking. If I had too many things going on, then the shoes would lose their power. So right now, the rest of me is neutral. Just black, but put together.”2

The talkative shoes on his feet are from the MTV x Christopher Bates sneaker collection, which aims to incarnate ’90s rock ‘n’ roll fantasy with metal studs, black patent leather, and shiny gold and silver soles. They are pure nostalgia. Like cranking the stereo speakers in your bedroom until your teeth chatter. They are the angsty lyrics you sang while looking in the mirror before you realized how young you looked. They are something you could wear with low-slung ripped jeans and a blazer embellished with crystals. Only you would never use the word “embellish.”

“Last night on the street someone gave me a high-five, and I was like ‘Yeah, a high-five is exactly what you would give someone wearing these kinds of shoes,” he says.

Bates recently closed his Fall/Winter 2018 show at Toronto Fashion Week, where he debuted the limited-edition MTV sneaker partnership alongside his new menswear collection, which features bold shades of slate gray, rich navy, hazard yellow, and (naturally) black. The collection will appear in Nordstrom—the exclusive Canadian department store retailer of his eponymous ready-to-wear collection for the Spring/Summer 2019 season. The announcement marks a milestone for the brand as it celebrates its 10-year anniversary.

“Getting into Nordstrom is a big step in the right direction because once you’re in Nordstrom, other department stores in other countries recognize the name,” he says. “It’s a strong foundation and you need that in this business.”

If clothes tell a story, then Bates is a textile wordsmith. His workmanship is backed by a strong material knowledge, the ability to envision what each fabric can become, and then the restraint to stop meddling. “There is a famous quote that says: ‘Perfection is achieved not when there’s nothing to add, but when there’s nothing left to take away,’”3 he says. “It’s not minimalism, per se, but if you find a wonderful fabric then you shouldn’t confuse it with too many other details.”4

I notice that Bates’ eyes are never void of contemplation. Even as he patiently listens to me speak, it’s like there is a carousel of memories playing just behind them.5

“It was summer and I was walking down one of the shopping streets, a place with no cars,” he says. I had asked a question about a mundane moment that changed his life. It happened in 2005, in Stockholm. “I remember seeing all of these people who were so stylish and independent in their expression. I thought to myself: they would like my ideas, they would appreciate my style. That’s when I knew I had to do something about it or I would have regrets in life; serious regrets. It was profound for me.”

Now, when someone picks up one of his sweaters or tries on a pair of his shoes—be it from the Christopher Bates for Harry Rosen footwear range or the MTV collaboration—they can’t feel the streets of Stockholm or see the fabric when it was just hanging all limp and bored before Bates breathed it to life. But they might still understand in some weird, tingly way, that there is something more to it: a story, perhaps. And that’s the magic of style. It is a language available to us when words won’t do, or when they can only do harm.6

References   [ + ]

1. Journalism! It’s the simple questions, folks.
2. And put together very well. By that I mean, Bates is ridiculously good looking. What?
3. Credit to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince.
4. This is also helpful advice when choosing toppings for your frozen yogurt.
5. Credit to Don Draper for that bit of imagery.
6. Yes, that is a Depeche Mode reference. Bates, like a lot of attractive men who dress primarily in black, is a fan.