Sunday, June 1, 2008

Graduates: Christie Smythe and Andrea Lenczner

Published in North Toronto Post: June 2008.

Jessica Simpson and Kate Hudson covet their coats
High school friends join forces with jacket business

Report Card
Students: Christie Smythe and Andrea Lenczner
Graduated: Branksome Hall, 1990
Best Subject: Smythe, English; Lenczner, History
Worst Subject: Smythe and Lenczner, Math
Current Job: Clothing Designers

Since its 2004 launch, the clothing line Smythe has been a major success. Working exclusively in jackets and coats, its designers, Christie Smythe and Andrea Lenczner, have seen their products adorn such celebrities as Kate Hudson and Jessica Simpson.

Although their clothes have gone Hollywood, the women behind Smythe trace the company's roots to the hallways of Branksome Hall high school in North Toronto.

"We bonded a lot over our love of fashion," says Lenczner. "We always dreamed of working together."

Although the school had a uniform policy, it didn't stop the two budding fashionistas from exploring their style. As Symthe says with authority, "Even though we wore a uniform, there's a way to wear it."

In those early years, the two would dream big about running their own store. However, after school, the two went on seperate paths in the fashion world. Smythe moved to New York where she worked as a designer at Gap. Lenczner stayed in Toronto where she worked as a buyer at Holt Renfrew. Over the years, they would catch up, and talk eventually turned back to their high school dream. One day that dream became a reality.

"Christie called me up in January 2004 to say that she was moving back," recounts Lenczner. "She said, 'Let's start a business,' and she had the idea of just doing jackets." Over five months, the two put together a sample collection that they sold immediately to Holt Renfrew.

However, there was a catch. "We sold it to them for that September, so we only had six weeks to do it," Lenczner explains. "It was a tight deadline."

The hard work and fast pace schedule paid immediate dividends as Smythe jackets quickly developed a buzz. Even though they were doing their own press, Smythe immediately found a home in the top Canadian fashion magazines. "The Canadian press were amazing," says Smythe. "Flair, Fashion, Elm Street - all of those people really got behind us."

It's no surprise, Smythe's line features classic coats that are both sophisticated without being over-the-top trendy.

Since that first year, Smythe has seen its products become available in America and Europe.

While the two are thrilled that they have international distribution and their products routinely appear in glossy fashion magazines, Smythe says that, "It's definitely exciting to see someone walking down the street wearing it."

With plans to extend into the winter coat market and a leather line waiting to be launched in the fall, Smythe is poised to continue their success. For Smythe, the key is "to not be trendy." Although they have done very well for themselves, the two continue to run all aspects of the show, which can lead to some issues.

"The hardest thing is having no tech support," admits Lenczner. "One of my pet peeves is that you have a computer problem, you have to fix it yourself."

For the two, taking care of the business and administration side of things is a small price to pay for living their dream. "We had visions of being 80 and 90 and looking through our scrapbooks. It's pretty thrilling," says Smythe.

It also helps that the two continue to be passionate about fashion. "All of our friends are fashionable," says Lenczner. "Whether they're lawyers, doctors or stay-at home moms, we're interested in style. We share that bond."

With a long history of fashion behind them, the two have impeccable sense of style. However, that doesn't mean that there weren't some fashion crimes that they committed in their past.

"I had the most heinous hot pink, velvet, tie-dyed, jacket," admits Smythe. "My husband still makes fun of it."

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