Farley Chatto is a Toronto-based designer with a global clientele, renowned for his eponymous line of haute couture menswear, first launched in 1988. Over the course of more than 25 years in the fashion and design industry, he has dressed notable celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Chris Noth, Drake, Elton John, and George Clooney. Chatto teaches at Ryerson University in Toronto and he is also the in-house designer at Four Seasons Fur Co. where he works with customers to design and develop their furs. The designer has two fur fashion lines, Farley Chatto & My Wild by Farley Chatto.
Interview with Toronto Designer Farley Chatto
Why do you like working with fur?
To me, fur embodies the perfect meaning of luxury, tactility and an ecologically sound material. It is a textile that can be re-purposed over and over while still maintaining its beauty. I also look at fur as a heritage material, which can be passed on from one generation to another. I love the longevity of the product.
What is your first memory of working with fur?
My first memory of fur was in Grade 10 when I saw my first Vogue magazine featuring 80’s fur ads. After Vogue came Dynasty, this sealed my fate – I was in love with the idea of fur. I was so in love with fur that I asked my parents if I could buy a sheared beaver coat at a local furrier. Sadly we opted for this knitted alpaca & wool bomber instead. From that point on, I knew that I was going to have a fur eventually! And now look where I am – a furrier, who knew!!
What/who inspired you to work with fur?
My inspiration to work with fur was a combination of that fist sighting of Vogue/Dynasty and timing. Fur has always been a part of my design DNA. In the early years, I used it as much as I could. I would use furs that I could afford and promoted them where I could. After this there was a period of time where fur was not fashionable, yet I never gave up the love.
People are now slowing seeing the ecological soundness of fur, and that is why fur and my fur designs are back. I also found that it is an art form that needs to be kept alive – it is a skill that is passed down and with most of the technicians aging, passing this skill set on is key. As well, it is a good niche area in fashion that has been untouched and something that is underdeveloped and explored – henceforth my switch.
What are your favourite types of fur to design with?
My favourite furs are the NAFA Northern foxes and sables. There is something unexplainable about the foxes (Silver, Red, Grey, Cross & Golden Isle) that draws me in: the movement, the colour & the lush volume they have, makes it one of my favorite furs to work with.
Then, there are those luxurious sables – the true embodiment of luxury. The hand of fur, the movement and the sheer drama sables have – I love it. (my all time fave fur!)
Let’s not forget minks – Black NAFA has the most incredible hand and an amazing product to work with! The best part of this fur is challenging the traditional idea of Black NAFA Mink (or minks in general) to make it new, modern and relevant for today’s clients!
What do you do to stay fresh and relevant?
To keep up in this fast past market, I am constantly researching, testing and challenging the materials and my technicians. Some might consider this useless, yet I see it as keeping this art form and craftsmanship alive. Without any change, the form will be stagnant and die off. As well, mixing furs and materials to create new forms of fur and fur techniques.
What is your design process like?
Designing for me begins with my gut – my instincts tell me where I should explore and research. This is where I start, and from there, my research leads me to develop and expand my designs. Regardless of what is happening worldwide in fashion, I always listen to my gut first.
Next step are exploring the furs – what is available; what colours and combinations I can come up with. Sometimes, the fur will dictate the design. If this is the case, playing with the materials are important – touching, bending and actually using the skins to understand movement, texture and balance. Then seeing what happens when I take the fur and combine it with fabrics and knits, will then be the next stage.
In some cases, I will take skins, prep them and test out techniques that are in my head – so behind the fur machine I sit and sew (sometimes the regular machine!) By actually executing the technique, I can get a better understanding of what I am creating and the movement the fur has. This is always a fun and challenging part of the process.
The rest of the process is always the same- blocking, cleaning, joining, first fitting, correction and then finishing. Once that is done, we do it over again… and again, and again until the collection is finished!
Who do you envision wearing your collection?
The Farley Chatto Black label customer is someone looking for a unique fur coat that focuses on the best quality furs, fit and attention to details. They tend to be and established professional, trend setters and from any part of the globe.
The My Wild by Farley Chatto customer is much younger. It was created for the 20 something Internet loving generation that loves fur. It’s geared and designed to be price driven, yet not giving up style, trend and fit.
How is designing fur different from designing other collections?
The main difference in designing a fur collection and regular clothing is the movement. Designing is design – let the creativity flow and I don’t worry about too much about the “rules” of fur techniques. One must always remember, when designing fur, you must think of the garment in 360 and fur moves- once you understand that, the rest comes naturally.
Other than that, the only hindrance is your imagination!
Who is the fur fashion customer and what are they looking for?
The fur customer has changed over the decades! With fur on a strong rise, the customer has become a younger – shopping savvy, trend focused individual, looking for the newest and best! With designers catering to this market, it has opened up the fur world – not only in style, in price as well! This makes it a great, still untapped market for designers and customers.
We still have clients looking for the classic long mink coats, yet more and more, we have a lot of clients looking for that classic mink- updated: shorter, versatile and every day. It’s all about the versatility: from day to night.
What item would you suggest for a first time fur buyer?
For the first time buyer, I suggest always to try on EVERYTHING! You cannot know what you like in fur (especially when you never had it on) or what looks good on yourself, until you try on everything! It does not cost a cent, so just try on literally everything – from the most expensive to the more affordable; then try different types of furs; minks, foxes, sables, chinchilla and you will know instantly what you love! (usually it’s always the sable and chinchilla! LOL)
Once you do that, then my suggestion is always your first coat should be the modern take on a classic. Usually a beautiful Black NAFA mink or NAFA Gold Mahogany mink. Start with a great 3/4 length and go from there! It is the most versatile, and will last you decades!
And because it is an investment, we always suggest that you bring it back at the end of the season and do storage. By taking care of your fur, it will last for generations!
How do you think fur fashion has evolved in the past few years?
Fur has evolved to be lighter (weight wise), more versatile and more every day. Today’s fur coats are very light, malleable and colourful! Designers are slowly challenging the product- it is just not coats only- dresses, skirts, gowns and even wedding dresses!
Fur is being worn more and more around the world, and is the most responsible and ecological choice.
Fur use to be for the elite, and now, with advancement of techniques and design driven for the younger market, makes fur more acceptable and within reach for all budgets!
As a teacher of fur design, what is one thing you always tell your students?
Teaching fur is something that I can give back to an industry that has supported me so much! The most important advice I impart to the students, was something that was told to me by another instructor:
“Respect the fur that the animal has given up for you. Respect the life that it has lead and create something beautiful. Honour this luxury with something luxurious.”
What is your favorite thing about working with Studio NAFA and young designers?
Working with Studio NAFA gives me energy and hope. Working with young and excited designers gives me inspiration and solace that fur will continue on. From all the questions, mistakes, broken machine needles and the learning curve of gaining a new skill set over the week, always results in the attendees leaving brimming with inspiration and the desire to experiment in fur. This is why it gives me hope & solace that fur and fur work will live on!
Another wonderful experience is providing young designers the opportunity to work in a luxury medium, and we show how they can open up more markets by simply incorporating furs into their collection. Can’t get any better than that!
What’s next for Farley Chatto?
SLEEP! LOL… Next steps are prepping for the upcoming Studio NAFA fall workshops and the upcoming University year. As well, I will be starting research and designing for my next luxury fur collection. NAFA what furs do you have for me?? ;D
The work never ends… best part is it’s never work!
Fill in the Blanks
The city with the best style is Milano.
My favorite era in fashion is the 1940’s.
My favorite fashion icon (living or deceased) is Christian Dior.
My favorite style trend today is FUR!
I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was 14.
My favorite item of clothing (I own) is my Givenchy black blazer & my Herm.
One thing people do not know about me is that I’m a secret gamer (shhhh).
The one thing I cannot live without is my husband, John (awwwee).
Using three words, I would describe myself as creative, quick witted and a giver.
If I was not a fashion designer I would be either a concert pianist or jeweler.