Hangin’ Out with Christopher Bates

So, I’m standing just outside the lobby of a Market Street condo complex, scrolling through the touchscreen directory. I get to the listing that I had been instructed to find, “ULTRA”. There it is, “ULTRA” in all caps. Cocking my head amusedly askew I think to myself, well there’s an intriguing omen of the meet and greet to follow.

Sure enough, I’m greeted by a casually kept Christopher Bates, who ushers us into his studio space laden with samples, swatches and sketches, the last of which I refrain from peeking at because I like surprises. No doubt, this talented designer is full of them!

Veronica Hufana: Can you recall or comment on the very moment that you decided men’s fashion is what you wanted to pursue?

Christopher Bates: When I went to design school, I thought I was going to do women’s clothing. The first two collections, the whole class designed women’s. The third collection had to be for men’s. The fourth collection could be whatever we wanted to do and I was encouraged by my teachers to do a men’s collection. It made sense at the time because around 2006-2007, I saw the women’s market as hyper-saturated and the menswear market was really starting to heat up.

VH: Was your decision a response to a need or void you felt you could fulfill, or simply motivated by a personal interest or passion?

CB: A bit of both. I am a style-savvy male, so I know the market. But there is definitely a void in menswear that there isn’t in womenswear. So, it was a strategic decision as well, to make a name for myself in men’s fashion.

VH: You went to school in Milan. Of all the fashion schools, why Milan?

CB: Milan was the only city I considered studying in. For me, Milan is the historical epicenter for fashion and the style is most in line with my own aesthetic. I find the Italian design to be the most classic and most consistent of any country.

VH: Describe the kind of man you design for.

CB: To put it bluntly, I design for middle-aged guys with money, who want to be more stylish. They want something different and high end; they can appreciate the quality that goes into designer clothes and fabrics.

VH: Given that, based on your observations of the average man’s everyday attire, what would you site as your biggest pet peeve?

CB: Ill-fitting clothes. Clothes that are typically too baggy, but being too tight can also be a problem.

VH: What about the thing you like the most?

CB: In Toronto, they do business wear quite well. Like on Bay Street, a lot of those guys really care about how they dress. They’re wearing suits and dress shirts and sometimes it’s not necessarily exciting, but they’re dressing for success, which I approve of.

VH: What, if any, design elements do you deliberately incorporate to enhance a man’s attractiveness or “sex-appeal”?

CB: First thing is getting the fit right. That’s the most important thing. Your body type doesn’t matter per se, but clothing can help you look even better IF it’s the right cut and fit and tailored to your body. That can go a long way.

VH: You’ve cited one of your goals as “inspiring men to dress for success.” In your opinion, what does it mean to be successful?

CB: For me, being successful means being happy in life. But when I say “dressing for success”, I’m referring not just for your career, but also for your social life and love life. It’s about feeling good, which is one of the reasons I love clothing. When you put on clothes that you like, you feel better, it enhances your mood.

VH: I’ve noted you’ve traveled all over Europe. What destination would you say had the most impact on you and why? Besides Milan of course.

CB: Stockholm. That’s where it really sunk in. It was 2005 and I was on a walking street downtown and I had this eureka moment; I was blown away by how individual and stylish that everyone was. It was at that moment that I realized there IS a market and people out there that would appreciate the designs and ideas that I had been doing and sketching my whole life, but had never produced. So I needed to do something about it!

VH: While you are designing for men, do you also consider what females would like to see on a man?

CB: Very much. In fact, 30% of my business comes from women who are buying for the men in their lives, or who are dragging guys to come see me. So I definitely think about what women find attractive. Certainly they appreciate well-fitting clothes, but they also appreciate things like colour. For example, women will notice and appreciate a guy that wears a light pink that works well with his skin tone.

VH: What approach would you take to tailoring a woman’s suit?

CB: I do in fact do custom womenswear. I don’t actively promote it, but women will seek me out and I do enjoy that business very much. I try to tailor my womenswear the same as my menswear in terms of the quality of construction. For menswear, the level of detail and craftsmanship is so high and that standard is lacking in women’s suits. So I would like to be able to bring that high standard of men’s tailoring to the women’s market.

VH: Do current “commercial” trends, fashion or otherwise, influence your design approach at all?

CB: I think it’s your job as a designer to be aware of the trends and even to anticipate them. But then it’s important to not blindly follow them or ignore them. My approach is about adapting the good trends that would appeal to my target market and fit my line, while ignoring the ones that don’t, but still remain aware of them.

VH: Designers are often asked what inspires them. Who or what components of modern culture would YOU like to inspire or impact?

CB: I want to inspire men to dress better! My mission is two parts: 1) To teach guys how to dress better and show them through imagery of examples of well-designed clothes, and then 2. To actually produce and sell the clothes.

VH: What current technological advances – machinery or internet, social media, apps – excite or scare you when it comes to the fashion industry?

CB: Well, I do believe that men are buying clothes online. So I have been challenged with that over the years because I like to see and touch and try on clothes, especially since fit is so important to me. But people are shopping online, so there will be an e-commerce section added to the next iteration of my site.

Social media is an interesting topic for me because my target market, being middle-aged guys with money, don’t use social media. They don’t give a shit about facebook or twitter; they don’t have a profile, they’re not on it. For my business, I mainly use it for relationship marketing or event marketing or to communicate with the fans or other media. But not so much with clients.

VH: Socially, is it interesting for your friends or clients to say we have a designer in our midst?

CB: Absolutely! I do get invited to a lot of events and parties. I’m a social guy, I love meeting new people; I like to get out and interact. So being a designer is a big plus. Although it can get draining, you can’t go out all the time, you need to “pick your battles”. And I prefer to do things that are more exclusive and low-key, like dinner parties, which are my favorite social activity.

VH: So when you’re attending these events or when you’re just kicking back or hanging out and getting away from work, is it difficult to turn that creative register off?

CB: You know what, it’s not something that I ever want to turn off. I cherish my imagination most. I think it’s the greatest gift that anyone can have, their imagination or creativity. So I nourish it, and feed it, I pay very close attention to it. I’m always ON.

VH: Last but not least, you’ve got to tell me about those socks!

CB: Yes, BOOM the socks! I love these (USA) socks. They’re not particularly patriotic, but I love ’em. If they had Canadian socks I’d totally wear those too. These are not my line though, I don’t make socks yet.

Fun Facts:

  • Christopher has a great sense of humor, and feels it’s important to inject humor into your designs. “Everything is all about glam glam glam! It’s good not to take it too seriously; it’s refreshing.”
  • He was a Graphic Designer by trade and worked at a marketing agency as a Project Manager before starting his own business.
  • He’s got a well-rounded collection of misfit hangers which he is proud of, mystified, and dismayed by. “When I loan out pieces to stylists they leave my studio on a black hanger. The pieces return, but the black hanger is gone! Did they think I wouldn’t notice?!”
  • Surprise! Christopher Bates is the personal designer for none other than Mz. Kookie Bunss!