Canadian fashion designer David Szeto

In an age of maximum exposure and global connections, many designers are well-versed in visibility marketing. They’re on Twitter and Facebook and blogs every day – all, perhaps, except  David Szeto. The Brussels-based Canadian designer has built a cult following around his stylish and timeless clothes, without having to resort  to seasonal shows or press advertising. Having recently moved to Saint-Gilles, he took time out to discuss sartorial influences, flattering women’s bodies and what bloggers have learnt from celebrities.

You sell your collections to prestigious stores like Barneys in New York or Selfridges in London, yet you’re one of the most discreet designers I’ve ever met.

Are you trying to say I’m invisible? (laughs) It’s not that I didn’t want to have fashion shows before, but most of the time I was not ready for them and had to finish the clothes.

Do you tend to be late then?

(Laughs) Have I always been late? Perhaps. I work with a small team. We spend a lot of time on cuts and getting things right. It’s all very time-consuming.

Are you a perfectionist?

I’d like to say I am, but I don’t think everything’s perfect.

Do you obsessively rework the same items?

I think every designer will do a piece at least more than once in their career and go back to it, again and again. It happened in my case because people wanted more clothes and buyers kept asking me for pieces I had made before. A separate collection grew based on my archives, which I ended up selling to stores. I always tweak things a bit and change cuts, trying to improve on them.

You use high-quality fabrics and your clothes are luxurious.

I think luxury is a term that holds many different meanings, but I noticed that buyers value the fact that my collections are coherent. If you’re looking for a certain intensity in a colour, then you have to choose the right fabric, and this fabric will influence your cuts. Everything is connected, from the way a garment falls to how it’s finished. One of the buyers I sell to once told me that my clothes were different from others, because they were very round. It’s true, in the sense that I don’t press anything and love the idea of not going against the fabric and respecting it.

My clothes fit and they flatter women. Isn’t that what fashion is about?

How do you explain your success?

My clothes fit and they flatter women. Isn’t that what fashion is about? Before a piece goes into production, we usually have six or seven fittings. There’s a lot of thought put into each garment. Clothes don’t pop up instantly. We drape on the mannequin and have a model who tries everything on.

Is there a Couture feel to what you do?

Yes, there is. I do refer to Couture elements, but comfort is an essential value for me. Haute Couture used to be constricting and often not so pleasant to wear. It doesn’t matter how elegant a woman looks, she still has to be able to move. I think that relates directly to how I dress everyday. If I expect my own clothes to be comfortable, I also want women to feel the same way in my designs. If someone spends a certain amount of money on their clothes, they want other people to notice they have made an effort, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t feel at ease.

Who are your main fashion influences?

I would say Calvin Klein. He’s always been a reference and one of the first designers I really followed. I studied at FIT in New York and he was really huge at that time. Yves Saint Laurent, Comme des Garçons and Madeleine Vionnet have influenced me, too.

What’s your take on fashion and celebrities?

I thought the whole celebrity thing was over (laughs). Ten years ago, it really made a difference having a celebrity endorse your clothes, but now bloggers are behaving like them and becoming more influential. Look at fashion shows now: people are more and more interested by what’s happening on the street and what insiders are wearing in the front row than what’s showing on the catwalk.

Has your business been affected by the recession at all?

People pay more attention to what they spend their money on, but certain markets are growing, like China and South Korea. Women seem to crave luxury there. They’re hungry for designer goods, probably because they were deprived of them in the past.

How do stores get to know about your clothes? Is it all word of mouth?

It’s funny, because I know that buyers wear my clothes when they travel and that’s probably how they get noticed by other stores.

Do you think that makes your collections more exclusive?

It just happened, I guess. Celebrities wear my clothes, but they pay for them. A blogger contacted me recently asking if I could send her some pieces so that she could promote them. It’s all about the freebies now, right? I don’t do things this way. I never have.