Thursday, January 31, 2013

Christopher Novak – Today Matters

March 2011 was my first interview with someone working for Holt Renfrew.  When I asked for a professional with years of experience for my Behind the Scenes column, the first name put forward was Christopher Novak.  He had a little less time in the industry than normal for this column, but at the interview it was clear his story was a perfect fit.  Charming, intelligent, knowledgeable and willing to share what it takes to succeed, it was also clear he loved what he did and the company he worked for. I have been told he has since been promoted.  His LinkedIn profile now lists him as "Director of Sales Holt Renfrew Bloor Street." but I have not confirmed this is correct. Welcome to the journey of a professional in the retail section industry of the fashion industry.


Image by Wayne Mah Photography
Two early influences shaped Christopher Novak's life. First was the discovery of Jeanne Beker and FashionTelevision while flipping channels. Fascinated, it became a weekend staple in his childhood and a source of inspiration. The second was a trip with his aunt to see a production of Les Miserables where he fell in love with theatre. The path that took him from those early moments to his his current position as Divisional Sales Manager for Cosmetics and Fragrances at Holt Renfrew Vancouver has taken him around the world. This is his dream job and he makes no bones about it – he is here to stay.

Despite his love for fashion and theatre, Novak bowed to family pressure and enrolled in Pre-Commerce at university. It was a first year theatre course he took for fun, however, that caught his attention. He quickly became involved in creating costuming and ended up being asked to take charge of the wardrobe for an entire play – Sex and Perversity by David Mamet. Then a chance meeting with a model scout changed his direction. He was signed by Armstrong Men in Toronto and headed off to Milan. He remembers, “I started out wanting to be in front of the camera and found myself more comfortable behind it. There is a lot of pressure and you have to have a thick skin. You realize you're not as special as you think when you go to a casting and there are a hundred guys who look exactly like you.”

Novak had a side job to help pay the bills when he was in Toronto – working at The Gap. One day they asked if he would like to try the position of Assistant Manager and he thought, “Sure, I can do this. I would organize it differently , I would speak to the staff differently and I would motivate them differently.” His kinetic energy, love of people, an innate talent for merchandising and constant drive for perfection led him quickly up the ranks. By the age of 24 he was living in Vancouver and managing the multimillion dollar Gap and Gap Kids Park Royal with a staff of 120 and 9 managers. Then he burned out. It was back to Winnipeg where he took some time off and finished his degree in Drama and English.

Being interview by Erin Ireland at Hot Renfrew's
Chanel launch in 2010
On graduation he returned to Vancouver and again entered the retail industry. To challenge himself, Novak chose to work in a different retail market. Although successful, he learned to be the best you can be, you need to have the right match between the product and your talents. A friend suggested he try cosmetics. After finishing one basic fundamentals course at BlancheMacdonald, he applied to be a counter make-up artist at Holt Renfrew and they took a chance on him. True to form, he brought all his talent, experience and energy to the position and was eventually promoted to divisional manager. “Here I am and I love it. My mind is constantly going, trying to figure out the problems, how to promote a product and how to get the right people. To me that's just really fun.”

A typical day starts with a short motivational meeting with his staff and then he walks the floor to check in with everyone. Novak also tries to meet individually with every one of his staff (80 in total) at least once a month. Working closely with the brand representatives and head office to communicate accurate information on any changes in the store's consumer base is also important. When a new company comes in to set up their counter, he helps them look at ways to represent their brand while blending into Holt Renfrew's. Fortunately Novak loves working with people. Hardest for him is when he has to let someone go. “I want everyone to be their best, but sometimes it's not a fit, sometimes it doesn't work. I believe in treating everyone with respect and sometimes that means telling them what you see. Even if they don't want to hear it, they need to hear it.” What is the best part of working at Holt Renfrew? “Regardless of where you work in this company, your opinion is taken. People listen. There is respect.”

Inside Holt Renfrew Vancouver
The biggest changes Novak has seen in the retail industry is the advent of social media. “It's not just about happens in the store. E-Commerce is a game changer, increased competition is a game changer and we have a really well-traveled clientele, so we have to be on our toes. It's the total customer experience."  As someone who interviews, he also had some advice to offer for those hoping to work in the industry. “Today matters. The job you're in right now is the vehicle you're driving, drive it the best way you know how. Be wow every day and do 110%. Someone will recognize it and that will get you your next job.”

Christopher Novak continues to look for new challenges. He tries to figure out what needs to be dealt with and take care of it before his boss even notices. While there are still many things to be accomplished in his current position, he is looking forward to the new challenges to be found at Holt Renfrew for years to come.

Holt RenfrewVancouver is located at the corner of Granville and Dunsmuir Streets in the heart of downtown Vancouver. For more information please visit their website at

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Monday night Vernard LUVNGRACE Goud and Bella Garnet Beauty Salon joined forces to offer Vancouverites The Parlour Yaletown Fashionshows Mixer.  I personally love the recent new direction of having these events in a variety of restaurants around town instead of in a nightclub.  The atmosphere is lighter, there is lots of seating and we can all try a new menu while we catch up with old friends and introduce ourselves to new ones. The Parlour Yaletown's menu had an appetizing selection of options, but looking around it was obvious the hand-made pizza was one of their specialties. I had a bite thanks to my wonderful friend Keiko Boxall of Studio Keiko and it was delicious.

First I would like to mention Tracy Cake.  This super stylish freelance make-up artist often is the person at the door who welcomes me to these events.  Her smile lights up the room and her unique style sets the mood for me from the moment I walk in.  Then there is DJ Angel of Boy Meets Girl.  She not only made sure the music was well-matched to the evening, but had a welcome smile and hug for all of us. This evening was hosted by Mandy Ross of Fashion TV.  Decked out is a black dress with fitted bodice and short bubble skirt that showed off her LONG legs - vintage Betsy Johnson from Timeline Boutique in Gastown - she graciously kept the evening moving along smoothly.

Left Tracy Cake, Middle DJ Angel, Right Mandy Ross - Images by Kuna Photography

Now for the fashions.  We were offered not one, not two, not three, but FOUR fashion shows (five designers) this evening featuring runway models from Numa. One would think four shows would be too much, but fortunately each designer had such a unique aesthetic that every show was a surprise.

Images by Kuna Photography
First down the runway was Trina Marie Cairns' amazing dresses created with an enormous amount of intricate detailing.  Fabrics were painted by hand, embellishment was done by hand, yarn was unraveled by hand - you get the idea.  The designs showcased are just a small representation of what this talented artist offers the fashion world.  Left above you can see the beautiful hand painting on the skirt fabric. On the far right is a dress that was her submission to the Cool VS Cruel fashion competition. It was chosen as a national finalist and in Los Angeles ended up taking 10th over all.  The feathery looking material in this dress was created by untwisting strands of yarn. The group photo is small, but I wanted to point out the v-neck dress in the middle because all the textural trim on the bodice was also done by hand.  Kudos!

Top Image by Ed Ng - Bottom images by Eugenio Flores
Paired with these dresses were hats by Hive Mind Millinery.  Designer Dominique Hanke has been blazing trails since launching her first collection about a year and a half ago.  The inventive hats offered this evening were a wonderful compliment to Cairns' fantasy garments. While I enjoyed all the combinations, my personal favourite was the peach hat - top photo above.  Hat and dress each enjoyed the same ethereal, feminine quality and their colours blended well. Two others that caught my eye are in the photos on the bottom above. The hat on the left offers the same fantasy element as the dress and the bowler on the right proved the perfect combination of model, hat and dress. It was a knockout on the runway.

Images by Kuna Photography
Rogue Designs is a relatively new line of edgy garments by designers Jennifer Van Vuuren and Valmai MacIntyre. This brand is not for the faint of heart.  Body hugging, short hemlines, sheer fabrics, leather strapping, metal accents, you name it - there is a definite young, hip slant to the collection. Tonight the palette was understated with the focus on tight silhouettes and texture (either in the print or the weave of the fabric). A good choice which let the daring designs stand on their own. Interesting shoulders, low-cut backs, bare shoulders/mid-riffs and a long evening dress created in see-through fabric - I think the best word to describe this collection is BOLD. I did miss the material spats worn over heels that they had included in previous shows. Hopefully we will see them again at their next event.

Image by Kuna Photography
Let's face it, swimwear is always popular on the runway and the Qispi Kay Bikini segment showcasing sexy modern swimwear by Peruvian-born designer Sandra Jazmin Higueras Salcedo was no exception. From the website - "Qispi Kay means Liberty in Quechua;the language of the Incas...We chose Liberty because our line is for the independent, strong, fashion forward, determined Qispi Kay woman, the one that has it all."  Lovely models in beautiful, well-cut swimwear - what more is there to say. My favourite on the runway was the white suit third from the left above.  I thought the subtle ruffle on the bottom was a great detail. Understated and elegant. The cut on all these suits, especially the bottoms, is youthful.  That means your well-toned derriere will be shown off to perfection. Colours were mostly white and tropical, with notes of orange in particular popping up throughout the show.

                                                                 Image by Eugenio Flores
Closing the evening with a theatrical BANG was Nancy Perreault.  This designer incorporates FLARE with a capital F.  Every show I have seen has included glamour, sequins, a bit of bare flesh and sometimes hints of androgyny in the male designs. I dug a bit to find a few of her own words. First her Facebook Mission gave what I thought was a great hint to her inspiration - "To have people be a rock star. Or just look like one."  Then there was a description of the aesthetic as a whole, "...inspired by a fusion of classic cuts blended with modern glamor."  Amen. It comes as no surprise that celebrities have come calling.  This evening we again saw lots of glitter and colour.  I couldn't find an image, but one unique detail I was drawn to was a sheer inset instead of a kick pleat in the centre back of the red velvet skirt. Perreault included one male model - Justin Voitic of Five Agency - to ramp up the fun.  Sporting Linda Farrow x Jeremy Scott Mickey Mouse Sunglasses  from Jennyfleur Loves Boutique in Yaletown, he brought the show to humorous close by hamming it up with each female model at the end of the runway.

Next on the list for LuvNGrace is 'LA SAINT VALENTIN ' on February 14th at the Waterfall Building in Vancovuer.  Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Brain on Fire - My Month of Madness

      "The existence of forgetting has never been proved: we 
        only know that some things do not come to our mind
        when we want them to." - Friedrich Nietzsche

I am an avid book reader.  When I am not reading fiction, my bent takes me back to my university days where I studied Psychology and Drug Abuse.  I love anything to do with people, how they live, what they think and more than anything, experiences that are out of the ordinary. This could include biographies or books with a focus on different cultures, learning disabilities or medical challenges.  My first real ventures into this area were a series of books by Neurologist Oliver Sacks (best known is probably The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat) as well as a 2 books by Donna Williams - a high functioning autistic - on her incredible journey (Nobody Nowhere and Somebody Somewhere).

When I recently was perusing titles online at Chapters, I noticed a book by New York Post journalist Susannah Cahalan titled, "Brain on Fire - My Month of Madness."  This one called me.  Here was a bright, intelligent and focused professional that lost a month of her life - in fact could have lost her life - to a medical condition that had only recently been discovered. She ended up seriously psychotic with no memory of that time. Had she experienced it even 2 years earlier, she would have landed in a psychiatric ward for the remainder of her life.

Interview with Katie Couric

Anti-NMDA-Receptor Autoimmune Encephalitis!  What a very long name.  Dr. Josep Dalmau published his first research paper on this condition in 2007.  2 years later Cahalan became the 217th person to be identified.  In this book she shares what she remembers of the distorted time leading up to her moment of crisis - hallucinations, paranoia, a fixation on apples - and then has tried to recreate her time in the hospital from interviews with family and medical staff, a journal kept by her parents and video footage of her on the epilepsy ward where she landed. By the time they finally had this definitive diagnosis, she was descending into catatonia and was unrecognizable from the person she had been up to this time.  Recovery was a very long, slow process and it was over a year before she began to feel like she was back in her own body, responding in a way that was in line with who she had been before. Memories of that month are gone and most likely will never return, a frightening concept for most of us. There is also a 20% chance of recurrence.

Article for the National Post

Calahan again and again mentions how fortunate she feels to not only have been properly diagnosed, but to have made a full recovery.  This is such a new condition that most doctors have still not heard of it - including the original neurologist (he had insisted she was an alcoholic) whom she called after the publication of her article.  A study of 100 cases reviewed in The Lancet - a medical journal - published the following statistics. 91 were women. 58 had a tumor (usually an ovarian teratoma). Those with a tumor had a better higher chance of recovery. All had psychiatric symptoms or memory problems. 76 had seizures. 88 developed decreased consciousness. 86 had movement disorders. 69 had autonomic nervous system instability. 66 had breathing difficulties.  Those with tumours had a better prognosis - no one know why. 75 recovered without residual problems and 25 died or had permanent severe mental deficits.  ONE IN FOUR EITHER DIE OR NEVER RECOVERED!

After having read this book, this double image of the author
is a very powerful one for me.
This is one book that will be staying on my shelf for awhile so that I can read it again.  It not only is well-written, but brings home how little it takes for our brain to malfunction and what that experience might be like.  I think the other question that arose for me is how many out there have been misdiagnosed with mental illness when the real problem is an auto immune reaction.  Hopefully continuing research will help to improve the chances of those afflicted with this silent menace.

Monday, January 28, 2013

From Stockholm to Vancouver, With Love

I don't know where to begin when it comes to guest writer Lisa Wong.  Technical writer by trade, freelance writer published in both Fame'd and Flare, highly successful blogger and so much more!  She is bar none one of the most talented and focused professionals I have ever had the privilege to work. Fame'd chose to recognize her contribution at their 2011 magazine launch - an honour that was well-deserved. Below is her Behind the Scenes article on jewellery designer Penilla Arhmsteadt published in September 2011. Enjoy!


By guest Writer Lisa Wong, Solo Lisa
All product photos from website.

Image by Wayne Mah Photography
Hailing from Sweden, Pernilla Ahrnstedt
followed her heart by moving to Vancouver in 1988 with her (now ex) husband. She had no idea what to expect of her new home. Compared to her native city Stockholm, a European capital rich in culture and history, Vancouver seemed a cultural backwater lacking in beauty and history. As the years went by though, her unfavourable impression of this city softened. She began realizing that the beauty of Vancouver lay in its mountains, greenery, blue skies and ocean, not in grand buildings and historic monuments. Although she tries to return to Sweden to visit loved ones every couple of years, these days she is proud to call Vancouver home.

Ahrnstedt stumbled upon jewelry design in a serendipitous way. She started off with a year of metal-smithing courses in which she learned to make bowls and spoons, then studied industrial design at Emily Carr briefly before discovering she hated the discipline. Her search for a new pursuit led to jewelry-making courses at Vancouver Community College; it was in jewelry-making that she found her true calling. Initial designs used silver, copper, brass and relatively inexpensive stones to save on raw material costs. 

She and a friend opened a small studio on Granville and Robson after she graduated from VCC in 1991. "We were upstairs in a building with a manually operated elevator," she recalls. The downtown urban landscape looked quite different then, although it was already on its way to becoming the glitzy retail hub we know today. Robson Street's mom and pop shops were disappearing to make way for large flagship stores from international chains. The local fashion industry was still in its early days. Ahrnstedt could simply walk into retailers and talk to managers about stocking her designs, something that new designers can rarely do these days with stiffer competition and increasingly formalized buying processes. She continued designing jewelry and working part-time jobs until having children forced her to choose one or the other. Luckily for fans of her work, she chose to do jewelry design full-time.

In Ahrnstedt's eyes, Vancouver fashion headed in two directions during the nineties. While downtown Vancouver became more cosmopolitan, Main Street emerged as a haven for all things local, quirky and indie. Designers and boutiques sprang up. Mainstream media started paying attention to the local scene. In the mid-nineties, papers like the Vancouver Sun began devoting coverage to homegrown art and fashion. "I think the increase in [large international] flagships will continue as Vancouver grows, but I hope it retains the crazy culture," she says, referring to this city's plucky independent spirit and informal approach to cultural expression. She has also seen the rise of institutions that we now take for granted such as Vancouver Fashion Week and Portobello West. "I remember when they started Vancouver Fashion Week," she reminisces before recounting how organizers had to "practically beg, borrow and steal" to put on a show and get reluctant designers and sponsors to participate.

A yearning to be part of the artisanal atmosphere of Granville Island prompted Ahrnstedt to apply for a lease there. It took seven years to get it, but she has been in her current studio space for ten years and counting and loves every moment of it. Shops on the Island have come and gone, but Aurum-Argentum, the studio she shares with two other jewelry designers, remains strong by focusing on locally made fine jewelry and custom projects. "When you start doing jewelry, you can do more mass-produced pieces or what I'm doing: more custom, more high-end. But whatever you're doing, it's fiercely competitive."

"When I design for myself, I draw on a lot of historical references like the antiquities and the Renaissance. The jewelry becomes an illustration in a story. I try to make jewelry that I like to wear. I'm not a minimalist; I'm a magpie at heart." Her sterling silver and 18 karat gold creations are bold hefty pieces. Oxidized and hammered metal textures, big chain links and bezel settings are just some of her style signatures. She loves working with tourmalinesspinel and rose-cut diamonds. At Aurum-Argentum, customers can admire examples of her ready-made pieces: earrings and necklaces with colourful stones in raindrop-shaped bezel settings, dramatic cuffs, intricate pendants inspired by Greek mythology. Some customers come in repeatedly to admire pieces they're saving for. "We call them, in the most loving sense of the word, jewelry stalkers," she laughs. Her custom work is just as popular. The process for a commission can take anywhere from a few weeks to six months depending on the size and complexity of the piece.

After two decades in business, what advice does Ahrnstedt have for fashion industry rookies? "Get your business in order. Bookkeeping, marketing...I still feel like I'm fumbling sometimes and it's nice to be more savvy." It also helps to have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish. "Know what you want to do. I think you have to know much quicker in your career today than before." As Ahrnstedt can tell you, talent and vision can take you to wonderful places, like a new city that becomes an unlikely home.

For more information or to view Pernilla Ahrnstedt's pieces, visit her website at

Friday, January 25, 2013

Success, Education, Intelligence & Limitations

by guest writer Krista McKenna of

       Social City Networking
       Get Warm Project
       Team Awesome
       One Piece Vancouver
       O World Project

What does it mean to be successful?

How many plaques do you need on the wall to be deemed as intelligent?

Why does it make someone more qualified if they have completed a Bachelor's degree? Master'sPhD?

Does intelligence only come from reading books.

Does being qualified only come from the jobs you've obtained.

Who is this person who says if you are above sub-par or not.

Do I really want to be limited to those ideas?

Do I care if I don't meet those expectations?

We (GenY) are taught from a very young age that if we want to be a 'success' in life today, the only way to achieve such is by investing thousands of dollars to enroll into classes of different categories to memorize and digest the teachings of experts. To read thousands of books, draw hundreds of diagrams, write thousands of essays- proclaiming that yes, in fact, you are intelligent.

We are also told that once we complete the years of education, our dream careers will come right after - the 
jobs are just waiting for you to step into it and POW - you are successful.  Is that real?  Do you really think someone is more capable once you know that they have degrees in their name, plastered to their walls?

I went a different route.  I saw books and classrooms with 100 students reading the same book as limiting.  It's not that I think academic strengths are worthless. Absolutely not! I personally just don't learn in that format. I like to learn from hands-on experience. From being right in the thick of it- asking questions, challenging the norm, being forced to react and understanding the repercussions of your reactions instantaneously.

Does that make me inadequate?

Because I chose that route, will I never succeed?

What do you deem as 'success'? What do you believe in? Who is 'right', and who is 'wrong'?

Get Warm Project Delivery!
Original One Piece design by Krista

Baked Tortellini With Sausage, Fennel and Mushrooms

Ancient Greek casserole and brazier,
6th/4th century BC
Meals during my young years were pretty standard.  Some sort of meat along with potatoes and cooked vegetable, followed by dessert.  It was in my pre-teen and teen years that casseroles became a staple - and a dirty word eventually as they were convenience recipes full of canned and frozen ingredients. This was the advent of Campbell Soup's campaign to make use of their condensed creamed soups (especially Cream of Mushroom) in hundreds, no thousands, of recipes.  They appealed to the average household as they made a super economical meal and were time savers. Women were heading out into the workforce in ever greater numbers and needed a way to keep dinner on the table.   Take 1 pound of hamburger, some frozen vegetables and a can or 2 of condensed cream soup, mix with a few other ingredients and VOILA!

Two of the most famous are Tater Tot Casserole (even 19 kids and counting show-cased this one) and Green Bean Casserole.  The super simple version I remember of Tater Tot Casserole was literally 1 pound of browned hamburger mixed with a can of Cream of Mushroom Soup placed in a casserole, topped with tater tots and baked. The green bean casserole was pretty much the same.  While I have never found an updated version of Tater Tot Casserole using fresh ingredients, I did find one for the Green Bean Casserole and shared it in a column called Make Ahead Holiday Dishes.

The basics of a casserole are an oven proof dish and a melange of ingredients to go in it that provide a one dish meal.  Mix or layer, bake and serve.  Many can be prepared ahead of time and cooked at the last minute.  Add a big leafy salad and dinner is ready.  Despite the notoriety of the condensed soup based recipes, it was interesting to do a little research.  Casseroles have actually been around a long time and enjoy a place in most cultures. From Wikipedia -

                 "In 1866, Elmire Jolicoeur, a French Canadian immigrant, invented the precursor of the 
                  modern casserole in Berlin, New Hampshire. The casseroles we know today are a relatively 
                  modern invention. Early casserole recipes consisted of rice that was pounded, pressed, 
                 and filled with a savoury mixture of meats such as chicken or sweetbreadsSome time 
                 around the 1870s this sense of casserole seems to have slipped into its current sense.
                 Cooking in earthenware containers has always been common in most nations, but the idea 
                 of casserole cooking as a one-dish meal became popular in America in the twentieth century, 
                 especially in the 1950s when new forms of lightweight metal and glassware appeared on the 
                 market. By the 1970s casseroles took on a less-than sophisticated image.

This week the Vancouver Sun shared 3 great looking modern casseroles - no canned soup, no frozen vegetables.  They look like great winter meals to warm you up on a cold night and are also convenient as they can be assembled ahead of time, but after trying all 3, the one below was the only one that stood out.  I have served this at 2 family get-togethers so far and have received rave reviews each time.  

Note - the recipe below has been altered to include my personal changes. 

= = = = =

Photograph by: Tango Graphie


This recipe adapted from the one in Everyday Celebrations with Maria Loggia can be assembled up to 2 days ahead of time.  What a great way to make entertaining easy!  Also - tortellini is filling so this is a hearty meal to fill up those growing kids with big appetites. It was a hit with my family both times I served it.

6 T             Extra-virgin olive oil 
1 lb.           Italian sausage, casing removed, meat crumbled
1                Large fennel bulb, trimmed, cute in quarters length-wise and thinly sliced, fronds reserved
8 oz.           Mushrooms, sliced or chopped depending on your family's preference
1 T             Fennel seeds
1 tsp           Whole black peppercorns
4                 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 1/2 C       Chicken broth
1 lb             Fresh Baby spinach
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

For cheese béchamel sauce -
1 C             Skim Milk
1 C             Non-fat cream or half & half
2 T              Butter
2 T              Unbleached all-purpose flour
1 C             Gruyere cheese, grated
2                 Egg yolks (no whites), lightly beaten
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 lb             Fresh tortellini, meat-or cheese-filled
1/2 C          Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus extra to finish
Finest quality extra-virgin olive oil

Pre-Heat Oven to 350 degrees.

In a LARGE, DEEP frying pan with the stove on medium-high, heat 4 tbsp. (60 mL) of the olive oil. Add sausage and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, breaking up meat with a fork. Add the fennel and mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until sausage and mushrooms are browned and fennel is tender, about 10 minutes.

In small food processor (I use a Magic Bullet) grind fennel seeds with whole black peppercorns. Add garlic, salt and 2 remaining T of olive oil. Process until well combined (original recipe does this with a mortar and pestle). Add to the sausage mixture along with the chicken broth and cook, uncovered, for another 8 to 10 minutes. Add spinach to the pan and heat through until fully wilted. Remove from heat and set aside. Note - this is a lot of spinach and you may need to add 1/4 at a time and keep adding until all is incorporated.  Although it looks like a lot, it wilts WAY down to just the right amount.

To prepare cheese béchamel sauce: (Note - I actually make all cream sauce in the microwave, but have put the more traditional method here.) Pour the milk and cream into a large measuring cup. Melt butter in a medium-size pot over medium heat. Add flour and stir with a whisk until lump-free. In a thin stream, add some of the milk-cream mixture, stirring with a whisk until well absorbed. Repeat, making sure each addition has been well absorbed before adding more liquid. When all the liquid has been added, cook 5 minutes more, until thickened Remove from heat and stir in the Gruyere. Whisk in the egg yolks and season with salt and pepper. Transfer béchamel to a large bowl, add the sausage mixture and stir to combine.

Cook tortellini in a large pot of boiling salted water until just al dente - no more. They will cook further in the oven. Drain tortellini and add to the bowl with sausage mixture and béchamel. Toss gently, until well combined. Lightly oil baking dish - I prefer 9 x 13, the recipe suggests a 14 inch round. Spoon in the tortellini mixture, top with Parmigiano. 

2 baking methods -

1. Bake uncovered  for 25-30 minutes. Serve. This works particularly well if you have family eating at all
                       different times, but is just plain easier when I am serving a crowd.
2.  Cover and bake for 20 to 25 minutes (should be heated through and cheese melted.  Remove cover and
                       broil a couple of minutes, until golden brown. Sprinkle with reserved fennel fronds and extra 
                       Parmi-giano, then drizzle with olive oil. This makes a nicer presentation for guests but you do
                       have to really watch it under the broiler.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

EFW - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Takes Centre Stage

Image by Ed Ng
I usually try and do an event write-up within no more than 2 weeks, but the fall season always seems to get away from me.  With 3 fashion weeks, 3 student grad fashion shows and numerous private events, it can all become a blur at times.  So while I do rue the lateness of this Eco Fashion Week write-up, it comes at a time when I can look back thoughtfully on the event.

October 2012 was the fifth season for this Vancouver event.  I missed the first season, but was there for the second. It was held in the SALT Building in the Olympic Village.  This beautiful space had lots of room to mix and mingle between shows.  A New York Fashion Week style tent provided an elegant setting for runway viewing.  Classy, well-run and full of intriguing eco-fashions, it was a great addition to our local scene.  The third season exploded into a enormous event in Gastown with a softer, more inclusive definition of Eco. There were a large number of booths set up for the designers so those attending could have immediate access.  The last two seasons have been offered at Robson Square.  It is back to that New York Fashion Week style tent and a more honed and mature focus on the Eco movement.

Images by Peter Jensen
Day one was a grand theatrical opening. Nicole Bridger is someone I first interviewed way back in 2008 and I have been a fan ever since.  She is a wonderful designer who makes easy to wear clothing  from beautiful eco fabrics that are perfect for today's market. She is also a truly nice person. This evening had it all. It included live music by jazz vocalist Jaclyn Guillou; inspiring talks from Aaron Smith of GoVoluntouring, Mark Brand who reopened Save-On Meats and Madeline Shaw of Lunapads International; and then a unique fashion show where Bridger along with Mala Imports melded contemporary dance (dancer's of course outfitted in Bridger designs) into their runway show. It was an uplifting evening and a perfect start to the week.

Photos by Peter Jensen

The second day of fashion shows really took me back to my first one-on-one with founder Myriam Laroche.  As she shared her passion for the Eco movement, one strong direction for her was the reuse of clothing.  I did a quick search and found this statistic on Earth Easy  - "12 million tons of textile waste is generated each year in North America amounting to approximately 68 lbs of waste per household per year! An astounding 5% of all landfill production is textile waste."  The negative impact the fashion industry has on our environment is huge. She wanted to encourage everyone to consider options such as vintage stores, thrift stores and Eco designers that make use of discarded textiles when looking to expand their wardrobe.

Image by Peter Jensen
In EFW's fifth season there was a strong return to this mandate, especially in day two's shows.  The Value Village challenge gave 3 stylists - Nicolette Lang-Andersen, Mimi Lauzon and Tony Vu - $500 to create a runway show from top to bottom - including shoes - from the stock found in these thrift stores. Vu shared the shoes were the toughest and it took many visits to fulfill that requirement. While my personal favourite was the tropical theme offered by Nicolette Lang-Andersen because I adore vivid colours, all 3 striking collections were well thought out and clearly showcased the potential of the clothing offered.

Media wall images feature Lang-Anderson - top, Lauzon - middle, Yu-bottom.

This was followed by the 68 Pound Challenge (the amount of clothing and textiles the average North American throws away each year).  Designer Kim Cathers of kdon had a brief 5 weeks to complete an entire collection of 30 designs from 68 pounds of Value Village recycled clothing and fabric (curtains, tableclothes, etc.).  What she was able to create in that short space of time was truly a surprise. Some were just minor changes to create a new look, some required completely taking apart the old garment and starting over. A great video on how this came together is available HERE.

Images by Peter Jensen
Day three took a wider direction.  First was a great group of designers from Quebec who brought their own unique selection of eco garments and accessories to the runway. Included were looks by Myco Anna, Ressac, Respecterre, Voyou and C5H8 and atelier b. It was a wonderful opportunity for the audience to have a chance to see what was happening outside of our local market.

Photo by Peter Jensen
Next was Vancouver designer Lindsay Walsh of Standing Armed. This season her classic and timeless aesthetic showcased the influence of a recent trip to Dubai. I love the note on her website talking about this collection's inspiration - "The expanse of desert lies before us, broken by the occasional mirage; only on the rarest of occasions by a true oasis.  An opulent haven amidst the bare landscape.  Nature flourishes; the lure inescapable."  Surprising was a new and daring sexy cut to several of the garments. Her looks have always been feminine, but previously it was with a subtler voice. The collection was strong.  I loved the flow of the garments and the unique fabrics incorporated. To learn more about Walsh, you can read two previous articles by clicking HERE  and HERE.

Images by Peter Jensen

Closing this season's runway was a designer I have known for a long time - Melissa Ferreira of Adhesif Clothing.  She was my 3rd interview ever when I began my writing career and it has been a joy to watch her mature as an artist over the years.  Last fall I wrote a retrospective of her work called Adhesif Clothing - I Remember!  It was great to see her close this season's shows as she embodies so much of what Laroche promotes.  The materials for her garments come from vintage garments and textiles.  For Ferreira, the unique characteristics of these materials add a distinctive personality to each garment. Add in a good dose of quirky fun and energy and you'll get a feel for both the designer and why her brand enjoys such a loyal following. If you haven't been there yet, I would suggest a trip to her boutique at 2202 Main Street, Vancouver.

Image by Peter Jensen
This season closed with a great selection of seminars - Textiles and Manufacturing, Labour and Manufacturing, Industry Trends, Consumer Behavior and Awareness and Upcycling and Recycling. Knowledge is power, so a focus on education closed the week with all "i's" dotted and "t's" crossed.  For more information on Eco Fashion Week, check out their website at

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Quality, The Perfect Fit, Unique Touches

This is the 6th in a series of reprints of Behind the Scenes articles.  If you haven't looked at the others, it's well worth your time.  All are professionals with over 20 years in the industry who share their journey and offer a window into how the industry has changed.  This article on Mendoza from January 2011 is by a truly talented writer who was also a great source of support for me.  I hope will she continue to put pen to paper.

                   Manuel's Philosophy: "Every woman no matter her age, has her own unique beauty; 
              it's up to me to define and enhance this natural beauty so she feels her very best and 
              is confident with her own special style. This one-on-one relationship with my clients is 
             why I am passionately committed to custom-work."
by guest writer Natasha Bhatnagar Chaube

Photo by Wayne Mah
ManuelMendoza is a Vancouver tailor, couturier and, most recently, a bridal designer. His store at 692 Seymour Street attracts clients who value quality, the perfect fit and unique touches. For over thirty-five years, a key to Mendoza's success has been his innate ability to understand a client's vision. Not only is he a creative director, but also an excellent businessman. Both facets are equally important to surviving in this competitive industry. He not only survives but thrives on the challenge, keeping one step ahead of the game.

Growing up in Manila, Mendoza's early encounters with fashion took place at a time when Manila was on a par economically with most other major cities in Asia (Tokyo aside). Fashion was part of the daily culture. Quality fabrics from around the world were readily available to dressmakers, tailors and couturiers. He claims that with all this at one's fingertips, it was easy to be creative. During his college years Mendoza's clothes were made by a local tailor. The clothes were basic and functional in design, but he believed he could do better. By day he would go to college and learn about finance and architecture, by night he would learn to sew. Realizing his passion, he entered fashion school, but found it was not a great match. "I found fashion schools too slow. Everyone had to wait for the slowest student. Six months into the course, I spoke with some of my instructors about whether they would consider working for an 18-year-old who wanted to set up a beautiful shop. They agreed, and that was my fashion education. Everything else has been experience, intuition, talent and, above all, common sense."

Real Wedding 2009 - Photographers Camille and Chadwick Bensler
Mendoza came to Canada in 1976 and landed a job as sportswear designer at Jantzen Inc. (manufacturers of swimwear and active sportswear). Here he could make a living while getting the `feel' of the Vancouver fashion scene. He goes on to say, "It is absolutely imperative to consider the kind of fashion that will work for Vancouverites. This is not New York, Paris, London, or Milan...We must be prepared to suit the local lifestyle, climate, and leisure activities if we as designers are to stay in business. A `sporty chic' look probably best sums up what is desired here for most occasions." Three years of working for Janzten and Mendoza felt ready to leave and start his own business. He has not looked back. 

Unforgettable by Kim Christie
While his clientele is broad-based, Mendoza is perhaps best known more recently for bridal fashion. It was not a market he initially looked at, but stumbled into by chance and rose to the challenge. "A designer asked me to make her a bridal outfit that she couldn't do herself because it was so difficult. It turned out to be easy for me." Mendoza has an almost uncanny intuition when it comes to design and adds, "To tell the truth, there is probably nothing you could ask me to do that I could not come up with, given the budget." To be successful, a designer needs to find a balance between his vision and what the clients want. Mendoza claims his bridal clients can be categorized into four types: "The Follower - wants a dress worn by celebrities or friends; The Individualist - wants an original dress, knows exactly the look she wants, no compromises; The Wealthier-than-Smart - wants to spend a bundle for a well-advertized label; and the Insecure Perfectionist - is ever in a panic about her decisions and keeps wanting to change the design." He plans to continue for " long as I can still find challenges in fashion as adapted locally. I shall want to meet them until I literally cannot see anymore." 
Real Brides - No credits on Website

In Mendoza's spare time he enjoys sustainable gardening, landscaping and developing eco-friendly urban dwellings. "In everything there is the potential to improve and enhance through design. That goes for both the human body and the space it occupies." His advice to up-and-coming Vancouver designers? Distinguish between growing a viable business over the long haul and trying to achieve celebrity status as the `in designer of the moment'.

Mendoza's success can be attributed to his patience, hard work, instinctive creativity and business savvy. "To develop a business requires patience to evolve step-by-step, gaining vast experience with people's bodies and psychology, clothing-construction techniques, personnel, business management and cost-effective advertising. Getting into the limelight, working with social media, putting on fashion shows, etc., does not necessarily lead to a viable sustainable business!! More often than not, I have observed, it goes nowhere without the evolution I just described. Above all, keep growing and expanding your range as a designer - a one-trick pony has a short life span in our fast-track world." Words of wisdom from a man of long tenure.

To view Manuel Mendoza's stunning work, log onto or visit his store at B-2, 698 Seymour Street.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Vancouver Sun Run 2013

The Vancouver Sun Run is now gearing up for their 2013 event!  Did you know the inaugural race was held a full 29 years ago.  According to former competitive runner Lynn Kanuka who competed in that very first race, the organizers had to use orange pylons to shout at everyone crowding the start line to step back. 

It has since grown into an amazing, inclusive event with start locations in various areas for walkers, recreational runners, competitive runners, wheelchair athletes and even a short family run. 48,904 people stepped out to participate in 2012.  Corporate teams formed groups to run or walk the event.  Mothers and fathers could be seen pushing kids in strollers.  Some joyful individuals even sported costumes! Over the years the Vancouver Sun Run has raised $1.86 million for designated charities.

I first noticed the Sun Run when my kids were in elementary school.  Neither my husband, I or our 2 oldest kids excel at running, but my youngest was always in constant motion.  Somehow we decided despite our shortcomings over to participate in the Mini Sun Run portion for families.  We could all manage to keep up with our youngest pint-sized runner - RIGHT?  Each child received a graphic t-shirt to colour with fabric crayons which we dutifully accomplished.  Race day came and we lined up towards the back of the crowd expecting a relaxed jog.  But at the starting gun our youngest took off and it was all we could do to keep him in sight.  That was our last year as we knew in another 12 months it would be hopeless for the rest of us to keep up.

Participants enjoying treats at the end of the race
In today's Sun you will find the first in a series of articles on how to train for the Sun Run as a walker, new runner or someone wanting to increase their times.  Each week will have a new schedule up that takes you safely through a proper training schedule and there will be many articles on subjects such as diet and injuries. No matter how slowly you go, it can happen.  There is also a download PDF if you want to print out a schedule to follow and links to various running clinics available. Below is a great quote by SportMed BC RunWalk Coach and Olympic medalist Lynn Kanuka.

                  "Do we need 50,000-plus people to go for a nice run or
                   walk? Oh my gosh, I'd be the first to say "no" and then 
                   in the same breath, I'd have to say 'yes.' All ages, shapes  
                   and sizes, it's the most empowering community
                   experience there is and worth setting a goal to 
                   complete in a way that's right for you."

It is amazing that this event draws so much community interest.  I love the fact it pulls people out of their homes to training clinics where they can get in shape with others at the same level.  Let's face it, having support is a big part of keeping fitness a regular part of your lifestyle. The people you meet at these clinics could become lifetime exercise partners.  I also love the fact it raises money for charity.  What I don't love is running.  I have tried several times and never once got that runners high.  It was very encouraging when one trainer interviewed in the Sun previously admitted the runner's high eluded him too.

Despite it all, there is still an incredible allure to be a part of this event at least one time in it's full 10K form.  Walk - run -walk - run.  Running still does not call me, but there is a stubborn side of me that feels the need to accomplish it as least once in my lifetime for the bragging rights. Then there is the practical side that says it would be safe and more achievable to just power walk it. Lastly is the 3rd side that questions whether I have the time to commit. The die is still not cast on this issue, but I need to make a decision soon as week one of training has arrived.

Want an idea of what you are facing to participate as a first time runner or walker?  I have put the first week's training schedule below for both.  More information on this event can be found on the website at  As far as what I will eventually do - you'll have to check back to find out. :)

 Note - all images are from the Vancouver Sun or the Sun Run websites.

Week 1 Walking Schedule
WEEK 1  JAN 19 - 25
Warm-up: Walk slow & easy for 10 min.
3 min. brisk walk - 2 min. recovery walk.
2 min. brisk walk - 2 min. recovery walk.
1 min. brisk walk - 2 min. recovery walk.
Do this combination 2 times.
Cool-down: Walk slow & easy for 10 min.
Warm-up: Walk slow & easy for 5 min.
Walk for 20 minutes.
Cool-down: Walk slow & easy for 5 min.
Warm-up: Walk slow & easy for 5 min.
Walk for 25 minutes.
Cool-down: Walk slow & easy for 5 min.

Week 1 New Runner Schedule
WEEK 1  JAN 19 - 25
Warm-up: Walk slow & easy 5 minutes.
Run 1 minute. Walk 2 minutes.
Do this 8 times.
Cool-down: Walk slow & easy 5 minutes.
Warm-up: Walk slow & easy 5 minutes.
Run 1 minute. Walk 2 minutes.
Do this 6 times.
Cool-down: Walk slow & easy 5 minutes.
Warm-up: Walk slow & easy 5 minutes.
Run 1 minute. Walk 2 minutes.
Do this 7 times.
Cool-down: Walk slow & easy 5 minutes.