King of Bay Street's Secret WeaponSunday, September 05, 2021
“Style is very important when presenting confidence. Your clothing must speak for you before you even utter a word. Your stylist must understand you and can grow with you as you go through various stages of transformation. Every image, every fabric, tells a story. The man responsible for creating my “King of Bay Street” alter ego in fashion is my secret weapon hiding in plain sight. Like myself, he comes from incredibly humble beginnings.
As an Asian-Jamaican/Trinidadian, he has expressed to me that he often has felt like he did not belong and has had to fight twice as hard (if not more) to get to where he is today. I related to him as soon as I met him, and knew I wanted to be a part of his artistic journey even if just marginally. He does not fit the typical mould of what is expected of us. No one expected to see an Asian man with a thick Caribbean accent dominate the fashion and art industry, but in he came, demanding respect and letting his craft speak for itself.
He taught me what sets us apart is often what makes us exceptional. Like myself, he has witnessed an impressive level of success and greatness. Whenever I have the opportunity to collaborate with him, we share stories about our Jamaican grandmothers and how they are single-handedly responsible for the men we are today.
I am reminded exactly how special and multi-faceted Jamaican people are whenever I surround myself with people like him who always seem to carry themselves with humility, respect and class.” — Wes Hall, Jamaican-born, Canada-based powerbroker and entrepreneur known in the business as 'The Fixer', is the newest addition to CBC's reality television series Dragons' Den.
As huge fans of Wes Hall, this IG post certainly piqued our interest. Style Observer (SO) went in search of his secret weapon and found Don Fabien Lee.
Don Fabien Lee by his own account was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Most of his family on his father Don Allen Lee's side are from Arima, the north-east part of Trinidad. He would, however, spend his formative years in the industrial capital located in the southern part of the island called San Fernando.
His mother, Lavern Maria Chuck-Lee, hails from Mandeville, Jamaica with other relatives residing in Montego Bay and Kingston. His parents (his father passed in 2011), both general practitioners, met at The University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. Don Fabien Lee recalls an interview at the age of 17 in which he declared his interest in becoming a physician. Enrolment in the faculty of business at the University of Western Ontario that segued into a course in art history and history of textile manufacturing and design would lead him down another path. Indeed, it was while at Western Ontario that his first attempt at sewing on a machine took place.
At Ryerson University he completed a BAA in Fashion Design as well as a seven-year non-paid apprenticeship that exposed him to hand sewing/machine operator training/bespoke tailoring tutelage) under his mentors/masters Messrs Tomasso Battista from Italy and and Spiridon Allagas from Greece would follow. He took over the establishment in 1999.
“To dress well is to show respect for others... and to value each other more than things” are words he lives by. “For me I do not aspire to embrace the elitism of being a tailor.”
His humility comes across in every sentence and in his quick recollection of those who influenced his journey:
“My family, and that family includes Professor Karen Wells (University of Western Ontario (UWO); Jack and Peg Fairs(UWO); the Battista family; the Allagas family, the Faculty of Fashion at Ryerson University. All the patrons who gave me experience and are continuing to support my team; the couturiers and tailors who practise their trade with humility and grace towards excellence; and my team at Trend Custom Tailors and 306 INC around me every day who work towards a conscious improvement in all we are and do for others.
So how did Don Fabien Lee meet Wes Hall? “Mr Hall made an appointment to interview me for the position as his personal tailor. I think it was the personal experiences we shared as immigrants from the Caribbean coming to Canada which struck a chord in him, eventually leading us to this point some decades later,” he explains. “There was no design brief. What you saw was Mr Hall's personal style already established well before becoming the first Black Dragon” he adds. Out of privacy and respect of his patron he reserves comment when asked about Hall's style.
He does have an opinion, however, on how influential the Caribbean voice is, in the world of fashion dominated by Europe and North American designers: “The Caribbean is a melting pot and therefore, I believe we are very rich culturally as we provide world-renowned leading artists who continue to permeate the global stage through music and the arts. The voice of the Caribbean Diaspora is in the circuitry of many of the leading European houses and can be found in the workrooms of many well-known brands. Internationally, some voices are already making their mark, such as Rihanna (Fenty) and are proving that we, as a region, have cachet and substantial influence. Others have already been honoured by royalty like the Savile Row bespoke tailor from Trinidad and Tobago, Mr Andrew Ramroop OBE and world-famous mas-man/costumier Peter Minshall. Let's not forget every single local person making a living in these wonderfully humbling trades serving their communities directly around them and bringing pride to everyone.”
He also believes that the look of the gentleman's wardrobe will change “on some levels for some of us, yes!” as we emerge from the pandemic.
“Well, I do believe the fabrication will change and embrace/incorporate stretch qualities in various ways. Also, the definitions of what a workplace environment looks like, will change, influence and guide the liberation of the professional dress code. Through this influence, we will see more exploration of individuality based on an established classic approach. This approach will demonstrate a base of classics, exploration, and education of self with fabrics and style being used to more freely express individuality.”
It's difficult for Don Fabien Lee to identify his preferred fabric. “Identifying my favourite fabric is a complex answer. My first degree is in textile manufacturing and design. It is for this reason I have an appreciation for all materials that can be used as media in building a functional wardrobe. I would say, though, that I have an even greater appreciation for naturally occurring fibres that are used in traditional methods of weaving. The magnificent fabrics that are produced reflect the terra and beauty of sustainable and natural resources transposed by the human touch. Fabrics made in this manner are not inert, but rather alive and breathing.
When it comes to colour his response is: “It's dependent on the collaborative experience coupled with the inspiration found in the deep level of service towards the patron's desires.” The typical mood of his atelier is deeply pensive and “in”tensionally energised and charged ... We have had original music composed for us by our musical patrons. Their music inspires us. It fills our space with an important and personal soundtrack representing memories of the journeys we share with each other and all our patrons at Trend Custom Tailors.
Don Fabien Lee is a Caribbean gentleman and a formidable tailor whom we are honoured to have met.
Trend Custom Tailors Inc
Address: 306 Sherbourne Street, Toronto ON M5A 2S1
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