Susan Langdon in the Toronto Fashion Incubator, where she is executive director. PHOTO: VALENTINE DELANDRO

Growing from girl to fashion guru

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By Dana Gornitzki

Susan Langdon is wearing a gray Misura suit by Joeffer Caoc, a hot young Canadian designer.

It must be easy for Langdon to find something fabulous to wear. A Ryerson fashion graduate, Langdon is executive director of the Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI), a centre that helps new designers. She recently won a Ryerson Alumni Achievement Award for helping young people — many from Ryerson — break into the fashion industry.

“I like to support Canadian designers as much as possible,” she says in the TFI’s bright, high-ceilinged foyer, part of an old manufacturing building in the heart of the fashion district near Peter and Adelaide Streets.

Langdon’s office administration is stuck in a snowstorm. Langdon calmly rolls with the punches, answering phone calls and greeting visitors while editing the monthly TFI newsletter.

It seems that events of Langdon’t life have unfolded just as smoothly. She follows her family motto: “Rely on yourself if you want to make it in this world.”

By Grade 10, Langdon already knew that fashion was her calling. At first, it was a toss-up between forensic sciences and something creative. That was, until a teacher named Vera Taylor recognized Langdon’s strength in sewing.

“I remember I got an exam back with 85 per cent. The comment write on it was “Congratulations, you will be the next Christian Dior,’” Langdon says. “I though, ‘Wonderful, but who’s she?’”

Langdon still sends Taylor the TFI newsletter each month. She even collaborated with her former teacher in 1990 to create a uniform for her old school.

Taylor told Langdon about Ryerson’s fashion program. “I breezed through the first year,” Langdon says. “After that, there were a lot of all-nighters. The workload was heavy but I concentrated on the fashion courses.”

Just one week after graduating from Ryerson, Langdon landed a job as an assistant to Canadian designer Mary Chong. She soon dove into the industry — working with other designers; launching her own label, Keiko (Langdon’s middle name); heading an evening wear line; operating her own home business — and all while teaching fashion at Ryerson and Birchmont College in Toronto.

By 1994 Langdon had a solid background in both design and manufacturing. That’s when a fellow Ryerson professor, Shelagh Stewart, who was then president of TFI’s board, told her she had been nominated for the position of executive director “ I was overwhelmed because [Stewart and I] had never spoken until that point,” says Langdon.

Within her first six months as TFI’s executive director, Langdon brought the artist residency program full occupancy. The transition to director from designer proved to be difficult at first because she missed the hands-on design work. “But then I realized the challenges and the skills that could be developed,” she says. “I’d like to lead the TFI into the next decade by increasing its awareness on a local, national and an international level. Already, other cities have been calling like L.A., New York, Tokyo, Sydney, Dublin…”

Langdon has been getting attention at home too. Most recently there was the Ryerson Alumni Achievement Award IN 1996, she received the Toronto Excellence in Fashion Industry Achievement Award for her work in mentor up-and-coming designers.

Langdon is now a mentor to many designers. Her advice? “It’s a small world and you never know how people in your life are going to affect your future. You should always keep this in mind.”

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