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By Liivi Sandy

His crisp, fuchsia shirt is telling of a man whose career is driven by pizzazz alone, but thriving Ryerson fashion graduate, Joeffer Caoc, claims that a ruthless attitude is the only way to succeed in the industry.

“You beg, borrow and steal,” Caoc cries to a novice designer who asks how to achieve success during the Design Exchange’s Speaker Series on the future of Canadian fashion.

Caoc is speaking on a panel with two other Canadian designers, one of whom graduated with him from Ryerson in 1994. The discussion is led by Fashion Magazine’s Tammy Eckenswiller.

“Surround yourself with people who believe in your vision,” says 29-year-old Caoc.

While noting the influence of his seamstress mother and engineer father, the Philippines-born designer says growing up in multicultural Toronto has given him a lot of ideas.

Tonight, he’s introducing his Misura clothing line’s fall/winter collection. The colours and designs create a bright mix of sophisticated employee meets night club vixen style.

Fabrics he uses are suggestive of today’s pop culture, his latest collection heavily influenced by hip hop. “The whole thing is psychology,” he says adding that “wearability” is the key to wowing a consumer.

Caoc synchronizes fabric, fit and detail to create clothes that give a taste of what’s seen on television without going too far. “No one wants to be so trendy,” he says.

His retailers include Zola, Holt Renfrew and Finishing Touches.

All his clothes are designed for women, and have been seen on celebrities including Britney Spears, Sandra Bernhard, Estella Warren, Deborah Cox, Lauren Holly, Angela Bassett, Jill Hennessey and Jeanne Beker.

He smiles when he mentions that he’s recently dressed Cindy Crawford. Coac says this kind of international recognition is proof he’s on the right track.

And although he says it’s flattering to see such high profile celebrities wearing his clothes, he says he’s equally grateful when non-celebrities choose his clothes because they feel really good in them.

After only six years in the industry, Caoc has quickly become a fashion icon. He credits his training and experience at Ryerson with helping him gain the drive he’s needed to stay afloat in such a competitive industry.

He says school taught him the technical skills he needed to get connected to his field. “You have to go out there and see how reality is.” Caoc says the most successful students he met during school were those who weren’t afraid to push the boundaries.

“School is where you can experiment and not have to worry so much about saleability,” he says.

So was he really that ruthless? Caoc says he’s never done anything too scandalous, aside from going on a few dates with people he couldn’t stand in order to learn about the chaotic field he was getting into.

“But I didn’t sleep with anyone,” he says.

To gain recognition as a student, Caoc entered competitions regularly, and was persistant. Since graduating, he’s received an Alumni Achievement award from Ryerson University, won three City of Toronto Excellence in Fashion Awards, including designer of the year in 1999, and was named as one of Maclean’s top 100 people to watch.

The discussion on the future of Canadian fashion is brightened by Caoc’s quirky sense of humour. The panel talks about the threat of massive conglomerates, the designers’ muses, and how other countries perceive Canadian fashion.

“People are starting to realize that we don’t just make snowsuits,” Caoc says.

But despite this changing perception, Caoc says it’s still a tough business. “Every artist asks themselves am I really good enough to do this? It has to be a passion because the money is not that lucrative.”

The worst part of the job? Caoc says it’s getting tugged in so many directions.

“I’m heavily medicated,” he quips, and this time you don’t just notice his shirt, but his eagerness for turning a risky career into plain fun.

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