By Alyssa Fraser
Kandra Francis’s parents didn’t want her to study in a fashion program, so she secretly built a portfolio, snuck to her interview at Ryerson, and was accepted in 1993.
Lucien Matis left his parents’ tailor shop in Romania in 1999 to come to Canada and study fashion at Ryerson, agrees.
Now both are making names for themselves on television. Francis, 35, and Matis, 27, fill two spots on the Canadian version of the Emmy-nominated U.S. series, Project Runway.
Hosted by international supermodel and fashion icon, Iman, and judged by industry experts, Project Runway Canada is on Mondays at 10 p.m on Slice.
In the past, some of Project Runway’s contestants have been rookie hopefuls with a passion for fashion, but Francis says that didn’t cut it in Canada.
“Everyone on this show has actually worked as a designer and has accreditations behind them. You won’t see any arts and crafts this time,” she says.
Francis promises that we’ll see lots of drama. “There are 12 creative designers, so there’s a lot of ego involved.”
But he says there’s only love between him and Francis since the Ryerson pair ended up being roommates in one of the three apartments.
“When we walked into our room together, we said, ‘This is the winners room. One of us has to win.'”
Since Francis and Matis have different design styles— Matis’ Euro-inspired and avant-garde, Francis’ modern and classic—they don’t see each other as competition.
“At the end of the day,” says Francis, “fashion is all a matter of personal taste. It’s a hard thing to judge.”
Though they find inspiration in different places, both designers say they owe some of their success to their training in Ryerson’s fashion program.
“It definitely got me ready for the pace and the scrutiny of the business,” says Francis. “The professors are fierce and they want perfection. In sewing, if you’re off an eighth of an inch, they catch it.”
Francis stayed for three years, but when her grandmother passed away, she said she lost some of her spunk.
Matis, who fast-tracked through the fashion program and finished in three years, agrees that there’s no better name for a budding Canadian designer to have on his resume than Ryerson.
But he says he found the program “a little bit outdated,” and he wished more of his professors worked in the fashion industry while they taught.
The competition has been tough. “I think we all thought we were going to walk in and pick up the check and leave,” says Francis.
“But after the first day we were all like, ‘Alrighty then. We’ve definitely got competition’.”