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There is something incredible about Stephan Caras Design, that is, something besides their impeccable garments of course. The atelier based in Toronto is a family run business with the intention of keeping blood in the brand for as long as possible. Stephan, the founder of Stephan Caras describes himself as demanding, difficult, but loveable, and his business partners (Wife Sharida and Son Kyriako) can’t help but agree. Fanique Magazine had the opportunity to meet with the trio in the pink-hued Maison Caras located on Queen St to talk family, feminine, and future of the brand.
FANIQUE: Let’s start all the way at the beginning. How did the company come to be Stephan Caras Design Inc.?
Stephan: I like thinking I ended up in Canada at the right time. Designing is a challenge, it’s very difficult to get started. It was financially demanding and required serious commitment. I was a new, young, and inexperienced designer, so I made some serious mistakes like other young designers do. It becomes a problem when your love and passion oversees other things. At one point you take a chance and you say, “I can do it”, and that’s what I did.
FANIQUE: So how did your wife Sharida end up becoming your business partner?
Stephan: She was my partner before she was my wife actually.
Sharida: I had a retail store in Toronto with a partner. A retail agent actually had started to represent Stephan’s brand, which is how I was introduced to it. I purchased the collection to try it, it was a little bit out of my price range, I didn’t even think I could sell it. But it was beautiful. It was all black and had colorful stitching, I had never seen anything like it. Stephan and I began talking back and forth, and through the course of that interaction, we actually started to date. Eventually, my partnership fell apart in my business. It just made sense that Stephan and I would work together. Even when we weren’t officially working together, when we would come together socially, we would end up talking about work. We decided to both put all of our energy together into Stephan Caras Design.
FANIQUE: That’s quite a love story! How about the involvement of your son Kyriako and daughter Dion within the business?
Sharida: Well, we had Kyriako in the middle of trying to get the business going. Everything was challenging for us at the time. Now he designs with Stephan. It’s lovely because he’s our fresh set of eyes. Our daughter Dion also helps us, she deals with phone calls, styling, whatever we need her for and she wants to do.
Stephan: I have a lovely story about Kyriako’s first sketch actually. Whenever I came home after work, around 2:00 AM, Kyriako would always wake up. As he got older, he started to ask why I would come home so late so I explained that I was drawing and preparing new collections. So at one point he says, “How many more designs do you have to do?”, I told him numbers and stuff. One day when he was in the studio with us, he showed me 5 or 6 designs and said, “Here, so you can work 5 days less.”
FANIQUE: Kyriako, do you remember how your interest in fashion blossomed?
Kyriako: It all began there with those sketches you could say. The majority of my childhood was spent in the studio with my parents. Stephan was very practical about me being there, he would get me to sew sequins and other things. Being with [my parents] my whole life in the industry, made getting involved seem like second nature to me.
Stephan: We never forced him into it. It was practical and he was interested.
FANIQUE: We hear way too often from business owners that they strongly advise against working with blood. You guys, however, have just done that and have been successful. Can you describe the challenges?
Sharida: Having a business with family is a challenging period. It can get difficult at times when you express things in a certain way- sometimes you will take that extra liberty of expressing things you wouldn’t have if it was just an employee. Because it’s family you almost feel like you can, which does not mean that it’s right. On the opposite side of the coin, sometimes you feel like you draw back from saying things. These are very real challenges that we have. But, having said all of that, if you do find the way to make it work, on more occasions that not, it’s the best thing in the world.
FANIQUE: How did you make it work? What advice can you give to our readers who are hoping to start a business with their family?
Stephan: Basically it comes down to maturity. Even though I might not like what they have just told me about a design, or anything about the business, I love them and respect them. We have to realize we have the same goals here, and once we do that, we find success.
Sharida: I’d say the basic rules are maturity, respect, compromise, and the ability to listen to each other.
Kyriako: If I may add, respecting the industry itself is crucial as well. Since we have the same goal and love for the industry we’re in, we can work together.
FANIQUE: To shift gears a bit, let’s talk about the influence of femininity in the brand. Stephan, you’ve been recognized as the designer who loves women, have there been any specific women in your life that have served as an immediate influence on your designs?
Stephan: There hasn’t been anyone specific, but in general I love women, in the sense that I have never mistreated or misspoken to a woman. For everyone I believe, it all starts with your mother. I love my mother, I loved and respected her so much for everything she was giving me. It spilled out for me to every woman eventually. Every woman eventually becomes a mother. “The designer who loves women” came from how the public felt about how much I loved making each woman feel so feminine in my clothes. My clothes really enhance the femininity and beautiful features of a woman. It doesn’t mean I love my wife or some other woman, it’s about my love for all women in general, and my passion for making a woman feel confident.
FANIQUE: What is it that makes a woman feminine?
Stephan: It’s her self-assurance and confidence. Every woman, in every size, can be feminine. She can still exude femininity as long as she is in an environment she feels comfortable in. My goal as a designer is to bring this out.
FANIQUE: Comfort for your consumer is definitely important, but as a designer, becoming too comfortable means static designs. How have the Stephan Caras staple pieces changed over the years?
Stephan: Everything changes. Our bodies, our minds, the weather changes every day. The current music makes me express myself differently, which makes my designs different. Same with the people around me. Now that I have Kyriako around with me, that changes things too. As long as you are living the moment, and are influenced by the moment, everything will change, but everything will be fine. However, I never, ever follow trends. I try not to look at any body’s clothes or look at magazines. Instead, I look at how I’m feeling or what fabrics I have. To me, fabrics are women I am supposed to connect with and get to know. I create by figuring out what the fabric wants to become.
Kyriako: You look through the evolution of our designs over the years, and you’ll see a commonality. The way this changes is really driven by the women of the time. Our expression has always to been to create an elegant and timeless piece that any woman can wear. How this is translated is really dependent on society. Now women aren’t being told what to wear and are instead dictating the direction of the designers. I think the reason we’ve remained successful as a company has been our ability to work with these developments while staying true to our philosophy.
FANIQUE: You described earlier that fabrics are women that you connect with. Can you explain that a little more?
Stephan: Creating a new collection starts with what fabrics we have with us. I touch the fabric, which I consider to be a woman and I treat her how she wants to be treated. By this I mean I listen to her and I give her what she wants. If I can tell that she likes to dance, she will transform into a dress meant to be danced in, see what I mean? Some collections don’t work because the designer tries to force a fabric to do something it isn’t meant to do, we never have this problem because we always listen.
FANIQUE: What in your opinion does timeless really mean? We hear that word thrown out a lot in the fashion world.
Stephan: By timeless, we mean that it can be worn at any time. Why? Because the objective of our clothing and our brand is to always promote being feminine. Femininity has existed since the first woman and will exist forever, so our clothes will be relevant for as long as women exist and want to feel feminine. It’s because we don’t pay a lot of attention to trend, most of our clothes don’t really go out of style because they are not tied to a specific time period. I will never make a woman look trashy or sexy even. If it’s being accepted on the runway as a part of what’s trendy at the time, I don’t care. I am focused on sensuality and making a woman look tasteful.
FANIQUE: So what does the future of Stephan Caras have in store? Kyriako, you have two young daughters, are you hoping they will somehow become involved eventually?
Kyriako: As long as my father is alive, knock on wood, my father will always be working and designing, I just know it. I can see myself calling him in the future for his opinion about designs or anything really. It wouldn’t be designing for me if I couldn’t feel my father’s presence. If my daughters wanted to eventually become involved, I would be very open to that idea. I would love to keep Caras as a family run business.
ABOUT Stephan Caras (www.stephancaras.com)
Stephan Caras was born in Corinth, Greece, and educated in Melbourne, Australia. As a teenager, Stephan Caras immersed himself in the world of fashion and acting where he attended the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, the Fashion Designer’s Academy of Melbourne, and the St. Martin’s Theatre School. As a young designer, Stephan Caras’ innovative and distinctive style earned him the “Gown of the Year” award in Australia, and was the wardrobe designer for the winning contestants in the Miss Universe, Miss Queen of the Pacific, Miss Teen International, and Miss World pageants. Stephan Caras’ career includes designing with formidable fashion houses such as Guy Laroche, and Hermes in Paris.
Throughout the years, Stephan Caras has been invited to various international fashion events. He has shown his collections in Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, Osaka, Hong Kong, Athens, Cyprus, Toronto, and was featured at the finale of the “Igedo” opening Gala fashion show in Dusseldorf, Germany. In some of these events, Stephan Caras has shared the stage with Emanuel Ungaro, Christian Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Zandra Rhohdes, Isaac Mizrahi, and Donna Karan.
Stephan Caras’ status as a top tier designer has recently earned him a spot in CEO World Magazine and Runway Magazine’s “List of World’s Top 20 Fashion Designers” as well as the “Top 25 Most Beloved and Inspiring Fashion Designers of the World”.
Stephan Caras’ odyssey has taken him on a journey throughout five different continents, where he has developed an international vision for design. This vision, coupled with his experience, establishes a new standard of elegance for women within his designs that are masterfully draped, well tailored, and that emphasize femininity and luxury. Stephan Caras designs for the self assured woman of today. Her subtle sensuality and feminine simplicity are never out of mind. Stephan Caras has rightfully earned the title of “the designer who loves women”.
ABOUT KYRIAKO CARAS
Kyriako Caras was born into the world of fashion where he spent most of his childhood in the design studio of Stephan Caras. As a young boy, Kyriako was exposed to the intricacies of design and began to experiment with the elements of creativity and fashion. Kyriako’s inspiration for fashion grew and developed into a passion. Entering his teen years, Kyriako’s extensive travels abroad provided continued and valuable insight into the fashion world and also ignited his curiosity for culture and history.
As a young adult, Kyriako began to design alongside Stephan Caras where he developed his creative distinction. His exposure to the world at an early age served as an inspiration for his studies in History and Anthropology at the University of Toronto, and his studies abroad with the University of California, Berkeley. Earning an Honours Bachelors of Arts in Archaeology at the University of Toronto, Kyriako used this as a platform of inspiration for his passion for design. Kyriako developed a keen sense of artistic expression, coupled with his knowledge of culture and history.
Kyriako designs as part of a lifelong synergy and interplay between design, expression, and beauty. Femininity is expressed both through shape and fluidity. Luxurious and bold statements are coupled with the softness and beauty of the female form. Kyriako designs as an expression of humble beauty exaggerated by sensuality and motion. As a young designer, Kyriako represents the future of the CARAS brand.