When Christopher Bates was 26, he saw his future flash before his eyes. He knew, without a doubt, that he was meant to work in fashion.
But when lightning struck, it didn’t illuminate visions of his current reality as a renowned luxury Canadian menswear designer whose list of celebrity clients include José Bautista, DeMarre Carroll, Michael Shannon, and Don Cheadle, among many others. It didn’t show Nordstrom as the exclusive Canadian department store retailer of the eponymous Christopher Bates men’s ready-to-wear collection for the Spring/Summer 2019 season; or that the Christopher Bates for Harry Rosen footwear range, in its fifth season, would be expanding to multiple locations across Canada; or that he would launch a sneaker collaboration with MTV.
What he saw in that flash was much less glamorous. “I saw a long and difficult struggle but ultimately triumph,” he says, seated at a showroom in his hometown of Toronto (visiting from his adopted home of Milan). “And I was willing to do it.”
When Bates was just starting out, young and eager to make his mark on the world, he met with Vancouver shoe designer John Fluevog, who asked the question: “How brave are you?” Ten years later, Bates admits he hasn’t hit all of his goals, but he is certainly walking bravely in the right direction. What his current successes prove, and what distinguishes them as major milestones, is that they were only made possible by a passionately charged sequence of events—as if he lit the end of a fuse all those years ago and has yet to let it fizzle.
“We should do something together,” were MTV Canada president Jon Graham’s words to Bates when they met. “How about sneakers?” The duo went on to meld 1990s rock-and-roll nostalgia (metal studs, black patent leather, shiny gold and silver soles) with Bates’s contemporary Italian aesthetic to create “some pretty crazy sneakers.” Four unisex styles are available at Gotstyle in Toronto.
Bates debuted the collaboration with MTV at 2018’s Toronto Fashion Week along with his Spring/Summer 2019 collection, which is set to retail at Nordstroms across Canada—considered a major milestone for a Canadian designer. Inspired by vintage tennis and cycling athleisure wear, the made-in-Italy collection includes a strong focus on technical fabrics and modern tailoring. “Getting into Nordstrom has been the biggest breakthrough of my career,” he says. “To have my product in their store, I mean, it’s world-class. They carry billion-dollar brands.”
His ultimate triumph would be to have a presence in all the major fashion cities around the world. “It’s Nordstrom, check. MTV, check. But what are we working towards next?” Bates says. “I know it’s going to be hard but I’m positive and optimistic, even in the face of doom or crazy odds. The things that might scare a normal person don’t scare me.”
And that circles back to his answer when Fluevog asked about bravery: “I’ll do whatever it takes.”
“I would ask the same thing to a young designer now,” Bates continues. “You have to have thick skin because the amount of rejection is staggering. If my first collection was a home run, like a John Galliano, it would be different. But I don’t think I was ready. I had to go on this journey.” The thread of bravery throughout his career offers a synoptic view of Christopher Bates as both the man and the brand in the present day. The path to get here would not whittle him, it would wield him. That is what he saw when his future flashed before his eyes.
Stay in fashion.