The Genteel
February 27, 2021


Caitlin Power, 25-year-old Toronto-based designer. Source:

Generation Y is an ambitious one. Young individuals are not only finding success earlier than any generation before them but they are also finding greater courage to follow their dreams in increasingly difficult industries. Fashion is one such trade in which youthful determination is rife.

Marc Jacobs launched his first collection at 23, won the Council of Fashion Designers of America "Women's Designer of the Year" award at 29 and began his 16-year tenure as creative director with Louis Vuitton aged 34. With the announcement last month that he would be stepping down from this much-coveted position, the industry found itself asking: who would replace him? [Editor's note: Louis Vuitton confirmed appointment of Nicolas Ghesquière - 11/04/2013]

young designer calla haynes

Calla Haynes, 33-year-old Toronto-born designer

It seems likely, after watching Olivier Rousteing take the helm at Balmain in 2011 at the age of 26, and Alexander Wang become the creative director of Balenciaga at 28, that Jacobs' successor will have yet to see his or her 30th birthday. Keen to understand the motivation behind hiring younger talent, The Genteel spoke with three Canadian designers who established their impressive careers from an early age.

"Fashion is always intrigued by the new - so starting out, there is that advantage," says Calla Haynes, a Toronto-born designer now based in Paris. "The inexperience and naivety of youth is also what helps you dive in head first - if you knew better, you never would have dared."

Haynes, who is 33-years-old, has spent the past 10 years making a home for her label, CALLA. As she explains, fashion design is all she has ever wanted to do. Her journey towards a career in fashion began at Parsons School of Design in New York, while after her studies, Haynes worked under the likes of Olivier Theyskens at Rochas and Nina Ricci.

Her hard work has been rewarded along the way. She has been nominated for several awards, including the ANDAM Award; an extremely prestigious French prize given to promising young fashion designers. While her bold prints and feminine silhouettes are beautiful, it is clear that Haynes' success comes not only from a talent in design, but also from a good sense for the industry.

"I plan to continue to grow by increasing sales and brand visibility, [and] continue to consult for other brands and develop those relationships," says Haynes, who knows what it takes to stand out in the market and has a strong vision for her business. "Eventually, I want to open a flagship store in Paris and do sales online as well."

The inexperience and naivety of youth is also what helps you dive in head first - if you knew better, you never would have dared. 

Haynes has collaborated with several brands, including Samsung and 3 Suisses. It would seem to be through these kinds of collaborations that young designers are able to make a niche for themselves. In working outside of the fashion design box and pushing their skills in order to be relevant in other industries, they are able to strengthen their brand and separate away from the crowd.

Adrian Wu is no stranger to such ventures either. He is 23 and has been designing clothing under his eponymous label for five years. His talent has made his name recognisable not only in the Toronto fashion community, but also across the country. 

"When it comes to fashion, I really understand my own talents and my own strengths, which lie in the business of aesthetics," says Wu when speaking to The Genteel. However, "I really am still trying to find a purpose."

At the moment, Wu is focused on creative consulting and collaborating with notable brands like Kraft and Edelman PR. He has also bought a 3D printer and is interested in exploring industrial design. Wu believes his generation is obsessed with media and technology. This is what has given him an edge in the industry - being aware of change, and being prepared to learn and adapt as that change happens. 

However, he also feels that the social pressure placed on his generation fuels success. "Some 18-year-old is a physicist already," explains Wu. "It can be stressful to see so many people seem like they are successful, and it can really affect us. I think we have a generation of people who are working their butts off because they know that's what they want."

Wu often speaks beyond his years, and he accepts that there will be obstacles along the way. "Good luck getting a 60-year-old man who owns six corporations to take your business idea seriously if you don't know how to present yourself properly," he adds pragmatically, highlighting the importance of preparation and confidence. "A lot of my friends have different assumptions about how the world works."

Adrian Wu Young Designer

Adrian Wu, 23-year-old Toronto-born

Caitlin Power, an up-and-coming Toronto-based designer, also recognises some of the challenged faced by those seeking youthful success. As she explains to The Genteel: "The press is always looking for new designers, but it's also hard as a new designer to get into boutiques and build a name [...] Boutiques are looking for well-established designers. They don't want to pick up a new brand because there are so many wrinkles that need to be ironed out with a new brand."

Power, who is 25, recently showed at Toronto Fashion Week for her fifth consecutive season. Since establishing her eponymous brand in 2008, she has received critical acclaim for her impeccably tailored and edgy womenswear collections. Next up for Power is growing her business with online shopping, and continuing to perfect her craft. While being young within an industry with so many established designers has many challenges, Power also recognises the advantages.

"I think you're more creative when you're young because you haven't really had these setbacks," she remarks. "You haven't had that many sales meetings and you're still just sticking to your own aesthetic. You're not jaded." This fresh hope for success is the beauty of being young; for those continually striving, it can sometimes often be the curse. 

However, the ability to be new and talented in the fashion industry is extremely coveted. Drive and ambition is what takes a great, young skill to the forefront. Watching Marc Jacobs leave Louis Vuitton after 16 years spent transforming the company is bitter sweet. It will be sad to no longer see his influence on the brand but also exciting to see what a new, and likely young, designer will bring to the fashion giant. After all, if they new better, perhaps they wouldn't have dared.

Related: Young Designers' World

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