They say if you can’t do, teach, but Ryerson alumnus Farley Chatto is an exception. The 46-year-old Regina-native has had his own clothing line for 27 years, apprenticed with Giorgio Armani, showcased at World MasterCard Fashion Week, and has dressed celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker and Drake.
The Toronto-based designer graduated from the Ryerson fashion design program in 1991, but returned to his roots when he took up a teaching position within the faculty of fashion in the fall.
Initially he was brought on to teach a fur design course, but later his contract was extended to teach menswear design in the winter semester.
“The school has given me so much and I’m very grateful for what they have given me. I’m very humbled and honoured for the training I received. But the fact that I’m giving back, I think for me, is the biggest thing that I’m enjoying,” said Chatto. “What we’re trying to do is (help students) so that they understand the reality of what they are learning. We aren’t making half of this stuff up because we’re crazy — although we are — (we’re doing it) so they realize that when they
leave, this is how the industry works and this is actually what we do.”
It’s clear that Chatto cares about his students: Dressed in a sunny yellow Lacoste polo, Chatto enters the third-year menswear design class he teaches with Timbits in hand for his students, who are putting the finishing touches on garment projects due that day. Chatto tells them they have been working hard and need some sugar, as some of them have even stayed overnight to complete their work.
“He knows what we’re going through so he’s very understanding that way and it helps,” said Nadia Franchuk, one of Chatto’s third-year students. For Franchuk, hearing Chatto’s industry experiences first-hand is inspiring. “It gives hope to me because sometimes you lose hope and you get discouraged when your things don’t come out right. He’s setting an example for students.”
Over the past year, Chatto has held workshops outside of class time to help his students who asked for sessions on tailoring, one of Chatto’s specialties. The workshops became so popular among students that the chair of the school of fashion, Robert Ott, approached Chatto to start developing a course on the topic. “I definitely should be back again. I’m working on (the course) now but there has to be enough students interested in taking it,” said Chatto. “We thought that something should be done to keep the art form of tailoring alive.”
Chatto made his first tailored garment, a white tuxedo, for a party in high school. “My cousins all wanted to wear white tuxedo jackets. So I tried looking for one but couldn’t find one. I asked my mom if she would make it and she said I should make it. That started the ball rolling,” said Chatto. “I started making clothing for myself — I’d go after school to buy fabric, do my homework and then afterwards would make clothes and then I would have new clothes for the next day.”
In Grade 12, Chatto was also accepted into Parsons The New School for Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, but decided on Ryerson in order to maintain his Canadian identity. In his third year at Ryerson, Chatto was selected by the city of Toronto as one of the top emerging designers to look out for. As a student, Chatto describes himself as being “type A” and was always very involved.
“(In school) they called me the ‘fashion-whore’ and I wore that with pride because I was always doing everything: I was always at every show, working backstage and I volunteered for everything,” said Chatto. “If people and fellow students had questions I would help. My parents are teachers, so it was always in my nature to help people.”
Years later, the designer still thinks its imperative that young designers take advantage of opportunities to be more involved in the industry, much like he did while he was in university. According to him, getting to see “the beast in action” reinforces the training given at school and is key to success.
As Chatto was given these opportunities as a young designer, he believes in paying it forward to his students. Last week, Chatto gave some of his students the chance to assist backstage at Toronto Fashion Week.
“He really knows a lot about the industry, and the best thing is that he wants to share it all with his students and more. He will do anything he can to help us achieve our goals,” said Grace Alateras, one of seven students who helped backstage. “The experience was invaluable to me. Being behind the scenes of a fashion show is always busy and exciting — a glimpse of what our futures might be like.”
Backstage after his show, Chatto almost gets lost behind the hoards of cameras and reporters surrounding him. For designers hoping to be where he is one day, Chatto insists on one thing: Work hard.
“Don’t stop. Keep it going. It doesn’t happen overnight and you have to dig through the trenches.”