As the editor-in-chief of ELLE Canada, Vanessa Craft has been one of the most prominent champions in Canadian fashion for over a decade. Now, Vanessa is making her TV debut as a judge on Slice's new fashion competition series Stitched, and is about to show the world exactly why she's such a trusted authority in the industry. From just the first episode we see Vanessa deliver thoughtful critiques with a cool elegance that makes you instantly trust her every word — even when she’s going head-to-head with fellow judge, and Canadian fashion icon, Joe Zee.

We sat down with the venerable judge to get the inside scoop about the premiere season of Stitched, as well as her studied take on Canada's contribution to the fashion industry

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Slice: You are the first black editor-in-chief at any of the ELLE magazine’s. How fitting does it feel that this accomplishment happened in Canada of all places?
Vanessa: It’s pretty special. There are 46 editions of ELLE around the world. It’s nice to be the first, but I think it would also be nice for us to move past just having [had] a first, and celebrate inclusion across the board.

S: What was your career path before joining ELLE?
V: I left Toronto when I was 18 and I moved to London, England where I lived until I was 31. When I did come back to Toronto, I very specifically knew that I wanted to work in lifestyle journalism. I love communicating and connecting with women so I segued into beauty journalism because that’s such a great democratizer and leveler. [That’s] how I ended up at ELLE Canada as a beauty director in 2008, and I became editor-in-chief in 2016.

 

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S: Was working in fashion always the end goal?
V: Yes, but I had a very non-traditional career path. [In] my twenties I was lucky enough to spend [time] exploring any drive or interest creatively that I had. It meant that I was often eating spaghetti hoops in England… but I was learning and finding my way. What I love [most] about fashion is its ability to transform and tell the world about who you are without you necessarily having to say anything. So for me, the idea of putting something on, it sends a message; it makes me feel good and it makes me feel happy or empowered.

S: So after leaving all those years ago, you’re now back in Canada and judging up-and-coming North American talent – do you feel like you’re having a “full circle” moment?
V: It was a little strange to come back! I saw Toronto through fresh eyes and I really fell in love with Toronto the second time around. When you’re a teenager your focus is so inwards and so insular. One of the most interesting things when I was in England [was] that so many people would say, “You’re from Canada? Why would you leave!” It reminded me of the view that the world has of Canada. Also, coming back to Toronto and really seeing the growth of the city, the people, and the energy of the city was really special.

S: Are there any specific Canadian labels or designer that are pushing Canada’s position in the fashion game forward?
V: Many! Many, many, many. If you look at the ones who now work internationally there’s Erdem and the Dsquared² boys. Canadian designers have come such a long way, and it’s still such a hard industry where you need so much support behind you. It’s one of the things I get spoken to most from our readers, [they want] more Canadian talent, and [they want to know] where they can shop and support Canadian talent.

S: Like you said, brands like Dsquared² have international appreciation, but doesn’t it feel like it’s been a while since a Canadian fashion brand made it on an international scale?
V: It depends on if we’re looking at high fashion because, of course, there’s the Lululemons of this world. We have these brands that are really very successful but they’re not necessarily what you would associate with the runway.

S: You have undoubtedly come across so many garments in your lifetime, but were there still moments on Stitched where you were genuinely wowed by what the designers created?
V: Yes! There was a moment in particular that I think of even now; Joe and I were moved by one designer in particular who we could really see working in Paris. We were really surprised by the energy, the point of view, the story telling, and the sophistication. There were lots of times where I was surprised with what people could come up with in the limited amount of time that they had. I was just reminded about why we love fashion; what it’s really about is not just the glam side that we often see in the pages of magazines like Elle Magazine, it’s about the blood, sweat, and tears. [The experience] was just really special.

 

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S: Did you have any struggles jumping into the judging seat for the first time?
V: Of course. You’re dealing with people who are vulnerable, so you want to be respectful of the person standing in front of you [who has] their heart and soul on the model. At the same time, you need to be realistic and offer constructive criticism and advice [on] how to edit things down. A lot of the times when you’re a new designer you end up throwing everything in there, and a sign of maturity is knowing what to leave out.

S: Did you find it easy telling the designers what they needed to hear?
V: The good thing is that I have Joe. Joe and I would often bounce back and forth off of each other. He might’ve loved something that I didn’t or vice versa. So it was great to have somebody around to discuss the deeper excitement we were having [for these garments], or what we were hoping to see [next] from a designer. It is a differently environment for me, certainly. I’m much more comfortable in [my] little cave writing a story.

S: Was it hard eliminating the contestants until you found your winner?
V: sometimes it was. You have to think about if [we] judge by potential, or do we judge by what we’ve seen that day. Of course we judge by what we’ve seen that day, but if it’s a designer who we know is having an off moment that’s a really hard call to make.

S: Were you surprised by the level of talent you saw from the designers this season?
V: We didn’t know what to expect even when we started. On our very first day when we sat in those chairs we were like “well…let’s see how this goes!” Then we got to see so many incredible designs and it was never-ending. I was just like being in a candy shop, it was great.

S: Did you learn anything from Joe or Kim during that experience?
V: From Joe I learned energy – I’m pretty low-key and Joe is the opposite. Joe is such a positive guy and he always has quality advice. He is such an icon in the industry for what he’s done, seen, and who he’s worked with. So if Joe is giving you advice, you should really take it – unless I’m giving you advice, then you should take mine!

Kim is the most lovable, goofy, beautiful, intelligent and stylish woman and she really helped glue us together and keep us on track when we might have been going too far.

S: How does it feel now that the show if finally coming out and you’re playing a part in launching some of these designers and careers?
V: We were just so excited and pumped to be doing this. And so excited to have something like this coming out of Canada – we’re so proud.

Tune in to Stitched Sundays at 9e/p on Slice!