Must be in their genes: Canada's style setters have even cooler moms

The Globe and Mail

(Matthew Tammaro for The Globe and Mail/Matthew Tammaro for The Globe and Mail)

Style setters aren’t just born – they’re more than often moulded by moms with flair to spare. At least that has been the experience of these young Canadian tastemakers, for whom mum’s the word when it comes to inspiration.

Jean, Byron and Dexter Peart

Some kids are precociously style-savvy. Others are entrepreneurial. When Jean Peart discovered that her twin sons, Byron (left above) and Dexter, were tapering classmates’ pants for a small fee, she knew that they were both. “We were fashion merchants at a really young age,” Dexter jokes today.

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Based in Montreal, the brothers continue to build upon their early enterprises as the founders of Want Les Essentiels de la Vie, a line of accessories that stand out for their refined, streamlined design. Last year, they opened their first retail location, The Want Apothecary in tony Westmount. And they’ve just launched another retail space in collaboration with niche French brand Maison Kitsuné at the NoMad Hotel in New York.

The Peart brothers’ style, an understated sharpness familiar to those who read Monocle magazine and know their Acne from their A.P.C., can best be described as effortless. But effortless chic is in fact often learned from somewhere or someone and the twins are quick to cite their mother as a primary style influence.

Jean has always been “on trend,” Byron muses, noting her fondness for prints and florals accessorized with a statement piece. Adds Dexter: “Our mom has always had a strong confidence and I think the clothes she wears embody that. She was never one to spend a lot of money on expensive clothing, but she has always had a knack for seeking out beautifully made things. She instilled in us a belief that the value of a product was not automatically dictated solely by its price.”

Jean, for her part, attributes her style to growing up in Jamaica. “You always wore things that matched,” she says. “And if you were going out to a place, you had to look good.” Those high standards also applied to what her boys (there are two more brothers, Conrad and Kevin) wore to school: Ripped jeans, for instance, were always vetoed.

“She would say that it reflected on her and that it was important for us to present ourselves in a welldressed manner,” Dexter says, adding that, “still today, we find ourselves opting for cleanly tailored looks.”

Old lessons, it seems, die hard.

Linda Lundström and Mosha Lundström Halbert

Growing up with a Canadian fashion legend for a mom, 25-year-old Mosha Lundström Halbert learned the importance of self-presentation early on.

“I distinctly remember my mom wearing such powerful clothes to work each day: head-to-toe red, a bright yellow dress with a floor-sweeping duster, a metallic tunic,” Lundström Halbert, who is Flare magazine’s fashion news editor, says of the designer and selfdescribed phoenix. (Happily, the elder Lundström has bounced back after filing for bankruptcy protection in 2008, designing again under the auspices of new financial backers.)

“Now that I’m also career dressing,” her daughter continues, “I keep her influence in mind and wear something assertive, never sloppy. It’s amazing how much smoother the day goes when I get my outfit right.”

Polished and well-spoken, Lundström Halbert has a self-assured sense of style that comes from knowing what she likes. “I rarely waver from sixties silhouettes – tuxedo pants, smoking jackets, silk button-up blouses and full skirts paired with pointy pumps,” she says. “Before it all gets too ladylike, though, I’ll add an acid green Proenza Schouler bag or neon belt.”

Her mother, who doesn’t shy away from extreme glamour, no doubt approves, having instilled her daughter with a distinct sense of occasion. “When in doubt about what to wear as an invited guest, err on the side of more dressy rather than more casual,” she says, repeating her advice to her offspring.

More valuable still were Lundström’s directives on fit. “She taught me to have my clothes properly tailored to my specific shape, to highlight my waist and to always hide that weird, squishy armpit area between the shoulder and the décolletage – the ugliest part of every woman,” she says. “It’s sound advice that has stuck with me.”

As a result, Lundström Halbert will dress for herself and her figure, not to satisfy seasonal whims or the expectations of others. “That said, I still send my mom iPhone outfit snaps for her approval. I trust her opinion above anyone else’s.”

Maria and Ania Boniecka

There’s a reason why Calgary-based blogger Ania Boniecka, 26, looks so good in clothes – and it has nothing to do with the fact that she’s also a model.

Boniecka, who documents her minimalist-meets-punk personal style at www.aniab.net, credits her mother, Maria, a 65-year-old accountant and former retailer, for allowing her to experiment with fashion at an early age, creating an ease with clothes in the process.

“My mum has always been an inspiration to me,” Ania, who has razor-sharp bangs and a penchant for black, says via e-mail from Alberta. “Making the move from Poland to Canada in order for me to get a better education and standard of living is something I will always be grateful for. And it’s thanks to her that I was able to start modelling and enter the fashion industry at an early age, to travel and to learn all the things that I now know. She always had a lot of trust in me.”

According to her mother, that trust was well placed. “She will take what I have to say and follow my advice, but she adds her own ideas and uses her modelling experience to create something unique and special.” At the same time, Maria is an effective counterpoint for Ania to the cyclical nature of fashion. “The most valuable lesson she has taught me about clothes and about style in general is to choose quality over anything else,” she says. “There are things I see my mum wear that have really stood the test of time and are still relevant today.”

Indeed, the trust that Maria placed in Ania appears to have extended both ways. “She’s the first person that I take advice and seek approval from,” Ania says of her mother. “That will never change.”

She adds, with a refreshing modesty for someone so young: “I always try to choose style over trends. But I still have a lot to learn.”

Dan and Deborah Divine Levy

As fans of his popular stint at MTV Canada will recall, Dan Levy’s on-camera persona is an appealing mix of obvious self-confidence and disarming self-deprecation. The former MTV Live host’s compelling personality is matched by his forward personal style, which he has cultivated both onscreen and off. (Full disclosure: As a friend, I have seen the contents of his closet). Here’s the interesting part, however: For all of the obvious similarities he shares with his father, the actor and SCTV alum Eugene Levy, his fashion proclivities are much more pronounced than those of his decidedly unpretentious mom, Deborah Divine Levy. Only recently has he begun to appreciate her broader approach to style.

“She’s the one person who has taught me that fashion is not the be-all and end-all,”

Dan says from California, where he now lives. “She’s not a girly girl; she’s a strong female force in my life and what she has taught me has little to do with fashion and more to do with restraint and seeking out quality and simplicity.”

Now in his late 20s, Dan can’t pinpoint when he came to obsess over the likes of Hedi Slimane and Jil Sander, but he does remember actively critiquing his parents’ outfits years before fashion policing became a recognized form of punditry. In retrospect, Deborah’s casual approach to dressing up “never missed the mark,” Dan realizes now, citing a David Dixon dress she wore to the Oscars one year as a highlight. Then there was the evening not too long ago when she ended up at a dinner party with Tom Ford – wearing a grey T-shirt.

Needless to say, Deborah doesn’t pay much attention to labels, which means that a Balenciaga jacket or pair of Alexander Wang flats will end up in her wardrobe solely because she likes the fit or design. “Because she doesn’t pay attention to what’s going on, her approach is pragmatic,” Dan explains.

Since moving on from MTV Canada – and from Toronto to Los Angeles – just over a year ago, Dan has had the opportunity to reflect on some of his on-air sartorial trademarks, including the oversized floppy bow ties that his mother discouraged. “We wouldn’t always see eye to eye,” he admits. “But now that I’m approaching my 30s, [her]conservatism is playing a part in terms of the clothes I wear. When I invest in high fashion, it’s no longer as trend-driven; it’s what I will have decades from now.”

Rana, Samantha and Caillianne Beckerman

Rana Beckerman’s aesthetic counsel to her 31-year-old twin daughters, Samantha and Caillianne, has always been simple: “Be open to trying different styles and, when you find one that makes you feel fabulous, wear it with confidence and a big smile.” It’s good advice, but there’s just one hitch: The bubbly Beckerman sisters are inherently incapable of settling for just one.

Instead, the Toronto-based designers of a namesake fashion line and bloggers for www.beckermanbiteplate.com have made their mark with a determinedly eclectic mix-up of looks and references. “One day, I’ll be wearing an outfit that is super-colourful and whimsical and the next I’m a total jailbird, wearing black and white stripes head to toe,” Samantha says.

“My style,” Caillianne chimes in, “is a wonky mosh pit of colour, faux fur, men’s-wear-inspired pieces, rock ‘n’ roll and patterns galore. I love to mix everything.”

In fact, the sisters’ sense of adventure, both fashion and otherwise, is inherited from their mother, despite Rana’s advice. “She has tried so many styles over the years and that has definitely rubbed off on me,” Samantha declares. “In the eighties, [she embraced]big-shouldered [Claude]Montana suits; in the nineties, it was geisha chic, complete with a black bob. She is a real chameleon when it comes to fashion and right now her style is so effortless – anything she puts on always looks incredible.”

Rana’s example, her playfulness and her unabashed love of clothes inspired both sisters to pursue careers in fashion. As Samantha puts it, “my mom has always been fascinated with the construction and the fit of clothes and that has made me a better designer.”

More significantly, Rana has also conveyed to her girls that clothing choices reflect more than the latest trends. (As avid animal lovers, neither Rana nor her daughters will wear real fur, for instance.)

“She has taught me that fashion isn’t all about what you are wearing,” Caillianne says. “It’s also about what kind of person you are and she influences me every day to be a better person.”

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