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Remembering David Livingstone: The man who knew outfits and interviews inside out

David Livingstone died of heart failure on April 20 at the age of 69.

My first encounter with David Livingstone was memorable only because he made me feel like a complete idiot.

It was 1988 and we were at Milan Fashion Week, walking out of the Romeo Gigli show, held in an empty garage. He was fashion writer for The Globe and Mail, I was reporting for The Toronto Star. He asked me what I thought of the show and I made the mistake of telling him. He shot back with a number of reasons why I was wrong. I stood my ground. We became the best of friends.

Livingstone died of sudden heart failure on April 20 at the age of 69. His love of tobacco contributed to recent lung issues. But Livingstone seemed to prove there is no correlation between smoking and memory loss.

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Many times we would be watching an outfit come down the runway and he would lean over and say something like, "those shoes remind me of that song …" and then he would quote the lyrics of a jazz tune sung by someone I'd never heard of. Long before there was an Internet or easy access to databases, Livingstone was salting his copy with obscure references from films and literature.

Photographers and publicists who sat in on his interviews with designers, actors and models all have stories of the depth and breadth of his knowledge, and how he applied it to the seemingly trite world of fashion.

"We did a lot of celebrity portraits at TIFF and we would go in and have 7 minutes with Charlotte Rampling or someone like that," recalls photographer Christopher Wahl, who received his first magazine assignment from Livingstone. "He was a massive fan of cinema – he would see one film by a Hungarian director then hunt down their entire library. He was always so well-prepared at interviews, he would form an instant, genuine connection. He put his heart and soul into everything he did."

Livingstone's dedication to editorial excellence was both staggering and maddening.

"I had to give him fake deadlines," says Lil Lozinski, former publisher of The Look and Men's FASHION, where Livingstone was editor-in-chief. Story meetings lasted hours. The phrasing of photo captions tormented him for days. Freelance stylists would be grilled on every garment and accessory they had called in for a shoot, and asked to defend why they had chosen a certain sneaker shape or shade of camel.

But his prose was unbeatable. A diamond cuff bracelet was "as wide as a crosswalk." The lighting in his overpriced European hotel was so bad, reading his laptop was "like trying to read the marks left by a stick in dirty water."

Many were frightened by Livingstone's intellect, and he could be ornery, a disposition not helped when he became deaf in one ear after a doctor punctured his eardrum in the early '90s. Boisterous cocktail parties and any event with a deejay left him disoriented and cranky. But one-on-one, and in quiet surroundings, Livingstone charmed.

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Hermes Canada CEO Jennifer Carter recalls being nervous when interviewed by him in 1992 about the opening of the brand's Bloor St. flagship. "We went for breakfast and started talking about the Maritimes, because my parents were both from there. I thought why is everyone so frightened of him? He seemed so interested in me. We spent about 3 hours together."

When Carter secured brief interviews for Livingstone in Paris with Hermes designers Claude Brouet and Veronique Nichanian, he ended up spending hours with each woman. "David was held in very high esteem by everyone at Hermes," Carter says. "They considered him in the top 10 fashion journalists in the world."

"He asked questions no one else asked," notes Dawn Bellini, senior director of marketing and public relations for Hugo Boss Canada. "Often it was about the button stance or why you had to have something on a lapel. Interviews went way over time. He took much longer than anyone else. But to him details and the back story mattered."

Interviews with Canadian designers were approached in exactly the same way. "He never made Judy and I feel like we weren't as important as any international designer," says Joyce Gunhouse, who designs Comrags with Judy Cornish. Livingstone covered their first show in 1983, held soon after they graduated from Ryerson. "He didn't want to talk about skirt lengths. The conversation was about books and movies. He always made us think. And afterward, we would reflect and grow from that."

The lack of accuracy and context in today's 140-character world irked my friend and colleague to no end. But that didn't stop him from mentoring young talent when he saw potential.

Judging by his wardrobe of rummage-sale finds and hockey sweaters, Livingstone could give the impression he took no interest in his own attire.

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But when publicist John MacKay e-mailed him to ask what he was wearing to receive an award from the Toronto chapter of The Fashion Group International, his response was: "Dear John, Hugo Boss suit black in fine, light wool, single-breasted, two-button jacket, American sac style but with European double-vent and flat-front trousers, just a tad low-rise but not too narrow." Livingstone also won a lifetime achievement honour from the City of Toronto Awards for Excellence in Fashion in 2001.

Born in Glace Bay, N.S., in 1948, Livingstone graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in English literature."He was always bookish, always going to the library," says younger brother Lloyd Livingstone. In his youth, he loved to sketch and draw, and was already plugged into fashion trends. "I remember meeting him downtown one day when those Dr. Scholls sandals with the little leather strap and wooden soles were in style. I heard 'clack, clack, clack' coming down the escalator."

Livingstone joined TVOntario as a print editor but he also had a thirst for pop culture and it wasn't long before he was writing about music, photography and fashion for The Toronto Star, Chatelaine, Saturday Night, Macleans and Toronto Life Fashion. He joined The Globe and Mail as fashion writer in 1983, and left to help launch Elm Street in 1996. He became editor-in-chief of a spinoff, The Look, in 2002 and editor-in-chief of Men's FASHION in 2011. He left Men's FASHION last year.

Livingstone leaves his daughter Alexandra Gair, brothers Johnny, Lloyd and Stephen, nieces, nephews and many friends who loved him dearly, including me.

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