Can the pressures of looking as stylish as your partner sink a relationship? Caitlin Agnew talks to coupled-up Canadians – from society duos to dandy DJs – about matching their mates
According to British tabloid lore, it was a dress that made Prince William fall madly in love with a commoner. When Kate Middleton wore a transparent, strapless number down the runway of a 2002 charity fashion show (not her greatest sartorial moment to be sure, but she redeemed herself with that McQueen wedding gown), she sealed the fate of young Wills, and the United Kingdom, too.
The greatest love stories of our time often qualify as ménages à trois, where the frisky third in the mix is fashion. One need only to look at Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and their controversial 2014 Vogue cover to understand the astronomical increase in chic factor that comes from finding your sartorial soul mate. More recently, the magazine conferred fashion icon status on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, praising their shared "stylishness, good humor, and friendly garrulousness" via a tender, Oscar de la Rentaified photo shoot. The Beckhams, the Carters and the Jolie-Pitts have all similarly benefitted from well-dressed wedded bliss.
But being one part of a dapper duo – famous or not – isn't without its challenges. When public relations maven Suzanne Cohon met her husband Mark Cohon, former commissioner of the CFL and co-founder of AWOL Entertainment, in 2001, neither was wooed by the other's fashion choices. "I thought Mark looked like he was dressed to be on Seinfeld and he thought I looked like Crystal Bernard from Wings," she says. But opposites attract and it was only a matter of time before their fashion sense fell into perfect harmony. After 15 years together, the Toronto-based couple has landed on the same fashion wavelength, unintentionally coordinating whenever they're photographed together events – he favours classic tuxedos by Zegna and Armani that are complimented by her wardrobe of Burberry, Max Mara and Roland Mouret cocktail dresses. Now, they say, their only disagreements occur over credit card bills and mirror hogging.
DJs Liza Kelly and Tai Lee, who met seven years ago after an evening at a dive bar led to an attempt at organizing an AC/DC cover band, share a love of getting dressed up in colourful vintage pieces like fifties frocks and retro blazers. But crafting elaborate ensembles for their co-DJ nights can lead to disagreements, especially as their ensembles become more involved. "Some of our outfits require getting a lot of pieces together in a short amount of time," says Kelly. "We can get stressed about it and argue a bit. It's mostly me though. I take longer to get ready!"
Closet conflicts take on a different character when one half of a couple doesn't neccesarily prioritize personal style as much as his or her significant other.
A fashion disaster at a bar on Dundas West in Toronto first brought newlyweds Nicki and Paul Podvalej together. "He sat down to talk to me and spilled his entire pint of beer all over my Asilio dress," she says. Nicki, founder of the online shop Curriculum, says that her approach to fashion is worlds apart from that of her engineer husband. "His stance is that he doesn't want to waste time thinking about what he wears, à la Steve Jobs," she says. Still, Nicki admires Paul's regular rotation of oxford shirts, crew necks and jeans, even if it means there's a graveyard of items – such as a pink short-sleeved Gitman Vintage shirt – in the back of his closet that she's unsuccessfully tried to convince him to wear.
In newer romances, sartorial discord becomes a visual representation of a relationship's development. Take documentary filmmaker and landscape designer Joe Clement and his New York-based partner Manuel Mendes, who've been together since last summer. While Clement prefers a uniform of steel-toe boots, jeans and T-shirts, Mendes's career as a celebrity assistant requires him to be constantly aware of the minutiae of trends. Although Clement says he doesn't feel any pressure to keep up with his Margiela-clad counterpart, he admits that Mendes has helped him up his glam factor by taking him shopping or pointing out stylish guys on the street. "I think that we have maintained our own style, but when it comes to dressing up for social occasions my friends will tell you that I have definitely been picking it up," says Clement.
Of course, a couple's style evolution can also relax over the years. Chef Susur Lee and interior designer Brenda Bent first met three decades ago while working at Peter Pan Bistro, she in a pair of overalls ("Think Dexy's Midnight Runners," she says) and he in Eddie Bauer cords and a pressed shirt. Over the years, they've refined their wardrobes to a relaxed mix of designer pieces with casual staples from Uniqlo, Topshop and Forever 21. "He is way less stuffy. No ironing T-shirts or jeans anymore," says Bent, a former fashion designer with an eye for Céline bags and Fendi coats. Despite their high-profile careers, the two never compete for the spotlight, although Lee will ask for Bent's advice before heading out to an important event. "I am more stylish and he is more fashionable," she says. Close enough.