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Joe’s fresh start: The most polarizing man in Canadian fashion gets ready for prime time

It is the Season 10 premiere of Dragons’ Den and newly anointed fire-breather Joe Mimran is making his first offer: a $300,000 buy-in on Drake: The Dragon Wargame, a tabletop battle simulation played with figurines and dice. It’s a promising product in a Game of Thronesobsessed market, though Mimran has some reservations about the game’s creator – a know-it-all nerd whose lack of business savvy is as glaring as faux Gucci. “Creativity and business are two very different aspects, and it’s rare to find both in one person,” says Mimran, peering out from behind a pair of Tom Ford tortoise shell specs, offering up entrepreneurial tidbits the way he once dispensed fashion tips.

That he is that rare combination – a visionary spirit with a brain for numbers – might explain what seems like an illogical career pivot from designer-slash-retail-giant to investment-guru-slash-reality TV-star. But to Mimran, those disciplines draw from the same tool kit. “I think I have always had a skill for seeing where the market place is going and where the opportunities are,” he says of the Dragon/designer parallels. Ultimately, he calls out the game developer as a loose cannon. Whether it’s a medieval-themed board game or a juicy orange raincoat, Mimran knows a great idea isn’t worth a penny if you can’t sell it.

Joe Mimran, featured with Dragons’ Den co-stars Jim Treliving and Michele Romanow, is making the leap from designer-slash-retail giant to investment guru-slash-reality TV star.

As any Canadian who has gone to the grocery store for a butternut squash and returned home with a new fall wardrobe knows, Mimran has spent the last decade as the creative director and public face of Joe Fresh. The line of stylish-but-affordable sportswear that started as an in-store label at Loblaws has since expanded to stand-alone locations from Fifth Avenue to the Middle East. In March, Mimran announced his departure from the company that he founded, just a few days before the CBC revealed he would be joining Dragons’ Den. Alongside fellow-freshmen Michele Romanow (a millennial tech millionaire) and Manjit Minhas (a beer industry titan), Mimran joins original Den-member Jim Treliving (a venerable Canadian biz whiz who owns Boston Pizza and Mr. Lube) and last year’s newbie Michael Wekerle, the infamous Bay Street party boy whose boisterous manner is balanced by Mimran’s measured persona.

“Joe Mimran is the brand master,” says Wekerle. “He has an incredible depth of knowledge about branding and about the fashion industry. And he has beaten me in an arm wrestle – but I have the bigger dressing room.”

If Werkerle and Mimran sound like old chums, it’s because they had a lot of bonding time on set. A full season of Dragons’ Den is taped during 10-hour days, five days a week over a single month, a regimented schedule Mimran hasn’t observed since his days as an accountant at Coopers & Lybrand. “Imagine going on a canoe trip with four strangers. It’s not like you can just say, ‘Oh, we’ll have lunch next month or something,’” he jokes, flicking to the air kissy I’ll-call-you-babes of the fashion world.

Known as the 'brand master,' Mimran has a rare tact for both creativity and business. (Photography by Saty + Pratha. Grooming by Taylor Savage for M.A.C Cosmetics/judyinc.com.)

To avoid continuity issues, each Dragon must select a single outfit for the entire run, which would be cruel and unusual punishment for most professional clothes horses. But Mimran saw it as an opportunity to convey his classic-with-a-twist sensibility, opting for a conservative navy suit and saving the flair for his footwear. Slippers (the kind that Hugh Hefner might wear in combination with a paisley smoking jacket) are a Mimran signature, and for his small-screen debut he chose a pair of velvet Ralph Lauren loafers with a military motif and the phrase “Don’t Give Up the Ship” embroidered on the side. “I thought the words were appropriate,” he says. “When you’re an entrepreneur, you don’t give up, you keep going, you keep working.”

Mirman’s career has frequently been a crystal ball for where the sartorial landscape is headed. Even before Melanie Griffith laced up her Reeboks, Mimran was making clothing for working girls at Ms. Originals, a spinoff of his mother’s sewing business. At Club Monaco, he was onto the minimalist look long before Calvin Klein and Kate Moss turned “less is more” into a fashion mantra. With Joe Fresh, he helped to usher in the “high-low” street-style aesthetic, where last season’s Céline, vintage treasures and fast-fashion pieces work together to form an Instagram-worthy #ootd.

“In the early nineties in Canadian retail, you either had a luxury shopping environment or you had these lower-price-point stores that were all about pushing the product,” says Nicholas Mellamphy, a buyer and VP at Hudson’s Bay, who worked at Club Monaco in the nineties and considers Mimran a mentor. “What Joe did was bring that high-end shopping experience to affordable clothing.”

Joe Mimran, pictured in his Toronto home in front of a painting by U.K. artist Clare Woods. (Photography by Saty + Pratha. Grooming by Taylor Savage for M.A.C Cosmetics/judyinc.com.)

“With Joe, there is this feeling that he’s the chosen one,” Mellamphy continues, comparing Mimran and his wife, Kimberley Newport-Mimran (the designer behind Pink Tartan) to the king and queen of the Canadian fashion prom. “You just feel like you want to be part of that energy and maybe, just by proximity, some of that stardust is going to rub off on you.”

As a public figure, Mimran has mostly steered clear of the scandals that are seen so frequently in fashion. In a world characterized by excess, he’s the guy at the party who holds the same glass of bubbly for an hour. Good judgment, studied consideration and diplomacy served him well in 2013 when Rana Plaza, a garment factory where Joe Fresh merchandise was produced in Bangladesh, collapsed, killing more than 1,100 workers. The incident divided consumers and the industry over the ethics of $5 T-shirts. Mimran was made to answer for the entire fast-fashion system’s shortcomings while other retailers implicated in the tragedy hid from the headlines.

And then he left – but don’t suggest that Mimran’s Joe Fresh departure qualifies as giving up the ship. “That was 10 years of my life,” he says. “Operating a company is a huge responsibility. It was something I loved doing for a long time and then it felt like it was time to start something new.”

These days, Mimran is as likely to be flipping through Wired magazine as Vogue, doing everything he can to educate himself about the fast-moving tech sphere. He spent two weeks in Italy over the summer (“I haven’t done two weeks in…forever,” he says), reading novels and only checking his iPhone occasionally. He says it’s “way too soon” to predict any future endeavours in the fashion industry, though admits that the concept of a high-end men’s-wear label has “always been really exciting to me.” Smart money says that when Joe Mimran gets excited, a business venture can’t be too far behind.

For now, he’s happy supporting other people’s big ideas and maybe even letting down those coiffed silver locks a little. At the Dragons’ Den wrap party, he took to the stage along with Wekerle, who had brought in his band for the occasion. The song: This is the End by the Doors. Though, in the case of Joe Mimran, a final chapter seems nowhere in sight.

Dragons’ Den Season 10 premieres October 7 at 8 p.m. on CBC.

To download the latest edition of the Globe Style Advisor iPad app, visit tgam.ca/styleadvisor starting Fri., Oct 2.

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