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Life Three Canadians dedicated to keeping the art of collecting alive

Obsessions

Compulsive consumption needn't land you on an episode of Hoarders. Nathalie Atkinson profiles three Canadians who have curated covetable assortments of fashion, spirits and decor while keeping the long game in mind

Stacey Brandford

The Couture Connoisseur: Suzanne Boyd, Toronto

She may be one of the country's most stylish and oft-photographed women, but Suzanne Boyd actually isn't much of a shopper. The 250 "treasures" in her enviable walk-in closet (technically, a second bedroom in her downtown Toronto condo) are the result of an artful fashion collection she's been accumulating since the late 1980s. Whatever clothing the editor-in-chief of Zoomer magazine acquires is purchased selectively, strategically and for keeps. "Everything I collect is something I would wear – and I do wear it eventually." Certain items, like an "insane" Ann Demeulemeester hat that sat on the shelf for a couple years, were purchased for posterity, she says. "I call it 'putting it down,' until the time comes where it makes sense [to wear it]."

Boyd came of age with the original street style. "When that whole hip-hop influence came to fashion then Chanel started doing it – the youthquake trickling up – that's how I have always looked at fashion. Not as highlow, but the clashing of uptown and downtown." When there are suits in her wardrobe, they're offbeat rather than corporate, reflecting that inner club kid. Boyd rediscovers garments all the time. "I rotate things and I should probably catalogue it all, because I do sometimes forget about pieces," she says. There's a Valentino dress that had been at rest for seven years, and a 1980s Jean Paul Gaultier suit that she recently brought out of retirement. "[It's] the very first designer thing I bought – a chocolate brown pantsuit with lime green pinstripes. I love it because it came with a hooded body suit that had the hands attached." Her taste gravitates to this kind of rarity: "always something by a designer who's considered odd, or something that's a little bit off, like my Margiela fur hoofs," she says. Since collecting is also knowing what not to buy, Boyd specifically avoids items designers feature in seasonal advertising campaigns. "I get the other one, the one that people laugh and point at – that's always the piece I want."

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Among Boyd's collection are fringed opera-length gloves by Ms. Min, a new Xiamen label recently shortlisted for the LVMH Prize awarded annually to emerging designers, a 25-year-old Helmut Lang pea coat and a current season Dries Van Noten suit. A deconstructed Junya Watanabe patchwork cape with bone toggles from The Room shares space with a pink-and-grey brocade cheongsam Boyd had made in Shanghai. Edgy and esoteric, it's dramatic with embellishment, shine and embroidery.

"I shop with emotion," Boyd says. "If you can find something through fashion that makes your heart sing or expresses your soul in some way, do it. It adds so much to the day."

Collector's remorse: "I got rid of an incredible Nina Ricci evening gown with corsetry, lace, paillettes and horsehair. I'd worn it six or seven times and was photographed in it each time. At the time I felt I had too many clothes, so I downsized. I regret that. I will never do that again."


Tyler Stalman

A Single Malt Man: Andrew Ferguson, Calgary

Andrew Ferguson first became interested in the good stuff at university. "Most people ease their way in," he recalls, "but I was dumped at the deep end with Lagavulin and Bowmore, two of the smokier, peatier whiskies." It was a temporary gig that sealed Ferguson's fate and started his collection of whisky in earnest. A short-term job as a delivery driver for local independent spirits boutique Kensington Wine Market turned into a part-time job as a whisky consultant in the shop, then his increasing expertise begat a sideline gig organizing distillery tours (he's now also a member of the Keepers of the Quaich, an exclusive international organization that celebrates those dedicated to the Scotch whisky industry).

"The funny thing is, I was never going to stay here," he chuckles. But, after 13 years he liked it so much, he bought the company.

"Making my way up through the ranks in a retail environment, I don't have hundreds of thousands of dollars to invest in whisky, even now," Ferguson, A says of his 400-bottle whisky collection. Most of his bounty is on display throughout his Calgary home: Some are Japanese – "from closed distilleries that I'll never be able to get again" – but the rest are Scottish in origin.

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Tyler and Ania Stalman

Ferguson has become more selective and now seldom buys regular releases, but otherwise his acquisition approach is balanced. "I'm not purely buying things because I'm going to drink them, but I have as many open bottles as I have closed ones. It doesn't matter what it is or how much it's worth." His top tipple, for example, is Port Ellen, from Islay, Scotland. "One of my favourite distilleries, closed over 30 years ago. Today you'd be looking at $1,800-$5,000 a bottle. I paid about $150 a bottle," he says. "There's a lot of pride knowing I've got these."

At the same time, one of the things that he dislikes is the concept of investing. "A lot of those big returns have already happened, and there is always the risk that it's perishable because of the cork. Everything goes in cycles – there are fads and some things are popular but they might not be in 20 years," he says. "What I always tell people is if you're buying to collect – to make money or for pride – you should still always buy something you'd be happy opening and drinking."

That said, the most Ferguson has ever spent on a bottle is about $1,500, for an old Glenfarclas, and around $900 for a bottle of now-defunct cult Brora that he hasn't opened.

"Just by chance I have bottle No. 1 of this rare, closed distillery," he says. "That might someday pay for one of my daughters to go to university."

Prized possession: "I stumbled upon a barrel of 1972 Glendronach; I can even tell you the barrel number – cask No. 711. I have three bottles left."


Stacey Brandford

The Bone Collector: Sydney Jacobson, Toronto

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When you think of home decor, a few colourful vases and accent cushions may come to mind. Sydney Jacobson's small midtown Toronto apartment, however, is decorated with skeletal remains and taxidermy, about 40 pieces in all. "I usually warn people that my apartment is like a museum, a bit of a crazy one, but the most common reaction when someone enters it is laughter – not that it's overwhelming or strange."

Although she's worked as a butcher for over 10 years (nine of them at St. Lawrence Market), Jacobson didn't think much of bones until she spotted her first jaw in a vendor stall at the Royal Winter Fair about six years ago. "I thought they were beautiful – I loved the teeth and the whiteness of a dead thing that looks so delicate and beautiful. It was the cheapest thing he had but I didn't have any money, so I offered him a steak in trade." That piece has since been joined on the fireplace mantel by a dozen more jaw bones, along with several skulls.

"Skulls are pretty – and the shapes of them vary so much. I love thinking of the story. I guess I like knowing where things come from. That it's the shell of what something once was, and it's still beautiful," says Jacobson.

Stacey Brandford

There are crocodile bookends and the collection extends even to practicalities like lighting: one "creepy" lamp made from four deer legs has a lamp shade with a bear on it. Another that sits on moose legs was salvaged for $50 from a bar closing down. "I think the moose is beautiful but I know the deer is hideous," she says with a laugh.

"Even my forks are antlers; my candle holders are antlers," she says.

A few of her pieces were lucky finds or thrift store scores but most have been gifts. "I have customers who are hunters and bring things in – beaver and moose jaw bones from one customer, and one of the janitors at the Market gives me raccoon heads." Other finds come from an elderly pen pal in Wawa, Ont. who is a trapper.

"Some people don't like what I do and think it's gross and weird," she adds. "A part of me likes coming to work every day handling this raw meat but I'm also proud of the fact that I can enjoy another part of it, to appreciate the whole of the animal."

Labour of love: "A lot [of pieces] come to me dirty so I soak them in 50-50 hydrogen peroxide and water in a bucket in my bathtub, up to two weeks."

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