I was in the thick of perusing the men’s fare at Harry Rosen’s on Bloor St. over the holidays, on a mission to help a friend with a wardrobe make-over: Women’s fashion wasn’t even on my radar. But when I looked up from the sweater sale table and saw a statuesque blonde oozing the kind of arresting style that makes my heart skip a beat, I had to leave the cashmere cardigans behind and make a made an immediate beeline for the beauty, compelled to strike up a conversation. “You look amazing!” I gushed. The striking style diva thanked me and introduced herself as Joanna Hillman. Within moments, the stylish older woman accompanying her did what any supportive mother would: trumpeted her daughter’s impressive title. “She’s Style Director at Harper’s Bazaar,” boasted the proud mum. I was duly impressed, and instantly, Miss Hillman’s sensational mode of dress made perfect sense. She indeed looked as though she’d walked off the pages of a high style magazine editorial. It was a surreal fashion moment, the kind of unexpected sartorial treat that we style editors feast on. And I lapped up every bit of Hillman’s luscious look.
“When you see someone that looks fabulous, who put something together in a way you never thought of before… THAT is great personal style,” reflects Hillman. I couldn’t agree with her more. The 33-year-old fashion arbiter is a Toronto native who studied art history at Western before taking off for the wilds of New York, and landing a gig with celebrity stylist Lori Goldstein. Evidently, Hillman saw fashion as the art of expression, gleaning untold knowledge about the subject by working as the famed stylist’s assistant, for the lenses of some the world’s top photographers. But Hillman’s penchant for fashion began brewing at a very young age. “My mom modeled in her teens in Montreal, and her glamourous composite card made me want to model as a young child too—although my mom didn’t love the idea,” explains Hillman. “I even went to modeling school, where graduation was a fashion show to reveal to our parents our newly perfected walk!” she laughs. She admits it was her early modeling stints on the sets of kids’ catalogue shoots that really made her fall in love with the fashion world. No one would have guessed that those banal local shoots would help plant the seeds for Hillman’s eventual work on the global stage. But it was Hillman’s mother who was intent on inspiring her daughter. “My mom always told me I would be living in New York someday, working in fashion, way before I knew these jobs even existed,” says Hillman.
Always adventurous when it comes to dressing, Hillman’s style philosophy is “try anything once”. Her unbridled fearlessness and unabashed confidence are key to the strong style statements she invariably makes, though there are those rare occasions when she may second-guess her choices. “But that’s only when I’m uncomfortable,” she explains. “Like when my pants are too long for my shoes, or my skirt is too tight. Nothing looks good unless you’re carrying yourself with ease and confidence, and not tugging at your skirt!” she advises. Hillman’s progressive, cutting-edge style is dictated by the fact that her favourite fashion era is the future. But when she was younger, she thrived on a wardrobe that was comprised mostly of inexpensive vintage finds from her hometown haunts of Kensington Market and Queen St. “Toronto has such great steals when it comes to vintage,” she notes.
When I ran into Joanna Hillman, she was sporting a Theory jacket, a Derek Lam sweater, an Equipment silk blouse, Celine glasses and an Celine army bag she got on sale at Holt Renfrew, a Ben Amun gold locket, Citizens of Humanity jeans, Vince wedge boots and a Club Monaco hat. “I’ll always have a soft spot that once-Canadian empire,” she sighs.
Define your personal style in 3 words.
Eclectic, vibrant, sharp.
Favourite places to shop?
In New York, it’s Barneys, Bergdorf’s (which is great for gifts), Fivestory for jewelry, Jeffrey’s, which always has a great shoe buy, and Aloha Rag. J Crew is great for sweaters and striped tees. In Toronto, I like Holt Renfrew, and in London, I shop the Dover Street Market. I also love Shopbazaar.com, where I can shop from the pages I plan for the magazine!
Most inspiring style icon and why?
Kate Moss and the late Loulou de la Falaise, because you can’t fake cool or chic.
Top accessories of all time?
My Gold Date Just President Rolex watch that I got for my 25th birthday from my mom (her initials are engraved on the back of the face); big dark shades, either Ray Ban Wayfarers or Celine ‘cat eyes’; Chanel quilted motorcycle boots; my Celine cross body bag.
Your style trademark?
“Lady Danger” bright red lipstick from MAC and black shades.