Some people are so passionate about what they do, that they revel in dressing the part. And that’s exactly the sense I get from Dr. Sara Diamond, OCAD University’s President and Vice Chancellor. As head of the prestigious Toronto art and design school, it’s apparent from Dr. Diamond’s sartorial approach that she lives and breathes her métier: She’s an out-of-the-box thinker with a brave personal style all her own. I was enthralled when I met the New York-born creative academic at a recent dinner party at the home of the director of The Banff Centre. Not only was Dr. Diamond sporting an arresting, Avant-garde ensemble, and eye-popping footwear, but her personal charm and natural charisma were rather electric. We immediately launched into a heady discussion about fashion, and I was floored by how eloquent she was on the subject.
Dr. Diamond, who’s masterminded a digital web project named Code Zebra, that explores the dialogue between art and science (www.codezebra.net), sees her personal style as “entrance making”, and claims that she dresses to provide pleasure and engagement for those she encounters, as well as for her own sense of delight. “Fashion should combine as many senses as possible,” says Diamond. “ The feel, weight, and fall of clothes are all as important as the look. Even the sound of clothes, jewelry and accessories is worthy of consideration,” she notes.
One only has to look at OCAD’s premiere building, the Sharp Centre, designed by architect Will Alsop, to understand why Dr. Diamond is so passionate about dressing up. “It’s a gorgeous black and white box suspended on coloured stilts,” she explains. “It combines the whimsical fragility of art with the solid structure of design. I figure that as President, I should keep up with OCAD U.’s architecture. I echo that philosophy in my wardrobe,” says Diamond. With her extremely eclectic approach, Dr. Diamond loves to combine couture items with the retro and inexpensive. And while she loves patterns and colours, she says, “I can revel in art and design world black if there are strong materials—like lace, crushed or textured fabrics.”
When it comes to shoes, Dr. Diamond admits she has a weakness, and until not that long ago, wore ultra high heels religiously. She says people would always anticipate her designer shoes and boots. “But I jumped off a burning train in Argentina,” she reports, “and forever compromised my left foot. Hence, despite exercise, physiotherapy and will, the highest I can now manage is about an inch and a half.” Diamond now enjoys seeking out stylish shoes with lower heels.
On the night I met Dr. Diamond, she was wearing a red, black, and white Magpie suit that cost $850, a chain link black leather and silver bag she bought in Florida for $130, a pearl necklace that was a gift, and fabulous red John Fleuvog boots that cost $300.
What is a fashion faux pas in your stylebooks?
I don’t have many but I always feel a bit sad when I enter a room and everyone is wearing black. I think it’s just fine to not wear black and white to a black and white ball.
Favourite places to shop for clothes? Shoes? Accessories?
The silk markets in Beijing. I have a series of brocade silk jackets that can be worn over a simple black dress. You can also pick these up at Harbourfront on occasion from vendors who import from China. For shoes, it’s ‘Blue Box’ on the Danforth. My hats are from David Dunkley’s ‘KC’s Hats’ on Bathurst. For vintage, I love ‘I Miss You’ on Ossington. And I get my bags at ‘ Lady Mosquito’ on Queen West.
Top accessories of all time?
A fantastic chain link Gaultier vest that’s made of hologram eyes that follow the viewer around the room; Alexander McQueen shoes that are a sexy version of character shoes – extremely high – the kind you can only wear getting in and out of limos (or bed rooms); a globby black, cream and yellow necklace and bracelet with flower, owl and black bead figurines that I bought in Florence; and the long, grey, wild pearl necklace strung on leather that my friends got together and bought me for my 50th birthday. I wear it all the time as it goes with everything.
Favourite Toronto designers?
I’m a fan of Magpie Designs (Cathy McDayter and Angela Mann). The label specializes in wild fabrics with elasticity, 18th and 19th century inspirations, and tortured materials. I like Judy Cornish and Joyce Gunhouse of Comrags for their beautiful fabrics, and feminine cuts. I appreciate Sonja den Elzen at Thieves for her ecologically conscious clothes with comfort. And I also like Catherine Curtis for her ultra feminine shapes, fabrics and plays on classic garments.
Best fashion advice?
If you can manage it, be brave and experimental. Look for emerging local designers – they will often have an intuitive sense of the place and context that you are dressing in.