Local fashion designer Haithem Elkadiki on Calgary’s burgeoning fashion scene
By Andrew Mah
If Haithem Elkadiki is correct, the city of Calgary is poised to experience a fashion boom.
Such trends are not always an easy thing to spot. Fashion design can be a somewhat solitary activity—Elkadiki himself spends endless hours in his quaint Inglewood studio, a converted storage bay near the train yards and the busy hum of 9th Ave SE. The industrial feel of the space is brightened by a skylight and fresh whitewashed walls. Surrounded by racks of half-finished clothes and sheaves of doodles and designs, while listening to a bit of Turkish pop, dance or electronica, the Libyan-born designer dreams up his best ideas.
“My goal and duty as a fashion designer is to inspire people,” says the mustached and dapper Elkadiki, a man who takes his job of making beautiful clothes seriously—calling it an “obsession.” Yet if the words sound pretentious, the man is not. Sincere, with a ready smile and a gentle demeanour, Elkadiki exudes an unusual mix of modesty and flair. One senses in him a man whose native shyness is overcome by the necessity of artistic passions.
Elkadiki first came to Calgary as a youth in 1991, attending high school here before moving to Toronto to study fashion design. He settled back in Calgary in the late ‘90s, beholden by the city’s mountains and sunshine. Then he started making a name for himself, creating striking menswear with his label, KaaDiki, that’s known for its sleek silhouettes, whimsical graphics and bold colour palettes. Classic KaaDiki includes distinctive safari jackets, detailed shirts, and slimming vests and pants—ensembles that radiate preppy attitude with a dose of macho-man sex appeal.
Elkadiki has been part of the Calgary fashion front lines since he started designing full time back in 2004. He’s the first to acknowledge that haute couture isn’t exactly synonymous with the city, or even Canada for that matter. It’s a perception among the fashion forward that he’s had to deal with at international fashion events around the world.
“They’re surprised to see a fashion brand from Canada that is edgy and fresh and new. They expect something more rugged, more lumberjack inspired,” notes Elkadiki with a wry smile. “We have fantastic talent. We’re not just hunting jackets, lumberjack shirts and clunky boots.”
Elkadiki loves the opportunity to surprise people—to “open their minds and their eyes” with his designs, while
reminding them that Calgary is a colourful and diverse city with loads of creative talent. The designer adds that the fashion scene here is maturing, with a coterie of hip designers who are poised to take on the world fashion scene.
“It definitely has grown—it’s become more and more exciting,” says Elkadiki. “There’s new people all the time. I hope they stay here and make it work, make it happen. I hate to see talent leave the city.”
Though the recent recession has created its list of fashion fatalities here, including the demise of iconic boutiques like Focus and Worth, Elkadiki is confident that Calgary will soon see a fashion renaissance.
“Fashion is not a huge priority for people right now here in the city. The way I look at it, it’s temporary. It’s the calm before the storm, before the boom starts again.”
He may have a point. With the creation of new style hub Fashion Central in the downtown, the recent expansion of Holt Renfrew, the arrival of international lines like Betsey Johnson, and the rise of local designers like Lara Presber, Caitlin Power and Elkadiki himself, Calgary is beginning to create a bit of a fashion buzz.
Now in his mid-thirties, Elkadiki no longer qualifies as a wunderkind, the up-and-comer to watch on the Calgary fashion scene. Though still trim and youthful, there’s the gravitas of the veteran, the guru, the leader. He feels he’s just coming into his own as a designer.
“It definitely comes with age and a lot of experience to make a good piece of clothing. It’s a slow process,” he says. “There’s a lot of experimenting and trial and error.”
Elkadiki’s pieces exude high fashion yet are made to be practical—for example, he avoids linings to keep his pieces washable. One of his signature goals is to make garments that are “as beautiful on the inside as on the outside”—with careful attention to interior stitching and detailing, particularly with his jackets and vests. It’s a quality that makes the clothes both attractive and long-lasting.
Elkadiki, who still sews together his designs, admits that his pieces appeal to men who are looking for something that’s definitively unique. “They want to feel special in knowing that what they’re wearing is exclusive and not mass produced.” He adds, “Maybe they take some pleasure in knowing the designer slaved away late nights trying to finish everything perfectly, every top stitch over and over again.” Elkadiki laughs, but he’s not kidding; it’s just what you’d expect of a man obsessed with beautiful clothes.
To see and buy Haithem Elkadiki’s KaaDiki collection, visit www.kaadiki.com.