Life: Born Claire Margaret Bardwell, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. July 17,1924 – May 17, 2016.
Residence: Toronto, Canada
Nationality: Canadian of Syrian and Lebanese descent
Claire Haddad is known for designing elegant, high fashion sleep and loungewear from the early 1960s through 1980s in Toronto. Her theory is that a woman should look elegant and yet feel comfortable at home with her family as opposed to strangers. She also pioneered the idea of wearing loungewear outside of the home as elegant eveningwear.
Her mother, Rose Deratnay, came to Canada at sixteen from Damascus, Syria where she worked as a seamstress. Claire’s father, Joseph Henry Bardwell, immigrated to Canada from Lebanon at age five. An entrepreneur and salesman, he gained the exclusive Canadian rights in 1938 for the use of a fabric called Viyella for bathrobes. Viyella is a woven cotton and wool blend from England that was perfect for bathrobes and housecoats. With his wife, they began the design and manufacture these garments under the name of Bard’s, short for Bardwell. They raised five daughters on Yonge Boulevard in North Toronto. Claire was the second eldest.
Claire graduated from Earl Haig Collegiate in Toronto in 1940 at sixteen and began looking for a place to study fashion design. At that time, there was very little to choose from in Toronto and as she was not allowed to travel to New York to study there. She ended up attending various classes in Toronto. First, she went to Northern Vocational School for a one-year drafting course and then to the Toronto School of Design. She also took a home– study fashion course from the New York Fashion Academy. But the most beneficial training came from the Galasso School of Design in Toronto. The Italian master was a very harsh instructor Claire recalls. She later learned that he was especially tough on her because he recognized her talent.
Born into a family fashion business, Claire knew what she wanted to do at a young age. At ten, she taught herself to sew. While her mother was away at work and the nanny downstairs, Claire would take her mother’s sewing machine upstairs and lock herself in the bathroom to figure out how to thread and work the hand-operated machine. She started making little backless sun tops (called bandanas at that time) for her sisters with the pieces of odd material that her mother brought home from the factory.
Once she began studying design Claire would spend her free time working at her parents’ factory at 101 Spadina Ave. in the heart of the garment district of Toronto. Her father placed her art table in his front office so that she could absorb the business side of the industry. She would also work with the factory employees in the back who would turn her drafting patterns into garments. Often, her sister Gladys modelled her creations.
Bard’s made basic, tailored housecoats and bathrobes with Viyella, terrycloth and other fabrics but Claire was always more interested in creative high fashion. Her father insisted on putting her name on her designs: “Bard’s, designed by Claire Haddad”.
In 1944 at 20, she married Albert Haddad who had immigrated with his widowed mother from Syria at age six. He was a natural born salesman who sold radio-broadcasting courses. But at the start of the war he quit his job and volunteered for the army. When they married, he was a second lieutenant in the tank corps and desperately wanted to go overseas. However his eyesight was poor and he wore glasses. He had managed to fool the authorities up to a point but when they realized he was memorizing the eye chart, he was required to remain in Canada as a tank corps instructor, rising from second lieutenant to captain by the end of the war. He and Claire had two daughters, Lynn in 1947 and Andrea in 1951. With the help of a nanny at home, Claire continued her studies in fashion and design.
Claire maintained strong ties to her Middle Eastern background. She was active in her Antiochian Orthodox Church and cooked Lebanese and Syrian food on the weekends, freezing much of it in a large commercial freezer. She made pita bread, meat and spinach pies, hummus, yogurt and other Middle Eastern specialties long before they were available in commercial stores and restaurants. This cultural connection would show up later in her designs of elegant flowing caftans, which caught the eye of the fashion world.
When Claire’s father became ill and later died at the young age of 54, her husband Albert stepped in to run the family business. Bard’s continued to prosper. But Albert needed help, so he recruited his brother-in-law Earl Abraham, a Princeton-trained geologist to join the company as an assistant manager.
By 1964, Claire and Albert decided to leave Bard’s and go out on their own. They took over a small lingerie factory at 460 Richmond St. West at Spadina and started a different but related market of lingerie — not undergarments, but nightgowns and matching robes. They called it Claire Haddad Ltd. because Albert reasoned that fashion editors always wrote editorials using the designer’s name, not their company’s name. Later they moved across the street from Bard’s to 110 Spadina Ave.
Albert managed the front office administration and hired salesmen while Claire worked in her office in the back, close to the seamstresses. Garments were not mass-produced in their company. About 10 regular sewing machine operators always made the complete garment,
except for one person who did the finishing, such as blind stitch, hemming, buttonholes and buttons. Several of the seamstresses worked from home, but the finishing and final pressing was done in the plant. A bookkeeper, receptionist and shipper completed the payroll. Albert was also the salesman for the many in-house showings in their small, elegant showroom where sometimes their daughter Lynn and other professionals modelled.
Their first logo and nametag in gold of a woman’s profile wearing an elegant mask was designed by Jean Miller. It was meant to convey elegance, functionality, flexibility and femininity. This was a refreshing approach to the changing ways women were entertaining, partyin
g, travelling and relaxing.
The company was an immediate success. Awards soon began to accumulate with the Canadian Cotton Council Award in 1964, and then the Judy Award for two consecutive years. They also won six Edee Awards between 1965 and 1968 (see a complete list below).
In early 1965, through the efforts of the Canadian Trade Commissioner, Stanley Randall, Albert took the collection to the Canadian Consulate in New York along with other clothing manufacturers. The Claire Haddad line was very well received. More American shows followed, sometimes receiving standing ovations. They began receiving invitations to show the line in the United States and soon Albert found it necessary to hire a salesman in New York to handle the American market. Samples of garments were sent from Toronto to be shown there.
The coup d’état came on Oct. 16, 1965, when Claire Haddad’s name was displayed on the front page of the prestigious American Women’s Wear Daily newspaper (WWD), known as the “bible” of the fashion industry. Claire never looked back. Thereafter, Claire and her and garments were often displayed in that newspaper. One American fashion journalist even commented that that now Canada could be recognized for “more than just igloos and ookpiks”!
In 1964, to celebrate Canada’s upcoming centennial in 1967, David Weiser created the Maple Leaf Tartan, which used every colour of the changing maple leaf. Claire Haddad Ltd. had the exclusive rights to use the tartan in their field of manufacture from 1965 to 1985. However, it was not until 2011 that the Maple Leaf Tartan became the official tartan of Canada.
In 1967 Claire received her most prestigious award, the Cody, followed by the American Collins & Aikman Award the next year. In 1968, Claire Haddad Ltd. was the first Canadian manufacturer to be featured editorially in Vogue magazine. Claire was surprised when Diana Vreeland, Vogue’s editor, called her from New York and asked to have a certain garment made extra long for the famous model Varuchka.
The Canadian market was taking note of Claire’s success in the United States. Hudson’s Bay, Holt Renfrew, Eaton’s, Simpsons and other high fashion shops began clamouring for merchandise. With all the press, the Haddads rarely needed to pay for advertising, and Claire often was invited to give speeches and to present her fashions in their stores across the country.
A number of movie stars who came to Toronto in the late 60s when the city was becoming known as “Hollywood North,” asked Claire to design garments for them. She had become known for creating the look of elegant at-home loungewear such as caftans, pants and hand-painted silk tops. The actors included Carol Burnett, Cyd Charisse, Arlene Dahl, Dinah Christie and Mary Tyler Moore. The most notable was Elizabeth Taylor, who requested a gown but refused to be measured. Claire quietly asked her assistant to smuggle out one of Taylor’s bras. She put it on the judy (mannequin), stuffed it and designed a gown cut on the bias which allowed a forgiving fit. Taylor was extremely pleased with it, commenting that she had never before had a garment that fit perfectly the first time!
The company prospered in the 1970s, culminating in Claire being awarded the Order of Canada in 1979 for her contribution the Canadian Fashion Industry. Following that, they were invited to open a retail store … a turnkey operation… in the upscale Hazelton Lanes mall in Yorkville. Soon after, another store was opened in the Park Lane section of the new West Edmonton Mall.
In 1980 Claire organized the first large-scale fashion show to take place at Rideau Hall, the residence of the Canadian Governor General in Ottawa. As Claire tells the story:
“This huge first fashion show at Rideau Hall of Canadian designers from coast-to-coast resulted from my discussion with Her Excellency Mrs. Lily Schreyer C.C., wife of Gov. General Ed Schreyer. I was fortunate enough to be seated at her table in 1979 when I received the Order of Canada. In conversation, I was telling her about when we were invited to present a fashion show in St. Louis, Missouri. I was introduced to the Canadian consulate who began proudly showing me the dress she was wearing from an American designer of whom I had never heard. I was very disturbed by the fact that she wasn’t wearing a Canadian-made garment by one of our own designers. A short time later I received a call from Mrs. Schreyer telling me what she had in mind and asked me to forward the names of any designers I knew that she may have missed.”
For Claire’s designs, her inspiration usually came from the fabric itself. She would either sketch in pencil on a photocopied figure or drape the fabric on a judy. She made all her own original patterns. An assistant would make any necessary technical corrections, and then make the hard paper pattern for the cutter. She designed two collections a year – spring/summer and fall/winter.
As Claire’s designs were mostly inspired by fabric, the Haddads were frustrated that there was not enough material of good quality in Canada. They made several trips to the Orient to buy pure silks, and then had them hand-painted by Canadian artists to put a patriotic stamp on them. It became a mission of the Haddads to speak up and encourage the manufacture of quality fabrics in Canada whenever possible.
Besides the flowing caftans, Claire also used tights in several outfits that were combined with tops, for a more casual loungewear look. It had to be a suitable stretch fabric for comfort. When she couldn’t find enough of a variety of elastic fabric at that time, she took our basic Canadian tricot and had it made stretchable with fine elastic threads stitched in.
The decline of the Claire Haddad Collection
The early 1980s saw a decline in the Canadian economy. At the same time, the manufacturing of goods offshore with cheaper labour was creating a competitive alternative. Albert Haddad had the foresight to realize that a change in course was necessary, so the company decided to seek out another Canadian manufacturer who would continue to produce the Claire Haddad line under license. They chose the offer of Kayser-Roth in London, Ontario.
In 1984, the Claire Haddad Division of Kayser-Roth Canada Limited was born and was licensed to manufacture and market worldwide the Claire Haddad Lingerie/Loungewear collections. The factory at 110 Spadina Avenue in Toronto closed and the Claire Haddad operation moved to a small studio around the corner where Claire produced her samples with an assistant. The garments were to be produced in London, Ontario, according to Claire’s samples and specific details regarding fabric, trimming, buttons and so forth.
In 1985 there were Claire Haddad showrooms and sales offices established in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas and a Claire Haddad Hosiery Collection was launched. An agreement was made with James B. McGregor to market Claire Haddad Designer Shower Curtains and some other home furnishings such as linens.
The licensing of the Claire Haddad Collection had hardly begun to test its real potential, when a call came to Claire’s studio in Toronto from an important buyer in the United States who was familiar with her line. The buyer was concerned with the shipments they were receiving from Kayser-Roth in London, Ontario, where they operated their business. Apparently, the garments did not appear to be up to the Claire Haddad standards.
Upon investigation, they learned that Claire’s original samples were not being produced according to the specifications. Apparently, new management at Kayser-Roth had taken it upon themselves to use inferior materials to finish the garments. The Haddads decided to end the relationship and stop production before the Claire Haddad name and reputation was ruined.
Thus ended Claire Haddad Originals in 1985.
Claire was a member of professional organizations such as the Fashion Group Inc., and a co-founder of both Fashion Designers Association of Canada and the Toronto Ontario Designers, groups that laid the way for other present-day organizations. She also found time to co-found a social group called Amitas (Latin for ‘friendship’), which was a group of inter-racial and inter-denominational women who have celebrated feasts and friendships since 1944.
Today a small collection of Claire Haddad garments can be found at the Royal Ontario
Museum. The bulk of them are stored in a climate-controlled hands-on storage and research facility at the School of Fashion and Merchandising of Seneca College in Toronto.
This is a continuation of the Haddads’ open door policy they had fostered with students. From her training in her parents’ factory, Bard’s, Claire knew that it was important for students to see the other side of the glitz and glamour of the runway. Throughout the years she conducted many tours of the factory for fashion students and was often a guest lecturer in several schools of design. To celebrate the occasion of their 60th wedding anniversary, The Albert & Claire Haddad Endowment Fund was established at Seneca College in 2005 by the Haddads and their family to assist promising young fashion arts students.
Claire credits her father as her first source of success. Joseph Bardwell, who immigrated to Canada from Lebanon at the age of five, was a man of vision. He always impressed upon his family that in spite of their origins, Canada was their new home and they should embrace that culture. In the early days of the business, Claire’s older sister, Vivian, worked in the administrative office where she would overhear conversations with the bank manager. Times were tough and Vivian remembered often hearing him say that although he would refuse requests for financing or refinancing to other clients, he would never say ‘No’ to Joe Bardwell, such was his integrity. Most importantly, her father encouraged Claire to learn all aspects of the business and insisted that her married name be put on all her designs.
Clearly, in more ways than one, Claire Haddad has always been ahead of her time –“a rebel and a design pioneer” as one newspaper article claimed in the 1960s. Her mandate has always been that a woman should be comfortable and elegant when entertaining at home for company or her husband and family, who, after all, were more important than strangers. This she learned from her mother.
Obviously, this approach has worked well as she enjoyed a long and harmonious marriage and work relationship with her husband Albert, her other main source of success. She says: “Without him I would not have had the courage to explore my creativity. He always told me to look at the fashion magazines, then close them up and just do what I wanted.”
Albert Haddad passed away peacefully in February, 2014, at the age of 98. Two years later On May 17, 2016, Claire Haddad passed away peacefully at age 91.