John Warden

(1939-2007)


John Warden was born on December 28, 1939 in Niagara Falls, Ontario. His father was a farmer and his mother ran a “Bed and Breakfast” in their family home. At the age of 10, John started sewing.

His exceptional talent won him two scholarships which, along with several part-time jobs, enabled him to complete his studies in New York. He graduated with top honours from the Parsons School of Design in 1963.

The Montreal journalist and fashion coordinator, Iona Monahan, discovered him in New York and encouraged the young designer to come back to Canada. Hired by the well-known manufacturer, Auckie Sanft, John Warden moved to Montreal to begin his career. This marked the first time a designer would be associated with a clothing manufacturer.

As the European fashion houses were in decline and miniskirts were the rage, John Warden launched his first collection. The fashion press loved it. His unique style combined the colours white, black and cream in pure lines that were both modern and timeless. His second collection, “Franglais”, brought him recognition by English and French Quebecers alike and soon reached the fashion elite across Canada. In 1964, he was the recipient of the Canadian Cotton Council Award and in 1965 he began to design collections for the company Molyclaire.
 
John Warden was not only a great designer, but he also had a keen sense of marketing, communication and event planning. His marriage to Lise Gibeau, better known as Lise Warden, demonstrated again his ability to create special events. He organized everything ensuring that all the details had the Warden “signature”. He designed Lise’s wedding dress – a creation specially made for her. The new couple became the inspiration for the “in crowd”, always in search of new role models.

In 1966, the first John Warden Boutique was opened on Crescent Street. His clientele included Dominique Michel, Denise Filiatrault, Margaret Trudeau, Ivana Trump, Mariette Lévesque, Andrée Lachapelle, Louise Marleau and other celebrities from the “jet set”. During this year, he also created a pilot collection for Le Château; it was young, modern and dynamic.

Between the years 1967 and 1977, John Warden employed 17 seamstresses and 2 cutters. He designed between 8 and 10 collections per season both for his boutique and for other manufacturers with whom he associated. He would be the first to put his label on a collection for Madeleine Quévillon’s boutique, Elle. His creations were displayed in major stores in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. His clients were as diverse as his collections which ranged from men’s and women’s clothing, lingerie, children’s clothing and sunglasses. Other than Auckie Sanft and Molyclaire, he also designed collections for Algo, Bagatelle, Dupont, Le Château, Croydon, Hudson Cloak, Pedigree, Cordovan, Imperial Optical, The Bay, Baron Leather and others. He designed collections for at least 15 different companies. In 1967, he designed the uniforms for Expo 67 and the following year opened a boutique on Bishop Street, this time exclusively for men.

From 1968 to 1980, John Warden worked in association with Canadian manufacturers and his clothes were distributed, under license, all over the world. During this same period, in 1974, the Canadian Association of Fashion Designers came into being replacing the now defunct Association of Canadian “Couturiers”. This change of title demonstrated an important shift in the Canadian fashion world. Prêt-à-porter was becoming strong and John Warden was in the right place at the right time.

In 1976, he designed, along with Marielle Fleury, Michel Robichaud and Léo Chevalier, the uniforms for the Olympic Games held in Montreal. In 1977, he designed Ivana Trump’s wedding dress. Then in 1978, he shared the prestigious “Designer of the World” award with Yves Saint Laurent. He received, in 1983, the “Canadian Designer of the Year” award. The same year he was honoured by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Queen Elizabeth II and received the “Fashion Award” in the Achievement category. He also received a special tribute for his contribution to the fashion industry in Quebec.

In 1980, he re-opened his boutique on Crescent Street. His clientele remained loyal to him. Eleven years later, when he closed this boutique, it was marked by one of the greatest events ever seen on such occasions.

After 1991, John Warden made the decision to move to St. Kitts, an island in the Antilles. His new label “Island to Island” featured resort collections designed and created exclusively in the Caribbean. In this tropical paradise, he adapted to new ways of doing business. His reputation and beautiful collections made St. Kitts the fashion capital of the Caribbean. He was inspired by his environment and created exquisite animal prints as well as following his passion for white, black and cream colours. He used fabrics for warm climates including light cottons and linens, his lines were always pure, and prices were affordable.

His friends and clients came from all over the world to see him at his boutique on Pelican Drive. His collections were also featured in many of the luxury hotels in the Caribbean. In addition, he returned frequently to Montreal to see his family and to work with his loyal clientele, many of whom were friends.

Throughout the last years of his life, John Warden fought a long and courageous battle with cancer. He presented his last collection on February 11, 2007 on the island of Nevis.

As his health deteriorated further, John made the decision to move back to Montreal in March 2007. This allowed him to be close to his son, Marc-Steven, and to his three grand-children, Audrey, Émilie and Wiliam.