John Warden

Designer John Warden dies of cancer at 67
Alan Hustak, The Gazette

John Warden, the first Canadian fashion designer to hit the big leagues in the 1960s with his own international label, died of cancer Friday at the Mount Sinai Hospital palliative care unit in Montreal.

He was 67.

An exuberant red-haired man known for his sophisticated and youthful creations in trademark shades of white, beige and vanilla, Warden dressed such women as Margaret Trudeau, Louise Marleau, Dominique Michel and Denise Filiatrault.

In 1977 he designed Ivana Trump's wedding gown.

"John was the pioneer of Canadian designers and the epitome of a fashion designer," designer Simon Chang said in an interview. "He had great style and liked to be surrounded by beautiful people."

John Warden was born in Niagara Falls, Ont., on Dec. 28, 1939, and grew up on his father's farm. His mother ran a bread and breakfast.

At age 10 he learned how to sew, and drawing came naturally to him. In his early teens, Warden did full-page advertising layouts for Eaton's department store in Niagara Falls. At 18 he enrolled at the Parsons School of Design in New York, sold his sketches to pay his tuition, then studied fashion design on scholarships in New York and Paris.

He worked for several fashion houses in New York before Montreal clothing manufacturer Auckie Sanft offered him a label of his own. Warden produced his first 40-item pret-a-porter spring signature collection for Sanft in 1964, then designed a line for Le Chateau, a clothing store chain. In 1966 Warden opened a boutique on Crescent St. and was one of four designers hired to do the uniforms for the staff at Expo 67.

He added men's wear to his collection in 1968 and opened a men's fashion boutique on Bishop St.

When his designs were shown at the Pret-a-porter fashion show in Paris, his classic, elegant creations were compared to those of Yves Saint Laurent, who had been head designer for the House of Dior.

Warden was "stimulating, creative, and self-confident," said designer Michel Desjardins, who worked with Warden in the '70s. "He enjoyed life, and he enjoyed living.

"He was always sketching, always discovering new things. He was a joy to work with."

A self-confessed party animal who was a huge disco and Motown fan, Warden was an A-list celebrity on Montreal's social circuit in the 1970s, and his loft in Old Montreal was the scene of many memorable soires.

In 1973, Warden won the inaugural Melcher Award for best Canadian fashion designer for his contributions to "the tremendous growth and excitement of the Canadian fashion industry."

He also worked on the uniforms for the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.

In 1983 he was named Canadian Fashion Designer of the Year. He retired to St. Kitts in 1992, where he began his Island-to-Island line of fashion creations sold in boutiques in the Caribbean, Mexico and several major North American outlets, including the Drake Hotel in Chicago.

His most recent collection was unveiled four months ago in Nevis.

He married model Lise Gibeau in 1965 but the union ended in divorce in 1972.

He is survived by their son, Marc Steven, and by three grandchildren.

The family funeral will be private, but a public memorial service is planned for the fall.

You can read an in-depth bio on the designer at the website here.