Holt Ren­frew’s fash­ion direc­tor, Bar­bara Atkin, looks back on a ca­reer spent trendspot­ting.

ELLE (Canada) - - Style - BY LISA GUI­MOND

If I was go­ing to de­scribe my­self in one word, it would be ‘teacher,’” says Bar­bara Atkin, who is re­tir­ing as fash­ion direc­tor of Holt Ren­frew this month af­ter 28 years on the front lines of fash­ion. For nearly three decades, Atkin has been cre­at­ing a style rule book for the Canadian re­tailer; its buy­ers use it as a guide to each sea­son’s sil­hou­ettes, colours and fab­rics. “There’s no crys­tal ball,” she says. “That’s what great re­tail­ers do: We give [peo­ple] more of what they need for their life­style.”

Atkin taught pri­mary school for eight years be­fore start­ing her own dis­tri­bu­tion busi­ness. It was dur­ing her time as a ven­dor for Holt Ren­frew that she was re­cruited to bring a fresh fash­ion per­spec­tive to the re­tailer. When asked to con­sider her big­gest ac­com­plish­ments, Atkin is quick to name Holt Ren­frew’s World De­sign Lab, an ini­tia­tive she spear­headed, as some­thing she is most proud of. Launched in 2000 to in­cu­bate new tal­ent, the in-store space, which still ex­ists to­day, was the first in the coun­try to in­tro­duce Phillip Lim, Joseph Al­tuzarra and Alexander Wang, among oth­ers, to shop­pers. “We ed­u­cated our cus­tomers to come to the World De­sign Lab and look for new de­sign­ers,” she says.

While she’s a firm be­liever that “fash­ion needs to have a dia­logue that pushes for­ward,” Atkin isn’t afraid to ad­mit that nos­tal­gia is equally im­por­tant. “It’s an af­fec­tion­ate look­ing back,” she ex­plains. “If we only sold things that were so new you had no ref­er­ences, you wouldn’t buy them. Fash­ion needs to play with fa­mil­iar­ity.” Two of her favourite trend come­backs in­clude Cé­line’s Birken­stocks and Chanel’s chic sneak­ers. She’s also a fan of what she refers to as “re­laxed luxury,” made popular by Vic­to­ria Beckham and Michael Kors. She calls it “an easy, non­cha­lant way of dress­ing,” which, un­sur­pris­ingly, is very close to her own style phi­los­o­phy: “Style comes from not try­ing too hard.”

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