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Paula Holgate – A Fashion Multi-Talent

Her fashion style and vision left a lasting impression.

Her fashion style and vision left a lasting impression

NamePaula Grace HolgateBirthMay 6, 1963DeathApril 1, 1989BirthplaceKingston, JamaicaEthnic OriginJamaican, GrenadianOccupationsRetailer, Buyer, Events Coordinator, Public Relations ConsultantShare
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A meticulous eye for detail, high standards, skills and a caring heart propelled Paula Holgate into the world of fashion in Canada. Known for her minimalist style, keen fashion acumen, many talents and supportive nature, Holgate was a force to be reckoned with in her early 20s.

From her early years in high school to working as an Assistant Buyer at high end store Creeds, to launching her boutique Sublime, Holgate became one of the most respected names in fashion. According to her sister, Donna Holgate, “Paula was not only a consummate hard-working professional, she was also kind and caring, gave generously of her time and talent, and really loved promoting Canadian talent.”

Early Life and Career

Holgate was born in Jamaica  in 1963. At the age of two, she moved to Ithaca, New York, with her parents, Eukley and Dorothy Holgate. She was the youngest of five children: her brother, Phil, and sisters Claudette, Maureen and Donna. When her father died in 1968, her mother immigrated to Canada with her children. From a young age, Holgate had a sense of style and gravitated toward all things fashion.

By the age of 25, Holgate had a career many spend their entire lives striving for. After high school, Holgate worked at Holt Renfrew and at Creeds, both high-end stores in Toronto.  Holgate then became the Special Events Coordinator in 1989 for the opening of Club Monaco stores Canada.

By the age of 25, Holgate had a career many spend their entire lives striving for.

 

 

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Expression Magazine
Photo: Ellen Tofflemire Hair: Ethleline/MAC Hair Makeup: Gordon Espinet/ Judy Welch Source: Canadian Living’s Expression May/June 1989

Breaking Barriers

A major portion of Holgate’s career was focused on Sublime, where she and co-owner Anthony Ohorodnyk thoughtfully curated the collections of some of Canada’s up-and-coming designers. Holgate was always a champion for young Canadian talent. She encouraged and supported them in every way she could.

Designer Stephen Stanish said, “She was a lovely human being with a caring heart. I remember her as being very supportive of Canadian fashion and buying from me, the little guy. Thank you,Paula.”

Several of the designers she showcased at Sublime went on to become very successful, including Dean and Dan Caten, Tu Ly, Comrags, Bent Boys, Babel, Pina Lisi, Emily Zarb, and Hoax Couture. Sublime was the “it” boutique in the trendy Yorkville area of Toronto and a destination when celebrities came to the city. Whitney Houston, Sting, Carol Burnett, and Elizabeth Taylor are just a few of the names who shopped at Sublime.

The style of the store is described as ahead of its time. “At such a young age to be able to have that confidence and that aesthetic, to open a boutique and merchandise it so well and have such a great clientele. “She was beyond her years when it comes to her art and the way she developed her fashion sense,” says stylist Iris Simpson of Hello, COUTURE!.

“At such a young age to be able to have that confidence and that aesthetic, to open a boutique and merchandise it so well and have such a great clientele,” said stylist Iris Simpson of Hello, COUTURE!.

Influence and Legacy

Holgate’s personal sense of style was greatly admired within the industry. She believed in a minimalist aesthetic. In an interview with Canadian Living, published in May 1989, Holgate described her fashion as “sexy, sophisticated and simple” and listed black as the colour she felt most comfortable in. Her sister Claudette Holgate-Johnson defined her style as “elegant, classy, she never went over the top and people did a double take.”

Despite all of Holgate’s success at such a young age, she faced barriers as a woman of colour in the industry. Her sister, Donna Holgate, describes Paula as having had to work so much harder just to be seen. “Paula was very focused, ethical and prepared, and she knew her value and her worth. She had a strong work ethic and kept her eye on her goals. She was my best friend and my inspiration. It’s so funny, anywhere I went, people would always ask me, are you Paula’s sister?  I was always so proud to eagerly answer YES!”

Paula Holgate, photographed by Doug Griffin, Dec 13, 1988

Following her untimely death in 1989, the City of Toronto, in association with the Festival of Canadian Fashion, MAC Cosmetics, Reinhart&McMillan Hair and Metropolis (Toronto’s free arts and entertainment weekly) established a scholarship in her name.

The Paula Holgate Student Award was designed to support a student who embodied the same devotion to fashion that Holgate did. The show featured Fall and Winter collections from designers she supported including Dean and Dan, Tu Ly, Bent Boys, Hoax Couture and many more. Proceeds from ticket sales were donated to the scholarship fund.

Holgate was groundbreaking anywhere she went, not simply for being the youngest or one of the few the Black people in the room, but because of her sheer talent and gifts. “I think about her all the time. We all miss her so much,” says Simpson in conclusion.

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