My first voyage alone across the Atlantic took me to Venice – an effervescent city of divine beauty and inconceivable elegance. But it was not particularly the sites on offer which were the most extraordinary examples of refinement and allure, but, rather, the air of this enchantment was found in the ordinary, the Venetians themselves. They held themselves with great sophistication, seemingly without leaving a stone unturned when it came to their personal grooming and upkeep – not a hair out of place, nor a buckle un-cinched. It wasn’t, however, until I returned to Europe two years later – this time across Italy, Switzerland and France, that I realized this refinement was not confined to the Venetians, but what seemed to Europe as a whole. Even in my subsequent journeys to the south and east of the continent did I return to a similar conclusion, a running theme of unparalleled grace, rarely seen in my Torontonian way of life.

Upon my return home from this summer’s European adventure, before de-boarding the plane, there it was: The first sight of sweatpants, followed by an avalanche of pajama pants, socks matched with and flip-flops, ill-fitting attire with ghastly colors to match – it seemed somewhere along the Atlantic the imaginary line between comfort and sophistication had been drawn. I refused to submit – I returned to my day job wearing heels and a tailored business dress I had bought during my travels matched with fine jewellery and a designer bag. Compliments were abound and boastful pride was well in check. However, by the fourth day or so, my European-styled clothing had been exhausted, and I returned to my frumpy dresses with comfort shoes and cardigans to match. In comparison to my European style, each day here made me feel worse and worse, and I knew then that my style required resurrection, a desperate need of mending, but without the additional cost of an eight hour plane ride. It was then that I stumbled upon the newly opened Lazar Couture boutique on Bloor, in Toronto. The boutique, which offers a beautiful variety of daywear, eveningwear and bridal wear, I was happy to note, was the fashion house of choice for the current Miss Universe Canada, Chanel Beckenlehner. ]

“I remember, honestly, my own mother never left the house without lipstick. Even if she went to buy bread from the grocery store. She would dress nicely, have pride in herself, put her makeup on carefully,” Maria Lazarova Manceva, the mechanical engineer turned fashion designer and founder of Lazar Couture laughs of her European upbringing. “I used to be like that, but [when I moved to] Canada, the dynamic changed. It was sad to see, to me, at least, that most people didn’t live in that European way. That pride is something I really miss because in Europe even the poorest of the poor is rich in spirit – they make an event out of every moment of their lives. Going out, even to buy bread, is an occasion. It’s a lively spirit that I hope North America can one day reach because at the moment it’s very sad not to have that pride in ourselves… She spent 10-15 minutes in front of the mirror just to buy bread! Here [in North America], it’s all about efficiency, the spirit is lost.”

Lazarova, who studied fashion in Montreal upon immigrating from Macedonia, a small country situated north of Greece and south of Serbia, is well aware of the North American market, though she intelligently designs for it with a European twist:

“Growing up as a teenager in the early 90s in rural Europe, it was a totally different time. There was no internet, no computers, not even magazines. This characterized my teenage life. We didn’t see anything remotely American. All of a sudden, in ’92, ’93, we had access to MTV. Suddenly, there were more magazines on the market. To me, this was another world, a dream. Being a teenager, I was probably seventeen, and it was like heaven; I couldn’t believe what style ideas existed out there. But, of course, you cannot wear whatever you see on the television. I fell in love with bold, different pieces, and from that point on, I always tried to be different in my style and designs, but different in a good way. I would make sketches of what I saw and incorporate that style into the surrounding European style. For instance, if I saw Madonna wearing a leather jacket, I would sketch myself a leather jacket but in a different way, incorporating only elements. Ever since then, I made custom designs for myself,  incorporating various styles. Friends eventually started asking me to design for them, and here I am.”

The popularity of Lazarova’s designs is unsurprising. She makes incredible pieces of high quality clothing promised to give any woman the confidence she needs. This is embedded in her own fashion philosophy, for which she credits her European roots:

“In Europe, dressing and beauty is a culture, a ritual, that women have been exposed to as girls since young, passed from generation to generation. There, women are proud of who they are. They are proud of their gender, their age, who they are and how they live. Clothing can have the power to make a North American woman to feel like that for every occasion, for every minute of the day. When I design, I think of all beautiful women who are over thirty; they are mothers, they are strong workers, and take care of many responsibilities. Their lives, like all of our lives in North America are stressed and nervous. When they wear my clothes, I want them to feel relief, to feel the beauty of life again. To be able to go home or enjoy a coffee or a cocktail with friends and feel beautiful.”

To bring out one’s inner beauty, Lazarova has a few suggestions on how to shop, look, and feel European. The first: Simplicity. “If the design is simple, then we can accessorize it with beautiful high heels, beautiful jewellery and our beautiful selves.”

The second: Quality Fabrics. “In my own designs, I keep them simple and feminine, but I pay attention to the fabrics. Many Europeans do. A high quality fabric, like silk or cotton, will feel better and outlast cheaper counterparts.”

The third: Booking an appointment with a fashion and colour consultant; “It’s much easier to shop for yourself once you know what works and what doesn’t. When private clients visit me, I give them a full tutorial, with everything from what colours work for them personally, to jewellery, makeup, and especially cuts. Women have different body shapes, and only through consultation with an expert will you know what cuts work for you. For example, with Miss Universe Canada, she was at a loss for which colour to wear. Based on her dark hair, tan complexion and brilliant blue eyes, I suggested a royal blue dress would work perfectly for her and it did. I also see many non-celebrity clients, most of whom have larger tummies and are unhappy with how their clothing fits. Before seeing me, they would wear a slip dress, but that isn’t the best cut for them and they don’t know any better. The best cut would be to break the tummy area, ensuring a very visible part of the body looks more perfected and less defined, so I either design clothing for them to cover their problem areas and also give them the knowledge to help themselves. A woman’s height can also affect that looks best on her: I had another client, who was the mother of a bride. She was frustrated because she could not find a long dress that suited her, because she was very petite. Every long dress looked lost on her. Instead, I consulted and ended up designing her a high-low dress; it showed a little bit of skin, her shoes, her legs, and it was perfect for her.”

With the newfound knowledge of how to dress for my 5’5 frame, I walk out of Lazar Couture with an incredibly simple yet well-made, surprisingly affordable day dress. As I leave, Lazarova flashes a brilliant smile, and in perfect European fashion exclaims “Ciao!”.

For more information, contact Lazar Couture at 647-330-8650 or visit the boutique at 2323 Bloor Street West, Unit 5, Toronto, Canada. lazarcouture.ca 

By: Mariana Bockarova