A life in the pursuit of style, passion, and gratitude
John Chwyl’s spontaneous modelling stint at a Bridal Fantasy fashion show in 1992 opened the door to a long-standing career with the organization. By 1994, he was managing the production, a role he maintained for 25 years. Now, nearly 10 years retired, Chwyl reflects on his time in the fashion industry and his part in shaping Edmontonians’ style choices through the decades. We sat down with Chwyl to learn more about how he’s spending retirement, what fashion rules he will always follow, and what’s most important when determining one’s style.
The Bridal Fantasy fashion show is where you got your start in the fashion world, but you also worked in other capacities throughout your career. Tell us more about the other facets of your career.
While working for Bridal Fantasy, I got a call from the marketing director at West Edmonton Mall and she asked me to do just a single fashion show for the mall. We did that fashion show and then I just continued to do it for 14 more years. There were times we were doing 80 fashion shows in a year. It was insane. Thankfully, I had an amazing team working for me that I called my Keisha Girls (my company was called Keisha Productions and so they called themselves the Keisha Girls).
While working with the mall, we got a call from Lorraine Mansbridge at Global Television. She was looking for someone to come on the air to talk fashion. At the time there wasn’t a lot of talk about fashion in the same way that I wanted to present it—and certainly nothing local. So I just, out of the blue, created an on-air fashion segment, and then I did it for about 19 years. I loved it because it was an opportunity for me to talk about fashion in a very real way. We didn’t talk about labels. We didn’t talk about designers. This was just about real people and real fashion.
You focused your entire career on real fashion and less on following trends. Share that rationale and why it was important to you.
I never looked at the labels. I never talked about or wrote about labels, ever. I was probably the most anti-fashion guy in all of fashion at that time because I didn’t care what name you were wearing. I just cared that it fit, that it looked good, and that you felt comfortable in it. And for me, that was how I lived my entire career—I wanted you to be comfortable in your style. As long as it’s clean and it fits well and it’s not damaged, I don’t care—you look good in it.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to define their style, or figure out what looks good on them?
Internally, we all understand and know what looks good on us. We all know the things that we like about ourselves and the things that we dislike about ourselves. It’s really important that whatever it is that you put on, makes you feel something positive. If it doesn’t, it’s the wrong piece. But if you put it on and you don’t pay attention to the areas that are a concern for you, then by all means that’s what you should wear.
I believe very strongly that you should look at yourself as a picture; where you are the inside of the picture, and your clothing is the frame of that picture. The more simple and the more classic that is, the better that you will shine. Buy the quality that you can afford. Choose classic stuff that will last forever.
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You gave up the hustle and bustle of the fashion industry 10 years ago to retire and spend more time with your partner. Tell us what life looks like for you, nowadays.
I am so incredibly lucky and blessed to live the life I live, which is filled with such joy and happiness and everything I could ever want. It’s like you get to that point where you think, can it get any better than this? Pardon me? I don’t think so.
We have a beautiful home with 160 acres of trees around us. We’re very much isolated. We’re in our own little world that is filled with sunshine. My partner, Tim, and I have been together for 41 years. We enjoy every minute together. We check our computers to see what’s going on in the world and we talk about how silly everything is and how it was different when we were younger. We will go to the gym we built on our property, have lunch together, dabble in creativity and then take part in the daily practice of fika, a Swedish tradition of visiting and having coffee and a sweet. It’s meant to break up your day, which I think everyone in the world should do. And then we just hang out until supper time. We love our days. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Tell us of the non-negotiable luxuries that allow you to live your best life.
My first one is my bathtub. I was always a shower person, but when we built our house and we had the room, we put in a big soaker tub. All I have to do is pour myself an old fashioned, fill the tub with the hottest water I can stand, drop in some eucalyptus oil, and turn on some music.
Music is my second luxury; I can’t go without it. The music has to make me feel something. If it doesn’t make me feel an emotion (not agitation or anger), I don’t want it in my life. I have 42,000 songs on my iPhone and I have 14 different playlists that go from bath time to chill time to the elliptical to everything in my life.
And finally, my partner, Tim. Forty-one years together and I tell him every day when I see him, “I love you more today than I did yesterday.” That’s because he’s my rock. Everything good in my life has come with the two of us together.
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