ojana Sentaler didn't imagine her journey would put her in the influential stratosphere of other notable designers, but one monumental conversation with Karl Lagerfeld would change career her path indefinitely. Now as the President, Founder, and Creative Director of Sentaler, she reflects on 10 years of trailblazing creations for her luxury outerwear line that everyone from The Royals to celebrities adore.
Can you share your background, where you studied and inspiration for Sentaler's designs?
Bojana Sentaler: I was born in Belgrade, Serbia and moved to Toronto, Canada at the age of 8. Since I was young, I have been sketching fashion designs, and continuously nurtured my creativity through art and music. Later on, during my teen years I was eager to learn more about business. In 2006, I graduated from the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto with a specialization in marketing and finance. After working for a large beauty corporation, my creativity and entrepreneurial spirit led me to leave my corporate job and explore new opportunities. So I moved to Dubai at the age of 23, where I ended up working in media, specifically on economic investment reports for a UK newspaper with a focus on emerging markets in the MENA region. Through that project, I met and interviewed the late and legendary Karl Lagerfeld, who was a source of inspiration and whose wise words encouraged me think about launching my own fashion brand.
What specifically were his wise words to you? And did he offer you any advice? I was told that you've always been avidly sketching. Did you show him any of your designs?
Sentaler: The purpose of my meeting with Karl Lagerfeld was an interview about luxury villas he was designing in Dubai at the time, so I didn’t have any plans to talk about myself. It was a spontaneous conversation I had with him after we finished the interview. When I mentioned that I loved fashion design and dreamed of starting my own fashion line one day, he said to me very bluntly “you either have it or you don’t, and if you have it - go for it.”
What happened after that?
Sentaler: At the end of 2008, when the global economic downturn hit Dubai, I decided to go back to Toronto and spend the Christmas holidays with my family. I have a passion for travel so it wasn’t long until I decided to travel again, this time to South America.
Why South America? What compelled you to go to Peru in the first place?
Sentaler: After living in Dubai for about a year, I decided to explore a new continent, South America. After visiting many countries there, I ended up staying with family friends in Peru for an extended period - started getting new inspirations and new perspectives on life. I began to sketch more frequently and created several fashion pieces, initially for myself. And while living in Peru, I also discovered the alpaca fabric and automatically fell in love with its incredibly soft-as-a-cloud hand feel, not to mention its warm but lightweight thermal features. Inspired by the diverse vibrancy and beauty of my journeys while living in Lima, I created a collection of seven alpaca coats and ended up bringing them back to Toronto with me. The response from friends and my network at the time was overwhelmingly positive and it felt like everyone who saw the collection wanted a coat (or two) for themselves. So in the spring of 2009, I decided to create the luxury outerwear brand Sentaler dedicated to clientele who have an appreciation for refinement and quality.
What was your vision and intention for the creation of Sentaler?
Sentaler: Since its inception in 2009, I had a global vision for Sentaler. My goal was to build an internationally recognized fashion brand for coats that were timeless and fashionable but also warm and functional. At that time in the Canadian market, coats were mostly perceived as a functional item, a garment that you would take off before making an appearance. My idea with Sentaler was to offer a collection of stylish coats in an array of unconventional neutrals and many vibrant colors, so that the coat itself becomes ‘the outfit’, ‘the conversation piece’, essentially - the item that you don’t wish to take off. From the beginning of launching Sentaler, I thought through every detail including the importance of impeccable craftsmanship, use of the most luxurious fabrics, and most importantly - consistency in brand messaging as well as the product itself.
Can you shed more insight into your thought process for the signature and collection colors?
Sentaler: I create the color palette for each collection and spend countless hours tweaking them in the Pantone color space to ensure they are complementary on as many skin tones, hair colors and ethnicities as possible. There are always carry-over neutral hues such as Camel, Shale Grey and Black in my collections. Furthermore, with each season, I create the Sentaler “Color of the Year." I also create many colors that are specific to each collection. For example, in my Fall/Winter 2019 line, Scarlet Red is the Color of the Year but Mulberry, Hazelnut, Caramel, Himalayan Salt, Sky Blue and Ripe Berry are all specific to the current collection.
Your brand is often associated with influential women. Can you share with me the genesis of your relationship with ladies such as Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton?
Sentaler: I began dressing high-profile women in 2015. When Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau and her stylist chose for her to wear the Sentaler Ivory Long Coat in the swearing-in ceremony of her husband, Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau - it was such a significant day in Canadian history. I believe she chose to wear this coat because the Sentaler brand values align with what Sophie wanted to embody that day. Moreover, this was Sentaler's first major appearance that got us worldwide attention. Overnight, we became a recognized brand across Canada. Afterwards, Sophie donned Sentaler on five additional occasions while on her international tour with Justin Trudeau, giving the brand more of a spotlight.
About a year later, in 2016, the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton wore a Sentaler Signature Wrap Coat with Ribbed Sleeves in Gull Grey while on the Royal Tour of Canada. It was an incredible moment for Sentaler and personally for me as a designer - that the Duchess organically chose to wear not only a piece from my collection, but a signature piece that had Sentaler 's identifiable trademark design detail, the Ribbed Sleeves. The coat she wore sold out immediately and went on several back-orders. Today, it's still often referred to as the "Kate Coat" (which we've happily adapted); and since our customer's demand for these items remains so great today, it's still the frequently used search terms for this item.
As for Meghan Markle, during her stay in Toronto while filming Suits, she became a Sentaler client. She discovered the brand on her own and visited our Toronto showroom where she purchased her first few Sentaler coats. Through the years she has been very supportive of the brand, and was seen wearing different Sentaler coats on set at Suits and at various Toronto outings. Just before her engagement to Prince Harry, she appeared in the Sentaler Royal Baby Alpaca Classic Wrap in grey. This wrap is also referred to as the "Meghan Wrap".
Shortly after, when she moved to the UK in 2017, she wore the Sentaler Long Wide Collar Wrap Coat in Camel (aka "Meghan Coat") for her first public appearance with The Queen, during the traditional Christmas Day Church service at Sandringham.
As a designer, it was an absolute honor that she chose to wear a coat from my collection on such a significant day. I remember having a permanent smile on my face that day, and for many days after. The response from this appearance was instant and we saw an increased demand and a spike in traffic across all of our platforms. The coat she wore sold out instantly and went on multiple back-orders. We received media attention and awareness from all over the world.
In January of this year, I was once again honored to see Meghan, this time as Duchess of Sussex, donning the same style in Sentaler's 2019 “Color of the Year”, Scarlet Red, for her first official appearance of 2019. She paired it with a striking purple dress as an ode to an ensemble Princess Diana had worn years prior. It was such a touching tribute and possibly the best way to launch Sentaler's Fall/Winter 2019 anniversary collection.
How are fans able to get their own “Kate” or “Meghan” coat?
Sentaler: The “Kate Coat”, the Wrap Coat with Ribbed Sleeves, and the “Meghan Coat”, the Long Wide Collar Wrap Coat, are available in a number of colors with free shipping, customs and duties world-wide through the e-commerce platform, WWW.SENTALER.COM.
Having been in the industry for a decade, what are some trends you’ve observed?
Sentaler: With the rising topic of sustainability, fashion is trending to focus on the ‘buy less clothes, buy better quality’ philosophy. Customers are becoming more interested in niche brands who are building ethical, cruelty-free and sustainable practices in their DNA. This is something that I have considered for Sentaler since the brand’s inception 10 years ago. The idea is to design for longevity, by creating the highest level of quality and using natural luxury fabrics. Sentaler customers recognize that our products are the perfect combination of fashion and function; these are investment pieces that will withstand wear, time and trends.
In your opinion, how is Canadian fashion performing on a global scale – is it garnering the same level of respect and appeal as couturiers from London, Paris, Milan, etc.?
Sentaler: Although I think that Canadian fashion has a long way to go to reach the level of respect as centuries-old French and British fashion houses, I believe that we are definitely on the right path. In the last couple of years, Canadian fashion has received significant awareness on a global scale. I have especially noticed that Canadian outerwear brands are currently dominating international markets. I think that this is due in part to our geographical location and long-lasting winters we experience. Customers understand that we know outerwear best. Also, in last few years, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau; The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton; and The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle; have greatly contributed to putting global attention on Canadian fashion.
What are some key collection pieces we can look forward to from the Fall/Winter 2019 line?
Sentaler: There are over 40 styles and 17 colors that will debut in our Fall/Winter 2019 anniversary collection. We're showcasing Sentaler's evolution over the last decade. Inspired by old-world European glamour, I used classic outerwear elements like double breasted closures, large notched collars, oversized hoods and menswear inspired fitted straight cut coats and added contemporary details to create a modern version of the classics.
As a celebration of the brand’s 10th anniversary this year, I also incorporated variations of select colors and styles from past collections to illustrate the timelessness of my designs. It is a testament to the brand that coats from Sentaler's first collections are still modern and relevant today. Of the pieces, my personal favorites are any of the new double breasted styles including the Double Breasted Fitted Coat in Scarlet Red and the Double Breasted Notched Collar Coat. I am also in love with all the coats in Sentaler's new neutral hues such as Hazelnut and Opal Grey.
FW19 is the largest collection to date and includes the widest color palette I have created yet. There are the unconventional bright color that Sentaler has become known for, as well as a number of new neutral hues in stunning alpaca fabrics, all with the Signature Ribbed Sleeve detail on the full sleeve, cuff or single rib on the upper arm of select styles.
How else are you celebrating Sentaler's 10th anniversary?
Sentaler: Our 10th Anniversary ‘Sentaler X’ will be a major milestone for the company and for me personally. I feel very proud of how far we have come and I am beyond excited for the announcements I will be making this fall. Stay tuned for so much more to come with this fall’s 'Sentaler X' celebration!