Dan Levy: Fame & Friendship

Dan Levy on the friendship that inspires him

Dan Levy: Fame & Friendship

Photo by David Leyes

If it weren’t for my friends, there’s a very good chance I’d be flipping pancakes at a 24-hour diner right now. Don’t get me wrong; I’d be doing what I love, but I certainly wouldn’t be living up to my potential. Quite simply, my friends inspire me to strive.
I like to refer to my small social circle as “boutique.” And much like the hotels of the same ilk, my friends are all unique, high quality and serve me good food. But more than that, they teach me things about the world and about myself that I couldn’t learn anywhere else.

More specifically and especially timely given the upcoming fashion week season, I have one friend, Trevor Ballin, who has not only taught me everything I know when it comes to fashion—from what it’s like behind the scenes to how difficult it is to design a great knit—but more importantly he’s shown me what it’s like to be an influential player in an industry without ever feeling the need to bask in the spotlight. In other words, how to be humble. He is Canada’s most undercover fashion success story and he’d like to keep it that way.

Unfortunately for him, I’ve also learned from our very outspoken mutual friend, Benni, that there are times when hard work has to be recognized. And as Trevor feverishly readies yet another collection to be shown this month at New York Fashion Week, I think it’s time for me to very briefly give him the spotlight he deserves.

Trevor has been working as a fashion designer in New York for almost two decades, and in that time has designed for everyone from Isaac Mizrahi (his first day on the job was the now legendary Unzipped runway show) to Michael Kors, where he gave a pre-Proenza Schouler Lazaro Hernandez his first job in fashion as his intern.

But unlike the famous names he’s worked for, Trev is perfectly content to do his work without any public recognition. He is what they call a design director—a job he’s had to explain to me more than a few times. Basically, he works alongside the principal designer to help execute their vision for the brand.

He worked for two years as senior design director at the Gap. And after Hernandez and design partner Jack McCollough’s Parsons collection was bought by Barneys, they turned to Trevor to help build Proenza Schouler. There, he acted as not only their first design director and overall guiding force behind the brand’s now signature casual-cool style—they’ve had three Council of Fashion Designers of America Fashion Award nominations and two wins in 2007 and 2011 for Womenswear Designer of the Year—but also a weekend dogsitter to Hernandez’s miniature pinscher, Jojo.

Since then he’s acted as director of design for Alexander Wang, Calvin Klein Collection and most recently Derek Lam. And no matter how many times I ask, “Don’t you just wish people knew you designed that?” his answer never wavers. As bizarre as it sounds in this fame-crazed world we live in, he legitimately does it for the love and the art, not the fame. Well, that and he’s horrified of attention.

To meet him is to understand how far talent, drive and determination can get you. To call him a friend is to know humility in its purest, most eccentric and hilarious form. It’s a remarkable characteristic that can’t help but inspire you to appreciate what you love more deeply and strive for what you want more confidently.

It’s pretty incredible to think that someone who once dreamed of a life in fashion could go from reading Vogue during recess in elementary school to eventually seeing his designs grace those very pages.

It’s those friends—the ones who choose to walk around the spotlight—who need to be reminded from time to time that what they’ve done, what they’re doing and who they are shouldn’t always be kept in the shadows.

Somewhere Trevor is mortified, and I couldn’t be happier.