9 of Vancouver’s Top Designers

From designer cakes to shoes to snowboards, these innovative creators put B.C. on the map

Credit: Amanda Skuse

Extraordinary talent. Innovative design. Exquisite creations. These nine local designers prove that Vancouver offers up world-class talent across the artistic spectrum.

Even the proudest West-Coaster might not be aware of the abundance of design talent in their own backyard – artists who choose to remain rooted here, inspired by their surroundings and inspiring others.

From cakes to courtyards, snowboards to swimsuits and indoor lighting to ninja fighting, BC Living profiles the best of the best in nine diverse design categories.


Click here to find out the designers favourite goods and shopping spots in Vancouver.

Credit: Amanda Skuse

Omer Arbel – Industrial Designer – Omer Arbel Office and Bocci

I knew I was meant to be a creator all my life,” says Omer Arbel in the rooftop garden of Bocci’s headquarters in the design-centric Armoury District of Vancouver.

Born in Jerusalem, the Vancouver-raised industrial designer originally thought his calling was architecture. It was only toward the end of a six-year program at the University of Waterloo that a growing obsession with architectural scale models pointed him in a different direction. He began to create increasingly fanciful models for buildings that didn’t exist and felt drawn to creating new forms of expression.

Arbel has celebrated a banner 2013 with Bocci’s European debut this spring at Euroluce, Milan’s biannual furniture salon, and the installation of a 35-metre-tall light sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum during the London Design Festival.

But success has not come without risks. His first artistic and commercial success, the 2.4 Chair, was nearly his last. The resin lounger was, he readily admits, almost impossible to make and used extremely volatile materials. “Then again,” says the soft-spoken aesthete, “design is an inherently risky thing. That’s what makes it so exciting.”

omerarbel.com / bocci.ca

Credit: Amanda Skuse

Anna Kosturova – Swimwear designer – Anna Kosturova Swim and Resortwear

For swim- and resort-wear designer Anna Kosturova, less has indeed been more. A free spirit who bristled under Communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia, Kosturova left the landlocked country of her birth to live by the ocean. Then another escape – this time from a particularly grey West Coast winter – changed her life.

While shopping for a bikini for a trip to Australia, Kosturova couldn’t find one she liked. “So I designed it,” she remembers. That very first bikini, a fully sequined lime-and-turquoise crochet stripe, is still sold on her website as the “Beach Goddess” (above). The particularly divine design was also the first of her creations to grace the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition in 2008.

Since then, her sexy suits have (barely) covered the best bikini bods in showbiz with a celebrity following that includes Mariah Carey, Jennifer Aniston, Paris Hilton, Hilary Swank and Cindy Crawford. Meanwhile, Kosturova stays far from the glamour of Hollywood, instead choosing to work out of her home, a shabby-chic loft on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.


Credit: Amanda Skuse

Erin Templeton – Bag Designer – Erin Templeton Accessories

“I really have such trouble screwing around with something that doesn’t work,” says Vancouver’s most stylish bag lady, Erin Templeton. Luckily, the Port Coquitlam native’s internationally acclaimed recycled vintage leather bohos, backpacks, clutches and cuffs have worked from the get-go.

Ten years ago, Templeton’s stand at London’s famous Portobello Market caught the eye of a stylist at U.K. fashion mag Harper’s & Queen when she was still a starving shoemaking student at London’s Cordwainers College (now part of the London College of Fashion). Then, after a brief stint studying millinery in Melbourne, Templeton came home to more attention from trendsetting magazines like Teen Vogue, Elle Canada and Flare.

“I mostly just doodle and it pops out when it’s time,” she says of her design process. “I have learned so many things, but not how to take a real two-week vacation. I’m so far from the girl with some old leather pants and a sewing machine that I miss the old days sometimes!”


Credit: Amanda Skuse

Max Jenke – Creative Director – Endeavor Snowboards

At age 12, Max Jenke took up the relatively new sport of snowboarding because, as he says, he’d never really learned to ski and knew he’d never catch up to his buddies in ability. Within a year, he was an internationally recognized pro on a burgeoning scene, at a time when today’s basic tricks were being invented.

Harnessing that same pioneering spirit, Jenke branched out at age 15 and designed a logo for his board sponsor. “I sketched it and my art teacher showed me how to make a screen of it to make clothing,” he remembers. “They never used it but I clearly remember it still.”

Today, he designs for himself, creating cutting-edge, award-winning snowboards known internationally for technical innovation and quality.  As president and creative director of Endeavor Snowboards, Jenke has fused his two great passions, even if his dual roles sometimes threaten to pull him in opposite directions. His greatest challenge is finding the time to get into a creative mode after dealing with his executive tasks. But he wouldn’t change a thing, even if he could. “This is my entire life. I have no idea what else I would do.” endeavorsnowboards.com

Credit: Amanda Skuse

Jeff Agala – Creative Director – Klei Entertainment

Video game creator Jeff Agala, creative director for Klei Entertainment, admits the hardest part of his job is being original while still referencing the past. “Every game has to be different,” he says. “Everything I do has to make me feel, bring up emotion and bring me back to a certain era.”

The winner of two Canadian Video Game Awards, Agala comes by his fanboy approbation honestly: as a youngster he dulled his pencils and sharpened his skills tracing his older brothers’ superhero serials, copying the styles of iconic 1990s Marvel Comics artists like Art Adams and Jim Lee. (For the record, Wolverine was, and still is, his favourite character.)

While he was lauded for his unique use of light and shadow in 2012’s critically acclaimed Mark of the Ninja, it’s the Tim Burton-inspired graphics of 2013’s Don’t Starve that have powered up his company financially. With pastiche being the video game medium’s pop art, Agala is inspired by Renaissance artists like Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Donatello, as well as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who carry their names. kleientertainment.com


Credit: Amanda Skuse

Dalana Fleming – Cake Designer – The Cake & The Giraffe

For Dalana Fleming, owner of The Cake & The Giraffe custom bakery, a good cake incorporates the desires and personality of the client. It also has to “taste fantastic.”

Fleming’s parents nurtured the cake designer’s nascent artistic talents from the moment she first threw sprinkles on her birthday cake as a child. At 11, this pastry prodigy created her first master work: a cactus-shaped creation, iced in green and boasting slivers of dried mango for spikes, all sitting in a terracotta pot brimming with chocolate cookie crumbs.

Today, Fleming’s impressive catalogue of tasty and stylish treats spans the artistic divide between high kitsch and high art. But there’s always room for her unique flair. “As I’m working on the cake, there will often be creative options that arise,” she says. “While it often isn’t something the client knows about, there have been incredible results through what my dad fondly refers to as ‘art by accident.’”


Credit: Amanda Skuse

Wade Papin & Danielle Wilmore – Jewelry Designers – Pyrrha

Pyrrha was founded out of our mutual hatred of working for someone else,” says Danielle Wilmore, who with husband, Wade Papin, founded the internationally acclaimed Vancouver-based jewelry line in 1995. “I never thought it would be this big. But Wade always thought it would be.”

Despite an admitted lack of business savvy – Wade Papin’s short-lived childhood paper route was plagued by accounting mistakes – it didn’t take long for him to be proved right. The pair’s symbolic talisman jewelry resonated with Vancouver customers and within five years, the handmade silver and gold charms became as ubiquitous as yoga pants. Film and TV stars shooting in Hollywood North took notice, as did the stores that catered to them, like L.A.’s Fred Segal. Tabloids and fashion magazines followed suit and Pyrrha was eventually stocked in the top boutiques of Paris, London and Tokyo.

As demand skyrocketed south of the border, Wilmore and Papin opened Pyrrha’s flagship Los Angeles store in 2010 to serve fans like Brad Pitt, Jodie Foster, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner. But as Papin is quick to point out, Pyrrha remains committed to local production at their East Van studio.

Success has offered up its own unique set of challenges. “Growing the business while staying true to our original vision is the hardest part of what we do,” he says.  “Sometimes we realize that we could run [things] more efficiently, but that would impact the studio energy in a way that we aren’t comfortable with.” For this design duo, feeling good is as important as looking good. pyrrha.com

Credit: Amanda Skuse

Paul Sangha – Landscape Artist – Paul Sangha Landscape Architecture

Landscape artist Paul Sangha’s world opened up beyond his own backyard in Grade 10, when his drafting teacher prodded the class to move past mere drafting and into design. “I started researching and was introduced to Frank Lloyd Wright’s work,” he remembers. “My world changed and I knew I had to be a designer.”

Responsible for the understated gardens that surround many a stately West Point Grey home, Sangha approaches his work like a painter, creating experience, style and a sense of place through sweeping “brush strokes.” His canvas is all around him, charged with the fluid movement that only living plants, water and soil can impart. Light, texture and the rhythm of nature allow his work to mature to its full, transformative potential – which means erasing any telltale signs of his husbandry. “A good landscape,” he says, “looks like it has always been that way.”


Credit: Amanda Skuse

John Fluevog – Shoe Designer – John Fluevog shoes

Iconic Canadian shoe designer John Fluevog got off to a late start creatively. For a decade, he was the business head behind the Fox & Fluevog shoe store. It wasn’t until his amicable split with Peter Fox in 1980 that the then 32-year-old poured his heart into his own soles. “It took that long for me to learn that my opinion of design was of value,” he remembers.

It took significantly less time before others saw the value of his Art Deco-inspired designs. By the late 1980s, Fluevogs were regularly appearing in Vogue, on the runways of New York Fashion Week and on film – most notably a particular pair of hot-pink platform boots in Madonna’s 1991 documentary, Truth or Dare. Fluevog is inspired to create things that are “different, stand out and aren’t like everyone else. If the basic design is ordinary,” he says, “no matter what you do to it, it will look average.”