Like (fashion designer) mother, like (managing partner) daughter

In 1974, Ines Di Santo, then 22, left her home in Argentina and arrived in Toronto alone, pregnant, almost penniless and with only one s...


In 1974, Ines Di Santo, then 22, left her home in Argentina and arrived in Toronto alone, pregnant, almost penniless and with only one suitcase.

“There were a lot of political issues so I couldn’t bring money with me and had to come without my husband or my family,” said Ms. Di Santo, now 70. “I knew how to make dresses because I had studied in Paris and in Italy. My dream was to teach fashion, have a store, and teach my daughter to sew.

Two out of three is not bad.

The teaching career never materialized, but she found herself using these sewing skills to start a wedding dress design business. In 1998, she launched the luxury wedding company Ines Di Santo. Her daughter, Veronica Di Santo, who grew up alongside her mother in the fashion industry, became her managing partner in 2001.

The company now has a flagship store in downtown Toronto and a design and administration office in New York’s Fashion District. Then there is the 13,000 square foot head office, also in Toronto, where the design, cut and production takes place.

Veronica, 46, lives with her husband, Jake Abramowicz, 44, and their son Gabriel, 10, in the North York neighborhood of Toronto; Ms. Di Santo lives in the Kleinburg area just outside of Toronto with her second husband, Frank Augello, 74.

Is it true that a sewing machine thrown aside saved your life?

Ms. Di Santo: When I arrived in Toronto, I got a job in hand sewing for a company that made wedding dresses. I was pregnant, single, and only had $ 10. A friend called and said,
“There is a sewing machine in the trash.” I told him to grab it and I would fix it. I did.

This beautiful machine was everything to me. I didn’t have enough money to pay the rent. I took the $ 10 and bought 10 rolls of fabric – each cost $ 1 – and started making designs, which I showed to the companies that bought them. I had help from a fabric supplier who gave me their fabrics after promising that I would pay for them once I sold the patterns. I got a loan from the bank so I could do a fashion show and started doing my collections. I had to make a future for myself. I still have the machine.

When did you know your mom was creating something special?

Mrs. Di Santo: In 1998, she made her first bridal market show in New York. We went to the Toronto show in a van with her dresses in the back. We got one of the last seats, which was near the bathroom.

The bridal industry had turned away from Princess Diana in her large puffed sleeves and to create other looks, like shorter trains, natural waist cuts and more A-line silhouettes. My mom brought a different perspective to the industry. Her dresses were strapless, had beading, lots of corsetry, and delicate details. They had an understated elegance.

When buyers were using the bathroom, they would see our booth and look at the collection. They were asking for our business card. They started to place orders. The crowd has grown. I witnessed the demand and the interest, and it reinforced what I knew: that her job was different and that she was on to something.

How is your work different from other wedding designers?

Mrs. Di Santo: I have a very specific fit and fit. My details are more European. I do a lot of hand embroidery and big flowers. The corset is done inside.

I have a vision. The challenge is to get people to understand this vision, then remember it, then imagine it. I have been criticized a lot. I would rather be criticized than not be anyone.

I’ve always wanted to show something different, that catches people’s attention. I had a tiger during my first fashion show in 1984. I sold all the dresses in this collection. In 2001 I had a woman in a wedding dress with a naked man with a tattoo on his back lying on the floor. It was very daring.

I did some color while everyone did everything in white. I made dresses with a high neck and open back and I was focusing on the fit in a time when others weren’t.

Who makes what decisions in the company?

Mrs. Di Santo: We have always worked very well together. I leave the styling to him and concentrate on all aspects of the business. We trust each other. There is a lot of thought and discussion for every room: is there something for every bride and every personality? Is it the right time for this specific collection? Is it related to who is Ines?

What does your daughter bring to the business?

Mrs. Di Santo: Patience and passion. We both have ambition. I create; she has the vision to grow the business. I have the ideas; she takes ideas and realizes them. I started the business, but we’ve been working on it together from the start.

How did you stay connected to customers and retailers during the pandemic?

Mrs. Di Santo: When we were unable to go to the trunk shows, we offered virtual one-on-one meetings with the stores and their wives. We have created a blog and a series called Inspiration with Inès as a way to stay in touch with retailers, industry partners and customers, and to keep our voice and our passion alive when the going was dark.

We released 13 Instagram Lives and then put them on our site. Some of our guests were cake expert Ron Ben Israel, photographer Christian Oth and party expert Darcy Miller.

How do you see the evolution of the industry?

Mrs. Di Santo: The market which has been repressed with the confines of the Covid is experiencing a resurgence of energy. The brides are coming back. People take this opportunity to grow up. People want that great ball gown that they always wanted. They are making second and third changes because they had to reinvent their marriages.

What industry issues are you trying to solve?

Mrs. Di Santo: We continue to explore how we can support sustainability in our collections. This is our third season using and incorporating fabrics that help reduce our carbon footprint. We have a printed watercolor jacquard which is made of durable viscose fabric derived from wood pulp. The satin crepe back is made from 70% recycled plastic. Currently, 15 percent of the collection offers sustainable options.

Do you have a goal for each dress?

Mrs. Di Santo: Yes. I create history and love with each wedding dress while keeping the personality of the bride in that dress as well. It is very difficult to do. I believe in the energy when you sew. There must be positive energy in every dress. When you get married, it is the start of a new life. It’s a day, but it’s forever. I believe in love. Love never goes out of fashion. You can live with a little or a lot of money, but you cannot live without love.

What is your favorite moment?

Mrs. Di Santo: There is a moment that’s distinctly special when a bride finds this dress. She sees herself in the mirror, there is a feeling as they imagine what they will look like at their wedding in this dress. I see them shine and smile. It gives me goosebumps and energizes me.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Like (fashion designer) mother, like (managing partner) daughter
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