BORN in Beirut and raised in Israel, Zuki Balaila never saw fur garments up close until he arrived in Canada in 1973 to join Betty his wife-to-be. She greeted him at the airport wearing a fur hat and a fur coat. He soon joined his father-in-law’s fur manufacturing business, which focused largely on mink. He started out sweeping the floors, but as the 24-year-old passed by the coats, he became inspired.
Mr. Balaila, who as a teenager enjoyed sketching clothes, quickly developed his own ideas for revamping his father-in-law’s business. To his eye, the garments seemed dull — browns, blacks, whites — and “looked too old, too heavy, too massive” to appeal to the younger generation. He resumed his sketching and soon had his own label. In 1986, he opened his own design shop, using unusual colors and lighter styles. Mr. Balaila manufactures his own garments, which is rare for a designer.
Despite producing only a few thousand expensive garments a year, designers like Mr. Balaila feed the global craving for fur. If fashion shows in Milan, Paris, New York and London are presenting more fur, or a new type or style, ordinary consumers start clamoring for cheaper look-alike items. Wholesale prices rise in tandem.
In the 1990s, when Mr. Balaila offered his apparel in Japan, his beaver garments, so supple and light, they were mistaken for sheared mink. Thereafter he exhibited annually at the Japan Fur Fair where he was very well received. Zuki designs were coveted by the most fashionable elite Japanese ladies and were sold in the finest fur salons throughout Japan. When the Japanese economic bubble burst in the late 1990’s, the Japan Fur Fair was discontinued. However, Japanese retailers sought out Zuki products at other Fur Fairs such as Milan and Montreal so Japan remained a solid market for Zuki.
The start of the new century saw the rise of consumerism in China. When other North American furriers were importing from China, Zuki was exporting to China! Zuki began to exhibit at the Hong Kong Fur Fair and gained clients from Hong Kong, Taiwan and the mainland. The Chinese clients have a great eye and appreciation of design and quality.
Both the young and young-at-heart appreciate Zuki’s intricate designs. Zuki aficionados anxiously await the unveiling of each collection to view the new seasonal patterns, techniques, and details.
Through the years, favorites have included Zuki’s abstract geometrics in colorful sheared beaver styled into a blouson jacket, lightweight sheared minks that reverse to their own sueded pelt, fitted walking coats with floral patterns created from shearing and grooving or intricate intarsia design, bouclé trimmed colorful sheared beaver swing coats, and jewel adorned (and adored) fox and velvet evening wraps.
Fun or elegant, each and every season, Zuki impresses with his immense talent and creativity.
Awards for Zuki:
· 1991 York Furrier Designer of the Year
· 1994 Quebec’s Griffe D’or – Best Designer (Zuki was the very first recipient of this award.)
· 1997 Prix de la Creative Internationale
· 2011 Fur Council of Canada’s Maurice Memorial Award – Outstanding contributions to the Fur Trade
After a flamboyant presence on all the European and American fashions shows, Zuki has left a immense legacy to the worldwide fashion industry. Now colors and forms are everywhere on catwalks and young designers are inspired by the freedom that Zuki has instilled to the fur industry. In 2015 Zuki and Betty have decided to retire and hand over the reins to a young Canadian designer Mrs Lesya Langevin. Both Betty and Zuki are working part time on demand with Lesya to reinvent new designs and insure a smooth transition for existing dealers and customers.
Lesya come from Ukraine where, behind the iron curtain at that time, she discovered by pure luck what would become the main inspiration for her life; fashion and pattern making. One day in her small village where her father was the chief postman, appeared at the post office ONE copy of a German fashion magazine called Burda, filled with hieroglyphic drawing all over the pages. Lesya’s father bring it to home, didn’t what is was about. For Lesya it was a revelation. She was 11 years old and without training, and working in a foreign language to try to decipher the mystery of pattern making and sewing - she then spent the next years of her young age to perfect those skills. Having been immersed so young and gifted with such a talent, she was headed to work as principal designer at Chanel or Gucci but as a turn of life instead landed with her young boy in Montreal in 2004. It took many years to establish herself in that new country and in 2014 she acquired a 75 years old furrier’s house in Quebec, Canada. It was a revelation -she had fallen in love with the fur work. The following year, the opportunity presented after meeting Betty and Zuki to continue their legacy. Today Lesya is chief designer, pattern maker and fashion director for Zuki Fur Factory Inc. and she has the pleasure to work everyday in what inspire her the most. She has the opportunity to learn from and manage the same employees that have learned the mastering of fur intarsia under Zuki’s direction 20 years ago.
Andre (husband), Betty Balaila, Lesya and Zuki at ILOE Chicago in 2015.
Lesya bring a new life to the fashion work being at the same time in a traditional furrier’s house answering client, proposing remodeling and working to design new Zuki garments - and also having a foot in the future while engaging actively on Instagram, Facebook, Polyvore, Etsy and the Web to market and promote the products. Together with her husband who manage part time the administrative chores of the company, Lesya works with Zuki for each new collection, for everyone’s pleasure.