Despite a sometimes-spotty standing on style, Vancouver is an undisputed fashion leader when it comes to technical athleisure and activewear.
Rugged mountain peaks, sea air and the much-vaunted west coast lifestyle have been invaluable as incubaåtors for globally acclaimed brands such as Lululemon, Arc’teryx and RYU. And that, in turn, has had a profound effect on the looks on the catwalks of the world’s great fashion capitals.
Noel Asmar certainly doesn’t have the mainstream cachet of, say, Lululemon’s Chip Wilson, but if you’re part of the international equestrian community, the Langley-based designer is a bonafide fashion icon, thanks to her eponymous equestrian apparel line.
Vancouver certainly isn’t the first city one thinks of when it comes to horses, the prevailing narrative here being focused more on yoga and snowboarding. Even more noteworthy is that Asmar is a self-made businesswoman in the seemingly blue-blooded world of the equestrian set.
Asmar desperately wanted a horse as a young girl. But for the daughter of a single mother from the Prairies and a Lebanese immigrant father, money was tight. Eventually, her mother was able to afford an Arab-Quarter Horse cross, named Madonna, but wasn’t able to pay the cost of full board.
Undeterred, Noel marshaled the work ethic that would underpin and guide her throughout her career, and, in order to make ends meet, took on full-time care responsibilities for Madonna.
“I had to go feed my horse in the morning, break the ice, do the stalls on my way to school and had to do the same thing on the way back,” she remembers, adding with a laugh, “It was awesome!”
From the stables of Cloverdale, a 10-year stint in luxury hotel management would ultimately take her around the world, helping hone an innate sense of design. By 2002 she was back in Vancouver with a shrewd business idea: tailored, high-end uniforms for luxury hotels and spas.
Success for NoelAsmarUniforms.com came early, but not easy. Noel credits her supportive husband, who would help fulfill orders, just so he could spend more time with her.
By 2009, Asmar had a rapidly growing family, a rapidly growing business, and a stunning homestead in Langley to house both. “I was determined to raise my children and so I chose to run my business from home. For that we needed a lot of space,” she says, adding that Lindsey left his career to help care for the kids, freeing her to build her multi-million-dollar empire.
With her family, her business and her horses under the same roof, Asmar was able to ride the local trails more frequently and, subsequently, became frustrated by the lack of riding apparel that was both practical and fashionable.
Designing a few pieces for herself, she created what would come to be known as the All Weather Rider. Billed as “a smart, chic outerwear piece with a flattering silhouette that works in and out of the saddle,” it was designed with the vagaries of the Lower Mainland’s weather in mind, equally functional in rain or shine.
No sooner was it launched than her now-signature garment won the prestigious “Most Innovative Rider Apparel” award at the 2011 British Equestrian Trade Association. Practically overnight, Asmar found herself with another, parallel business.
Nearly a decade later, Asmar is one of the world’s top equestrian designers, with garments for sale in over 60 countries and her name mentioned alongside Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani after she secured the commission for the Canadian Equestrian Team at the 2016 Olympics and the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games.
Today, in addition to sons Hunter and Taylor and daughter Coco, the glamorous 14,600-square-foot homestead, two-acre parcel and adjoining stable also shelters two horses (Asmar’s black Friesian, Jake, and her husband’s Quarter Horse).
Asmar will be expanding a third, more fashion-forward clothing line and continuing with her rebranded Noel Asmar Uniforms and Equestrian lines. But her pet project is to support other women entrepreneurs locally.