What was the first thing you ever designed?
I was about 11 and I found some scraps from my brother’s vampire costume that my mom had made him and decided I was going to make something great for my then-four-year-old sister. It was this gross, ill-fitting, flannel-back red and black satin thing that my parents wouldn’t let her wear out of the house.
Can you talk a bit about your background – where you studied, what mentors influenced your voice as a designer?
I went to Ryerson University for fashion design. While I was there I did an internship with Sara Duke, who pushed me to start my own line. I wouldn’t say anyone necessarily has influence over my voice as a designer per se. However, when I make anything that isn’t a custom piece, I’m always thinking about it being sellable. Therefore, if anyone has influence, it’s my customers themselves.
What is your personal process when designing new pieces? How do you bring a design from conception to creation?
I always start with the fabric and go from there to pattern drafting. I tend to design with a slight 1960’s influence without looking retro. The fabrics have the most influence on what is being made and keeping the designs from going over the retro line. Sketching has never has really been my thing. I do it once in a while but I never sit down with a sketchbook and go at it. From pattern drafting I sew up the sample which gets shot and a few months later goes into production, which is pretty much the same process as the sample only there are multiples being made.
Your pieces have been popping up on the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Canadian Screen Awards. How closely do you work with the actors who wear 3rd Floor Studio at these events? Are you ever surprised to encounter one of your designs on a celebrity you admire?
I work very closely with the actresses that wear my clothing. They usually come to my studio themselves or accompanied by a stylist. A few years ago, Emily Rose (who was on Brothers and Sisters, which was a show I loved), bought a dress from one of the boutiques I sell to and wore it to a party in NYC. That was very cool for me as I had no idea it was happening. Usually because I dress people myself I’m very aware of who I’m dressing for what event, so it’s not a surprise.
You’ve chosen to have all of your pieces handmade locally and ethically here in Toronto. What would you say to challenge designers and manufacturers who argue that producing garments overseas is the only way to make them affordable to consumers?
I think you have to decide what is “affordable”; my “affordable” is $150-300. If you want your pieces to retail under $50 then I’d agree, but you’re doing so knowing that you’re giving up control and that ill treatment of workers and child labor due to further outsourcing could be present. If you can find a way to manufacture ethically and inexpensively internationally, more power to you.
Who are your favourite Canadian designers?
Hilary MacMillan, her line is very different from mine. She makes great separates. Her coats are incredible and I love that she does a lot of the fabric printing herself.
What’s your favourite staple in your own wardrobe?
Panache bras. I cant live without them. They come in fun colours and patterns that make your everyday lingerie drawer much more exciting. The fit is great and I won’t wear any other brands as a result.
What’s next for you?
Online shopping just launched [in the fall] and new pieces are being added frequently. New boutiques and cities are being added to the roster every day… You can find 3rd Floor Studio at White Elephant in Hamilton, ON and in British Columbia; Wren Boutique (Bowen Island), Bernstein and Gold (Victoria) and Be Boutique (Courtenay). Hopefully you’ll also see me at the One of a Kind Show this spring!