Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The hidden designers of your city


If you read the fashion mags- even ones with a local focus- you'll get brand fatigue. The same stock photos of runway shows, the same seasonal offerings from Boss, Versace, Eileen Fisher.

The local designers in a city, who can provide great choices for over-50 women, are absent. They have minimal to no advertising budget, and are ignored by editors who must represent their advertisers. Your local designer can often make a special size, move a pocket, or cut a jacket for your figure. You can build a relationship, so she will tell you, for example, that she's planning tweed jackets in the fall to go with the pants you buy this spring.

If the mags give her a miss, how do you find her?

1. On foot! Walk the commercial neighborhoods, especially emerging areas where she's an early settler, drawn by the cheaper rent. Go in and look, talk to her, don't be shy about suggesting what you want. I benevolently bugged the Toronto designer Alexia von Beck for over a year to make larger sizes- she finally did, and I wear them into the ground. Ottawa's Muriel Dombret (her boutique is "Clothes") cuts skirts longer to fit my tall frame.

If you find her in another city, organize a trunk show. Muriel comes to Toronto several times a year, and every time, she's mobbed.

2. Online! Search "Dressmakers Toledo" (or whatever your city is) and go from there. Some dressmakers specialize in bridal, but it's a start; phone to find out what she provides. Again, visit and ask to see her work. I once hired an former film costume designer to make me the sweeping cotton 1940's shirtwaist of my dreams, but she talked me into a poly fabric I think was left from one of Elivis' jumpsuits and I wore that $450 dress once. In the sticky summer it felt like a garbage bag.

3. Ask at finer fabric stores for their recommended dressmakers: the
modiste is an increasingly rare species. A talented dressmaker-designer often works from her home or an upper floor in an office building. You can also look for dressmakers in the Yellow Pages (sometimes listed under tailors). Specialty drycleaners sometimes know about these reclusive treasures.

If your city has an alternative paper, you may find designers mentioned there, but their looks are often too fey or fashion-y, and novices can rarely afford the really good fabrics and finishing an over-50 woman requires.

2 comments:

greying pixie said...

Sorry this is a late comment as I've just found your blog.

One really great way to find new small designers in your town is to visit the local fashion design or art college graduation show. When I was at art college I felt really chuffed when my tutor asked to buy a couple of pieces from my graduation collection - in fact I was so pleased I ended up giving them to her! Now I do the same with my students and scour the graduation shows for original pieces. Usually graduation students do not have jobs lined up and to be asked to do a commission is great for their confidence and a reasonably economical way of getting genuinely original designer pieces made to measure.

Duchesse said...

Tried this- as well as The New Clothing Show- and found everything super young, tiny, short. They were not willing to size up their patterns. Maybe the talent here is not up to it... their fabrics were only average and the tailoring lacklustre.

Then there was the 'retired designer' who turned out to have an unretired drinking habit.

But you have a good point and I will continue to scan the young talent.