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.