Conversation with a Fashion Designer

Once, as a teenager, I met a fashion designer. A real one, mind you. Not an aspiring wanna-be but a woman who had hobnobbed in some of the most elite fashion circles. Well, at least Canadian ones, that I know of.

It was one of the most delightful moments of my life—meeting this lady. I can’t recall her name: I’m not even sure if I even knew it at the time. But I get overly excited when I meet a fascinating person, and this woman met my description of said individual. Fortunately, due to my love of conversation with just about anyone, I’ve met a few such persons over the years.

We had made a shopping expedition to the village of Merrickville, the main tourist attraction of the region. The town has become almost famous for its local craftspeople and artists. Its main street, lined with all kinds of shops, was a wonderful place of discovery for art, foods, and fashion.

My Mom and I were strolling down the sidewalk, glancing into various shops. We had just passed a shop with mannequins in the windows, dressed in the most gorgeous of outfits. Not your usual trendy stuff but different, unusual, one-of-a-kind pieces. My eyes immediately lit up. But the shop looked so chic, so fine, so fancy. We were dressed in casual shorts and tops with running shoes on our feet. I felt shy but yet so inquisitive.

We weren’t sure it was even open. But Mom insisted we backtrack and try the door. I was hesitant, but my Mom, as per usual, wasn’t. We turned the handle and went in.

We entered a world of the loveliest finery. The shop was filled with dresses. Stuffed full, in ways. It was actually rather crowded. Nonetheless, my heart skipped a beat as I quickly soaked in all the beauty surrounding me. Each dress was unique. The reason for this was that each piece was designed (and made) by the lady of the shop—a true Canadian fashion designer.

I still remember what this lady of fashionable refinement looked like. She had a tall, striking figure. Not beautiful but very noticeable. She was dressed in black—from head to toe—in a skirt and jacket ensemble. Her outfit was accented by diamond-studded black jewellery, both matching earrings and ring. Her hair was pushed up into a messy up-do of sorts. She wore reddish-brown lipstick, slightly smeared on her lips, as if she hastily applied it while rushing out the door.  

She was friendly and talkative: exactly the kind of person I like. She was willing to tell us about herself. Even better. She explained that she’d been in the fashion industry for years. Had designed many a runway show. But somehow she preferred to remain in tiny, insignificant Merrickville and set up shop there.

She owned a horse farm too, and I think she enjoyed that more than the fashion industry. Because she had been in that line of work for so many years, she used her horses as her means of getting away from it all.

She explained to my Mom and me that she had been up between five and six o’clock that morning, feeding the horses and mucking out their stalls. She also spoke of sitting with fashion elites, in the most posh settings. I say that she mucked out horses’ stalls by morning and sipped champagne and nibbled on cucumber sandwiches (with the crusts cut off, of course) by evening.

She custom-designed formal dresses, particularly wedding dresses. She didn’t have any wedding dresses on display there in the shop, but I had the chance to flip through a photo album of wedding dresses she had designed. All I know is that I dreamed of her designing and making my own wedding dress, many months after I left her shop. To say the dresses were gorgeous would’ve been an understatement.

She spoke of leading the local women’s Red Hat Society. She had these women parade up and down the streets of Merrickville showing off their finest red hats, that would’ve made even Queen Elizabeth sit up and take notice.     

This woman oozed creativity, combined with confidence and boldness. She wasn’t timid about chatting about her accomplishments. She was a businesswoman, through and through.

Before we left this oh-so-amazing place, she offered us this bit of wisdom that has stuck with me through the years. Not that I’ve necessarily followed this advice, but it has certainly made me smile. I paraphrase her words here:

NEVER put together an outfit that looks too perfect. Bad idea. You don’t want to show that you’ve put that much thought into it. No! It takes away from the creativity, the spontaneity of the moment. Instead, you want it to appear as if you threw on your outfit, as you ran out the door. Yet somehow in the midst of your mayhem, it all managed to come together. You look stunning, gorgeous, beautiful. And you did it all in 5 minutes or less!  

Of course, I don’t think I’ve quite followed this advice, over the years. I love to think out my outfits too much. Plus, I haven’t entered her fashionable world where I could put her words into practice, with utter abandon. I live too much in a world of casualness and even at times, grunginess. Not often by choice but by circumstance.

I have moments of weakness, though, where I wish I could. I long to attend a fashion show and walk through a design studio, while wearing the classiest and chicest of outfits I could possibly “throw together.”

Maybe one day I’ll have the chance. But for now, I cling to that memory of this unusual meeting. I remember this lady of fashion. I think about her lovely creations. I appreciate that I was able to gawk at her displays of art. Because really, that is what it was–she was an artist who had designed the most artistic of pieces—for me, for my enjoyment. It was an afternoon of firsts that I will always remember.





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