July, beginning of August is that mystifying time of the year, just like the end of January & beginning of February, when I am caught twirling amidst everything and nothingness....when it is quiet and I SHOULD enjoy it but I feel guilty if I do. Wondering if I will be forever alone making beautiful things for no one to wear? I get dramatic but then it becomes my thinking fuel It is in those moment that I can shovel clouds, which in my family, means daydreaming, creating and think schemes, ideas = Nothing truly tangible or fully conceived!...Cloud shoveling might not be productive in a physical sense but it is necessary for my process. It is all about my state of mind to enter a new season/collection.
It is also a moment where I can catch up on things I have been procrastinating while I also attempt to move forward with a new collection and anticipate: The combination of both temporarily turns me into a headless chicken: walking around doing bits and pieces but never fully satisfied with results because I will change my mind a ‘’few’’ times because I have time to spare (so I like to believe...) So I will have days when I rethink 6 dresses but finish none. Other days I walk in determine to finish them but then I have a few clients and that plan goes out the door or I hem only a sleeve or something so little it is like I have done nothing at all. Now with my new website obsession I added a new diversion to the equation.
I usually wake-up out of this transition period and realise the urgency of tying all the loose end I have started and become intensively productive that even the visit of all my clients will not stop me from working in studio area. This great turmoil of cloud shoveling usually by end of August and end of February with my own tornado season! LOL. It tends to coordinate with the return of all my girls asking for a gazillion things. All at once, I get out of the Cloud Shoveling to contemplate the spectacular pieces I have made and all my guilt washes off and the results is always pleasing, to me anyways. Another season/collection sees the light. The creative process follows it course steadily for a few months until next time. I am entering my 29 season/collection & I am still very much inspired, stimulated & curious.
First thing first: I am not a morning person!... so my best thinking, ideas, strategies, plans, always come at night & very rarely in the morning. No surprise for anyone that knows me a little. I can stay up for very long period of time while the Western Hemisphere as gone to bed and be perfectly contempt. It gives me time to explore, observe, digest and process and essentially stay ‘’current”. It keeps me alive, connected and spirited. I will not overly do it because I refuse to become obsess over trends. It isn’t about that! I am not a hipster, I am a Gen X kid.
Back onto the creative process! Today I was attempting to fix a last minute wedding outfit for a girl... I know it is early (1pm) I just could not!... I just finished prom season, Grand Prix fund raiser, etc.... and I have a mountain of summer pieces still unfinished and a brand new website with a new assistant, Alexandra ... just could not do this last minute wedding request! I am an artist : not a retailer : not a seamstress : not a robot and at times, a miracle worker... I can be very fairy like but you call me today and you are leaving at 4h and you want me to fix you a wedding party dress!!!!!
I AM A FAIRY but I cannot do that....it is too last minute, it gives me no time. I actually tried but as I was trying to fix it, I came to realise that what was ask of me was not possible and it was not for me to do... so I decide to write my daily note about it because my creative process for making each piece is EXACTLY like when I paint and you cannot produce a painting, even more so commissioned work under pressure within a few hours. I certainly cannot create a wedding dress in a demi couture technique within a few hours either... to be continued...
The origins of a fiber, the name of the weaver and the face of the artisan each become intrinsic to understanding an object’s identity and soul. Like knowing the source of our food, materials are explored by designers interested in the unique aspects of the animal or plant species. A new generation of designers retrace their roots and research their history, sometimes going back to the beginning of time.
Like foragers looking for food, ecologically-conscious designers hunt and gather organic ingredients, creating a colourful language tinted for today’s greener times. They show us how manufacturing can avoid excessive pollution. Several investigate the properties of individual plants, like contemporary botanists cataloguing their qualities, reconnecting society to nature. Environmentalism is interwoven with sustenance, particularly when it comes to the oceans.
Material is the message in today’s design world, with designers looking at both low and high tech ways to reinvent the elements with which they work, all the while staying connected to the Earth. Recomposed from scraps of matter or reinvented with both natural and synthetic ingredients. Recycled and reincarnated, cultured and cultivated, to give new life to texture, fiber and colour.
Designers aim for a more sustainable production process and make us aware of the polluting ways we make textiles today. They seek to use little to no chemicals and water, work as energy-efficient as possible and manufacture locally, often experimenting with recycled or upcycled materials. They also revive and return to old looms to establish innovative studios practice.
“Today, we are witnessing a shift towards a combination of this functionality and natural beauty. Artists and designers are looking for refined aesthetics.
Competing with corporate giants maybe though, but ERA Vintage Wear is waving the indie flag.
Fashion is like the music world: Each as its major labels, independent artists and all sort of different styles. Using this metaphor, ERA Vintage Wear can be called an indie artist that is pushing the boundaries, maintaining creative control and possessing a certain insider appeal. It is an identity that ERA takes on proudly.-despite all the difficulties incumbent upon being a fashion David in an age of Goliaths!
ERA Vintage Wear is striving to be the vintage fashion equivalent of early Nirvana: There’s a degree of charm & coolness that you can’t buy. As the artist-designer-curator behind ERA, I, Elaine, am cheering the rise of independent voices in fashion, convinced that the orgy of megabrands, accessories & logos in recent years will finally ease and give some elbow room in a crowded market.
As Rei Kawakubo once said:’’ Ultimately people like to be free and independent, given half the chance’’. This is a major component of the brand philosophy behind ERA Vintage Wear and myself. There is more and more demands for independent points of view, because not everyone wants to be the same as everyone else! I sure know I don't! Like NEVER !
Doing sustainable design through vintage clothes does not have to be done in such a politically charged manner but I don’t think people buy a garment so much anymore because there is a certain label. I think people are really looking for something that speaks to them, something they REALLY like. I am not suggesting that people are about to turn their backs on such fashion pillars as Chanel, Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, or Dior. But the ever widening appeal of mega luxury was bound to trigger a reaction. It creates a void and an opportunity for the customer who wants to have a more unique and less identifiable branded look. This is the sphere that ERA Vintage Wear inhabit! There is a willingness of customers to try something less well known for the sake of personal style, higher quality for values, and ethics.
As the designer-curator-artist behind the ERA Vintage Wear ideology, I strongly believe the new luxury is individuality in an era where the word luxury is commonplace. Designers and fast-fashion labels might be all the rage now, but consumers get tired of the short expiration dates, and the shoddy quality.There is a growing hunger for unique shops, under-the-radar collections, personalized service and exceptional quality and these are all what ERA Vintage Wear stands for! We want to show a real point of difference!
Vintage style labels are, more then ever, desirable.Even more so now, when fashion is so formulized. A focus on big brands inevitably creates an opening for small players. You always need the alternatives, the indie to keep it fresh!
It is not my aim to ever be corporate. I have a lot of freedom when it is my own business, my own customers, and for me that has always work for the last 14 years since I created ERA Vintage Wear. Freethinking is what generates the ideas and trends that keep the fashion industry percolating.
Nothing moves in the world unless a few risks are taken. It may seem that endless numbers of high-powered financial types are eager to get into fashion, in reality, it’s no easy task to convince the money folks of the viability of sustainable design and vintage upcycling. So the entire upstart of ERA was done without any financial backing, and no cash injection except for my humble own money. Not even the bank gave us any help or line of credit or any help! It was just sheer willingness and consistency in believing in my own brand philosophy and applying it day in and day out that lifted ERA Vintage Wear into a concrete life style in November 2004.
There was no one that understood : No luxury conglomerate because they need to stay focus on their big brands, private equity funds wants established businesses, and most hedge funds wants sizable deal. So I did it my way, alone like a big girl.
After the upstart, ERA Vintage Wear never seeked a backer. I prefer to focus on my design work and reinvest whatever I made back into my business. I never want to find myself in a trap of needing money and dealing with backers that are always trying for a quick return: for me this signifies death of my freedom as an artist. The moment you have a backer, you loose control over everything you do. Backers always want to steer you into a certain direction. FREEDOM, all indie artists agree, is the ultimate reward. It’s what allows ERA Vintage Wear to open the 1st shop in the pre-gentrification of Griffintown for 9 years: an off-the-beaten-path move that no backers would have ever agreed upon...and pushing it further by leaving the street address once the neighbourhood got over-gentrification issues such as rent cost and quality of customers. When it got too trendy, ERA moved into a very industrial New York worthy 4300 sqft loft that was my painting studio since 1994. Staying on the off-beaten-path once again for the sack of keeping the philosophy of the shop to play by its own rules! And yes, sometimes misunderstood with at-my-own pace approach to style and fashion by the local fashion industry but always felt supported by the larger global community. Which in itself led to the website creation.
The core quality of being an artist is to realise that you love the craft you decide to express yourself with. For me it is upcycling vintage clothes more then anything else. It is not about the profit s or the business side. All that comes later.
“It’s nice to see a designer embody her own ethos”
And I undeniably do that. I try to exude the same chic, old-school, uptown propriety as do my upcycled vintage inflected clothes I create for ERA Vintage wear. It fits right in with the well-appointed setting of the loft. I also happen to be my best customer!
The fact that I register so low a profile in the overhyped world of fashion does not bother me a bit. It’s not about me, it’s about the product. I rail against the syndrome of Global Fashion, the overexposure that occurs when the same ‘’IT Look’’ are shot for every magazine and sold at every stores. Sometimes I do my part to fight the phenomenon by offering stylists and photographers (my Chosen Ones!) the option of borrowing from my upcycled luxury pieces from the vast collection. I think it is chicer not to be overexposed. Even if it means not getting the credit due to me. Many socialites buy many of ERA Vintage Wear pieces but won’t admit to it. I am their best kept secret. Once asked what they are wearing, they will mention it is vintage but they will not say more” L I long for a day someone will rant that it is a sustainable design made by someone who really care about style,,bla,bla,bla….so until then I just shrug…at least they keep comig back to me.
My attitude, rare in a world of militaristic PR operations, appeals to my clients/fans, which I always refer to as my ERA Girls. I have a few friends who also wear my clothes and their friends too. When I see them, I never look & think Oh, that’s an ERA. I look & say ‘’ You look amazing’’
Also I enjoy when I see someone wearing my work and it doesn’t smack of, ’’Oh, you’re wearing so-and-so’’ I like to think: She’s wearing a secret weapon, she is wearing ERA.
I never attended fashion school for the sake of fashion. Fashion has run in my vein since childhood, courtesy of my mother, who had closets-full of stylish clothes. I recall watching a Chanel couture show with my mother, then still designed by Coco herself. I asked my mom: ‘’Why do all the models have beige shoes with black tips?’’ She said it was to elongate the leg. So on my first trip to Europe when I was 18, I bought my first pair of Chanel shoes, a beige spector 2’’1/2 heels with black tips and I still have them to this day! I have been collecting Chanel shoes has a guilty pleasure ever since.
After I got my graduate Degree in Paintings & Drawing from Concordia University, here in Montreal, I work for an impressive Contemporary Art consultant who was a member of the Canadian Art Council, mostly researching and sourcing artists work while I exhibit my paintings in local galleries. Through it all, I started working with an incredibly talented Montreal Base Designer, Denis Gagnon. We worked on his collections, styling runaway shows, selecting pieces for photoshoot for magazines and television too. That was my introduction to Fashion. Until then I had remained an artist that had an extensive vintage collection I had been building since I was 8 years old. And one things led to another and I merged all of my passion, training and ideas into this ERA thing: what I critically call my fun with accumulation, appropriation and curating in the aftermath. Over the year it has been nice to be the Alfa ERA Girl because I practice what I preach. Stylistically speaking everyday 24/7 I am ON! I live to show women of all ages, shapes, & sizes the endless possibilities of STYLE!
‘For some young fashion lovers, the hottest place to shop is mother’s closet’
Every young girl has done it- cracked open the door of her mother’s closet and peeked inside, gently touching the silk skirt of a gown here and stroking the furry fringe of a coat there. If she’s brave enough, she’ll even dare to slip on a dress, hike up the trailing hem and strike a pose in front of the mirror. For that dark, cool closet is hallowed ground, and its holy grail are carefully tucked inside garment bags and hung on racks while they wait for their next turn in the spotlight.
But then the girl grows up, the clothes starts to fit and that closet starts to look more like a boutique then a big box of dress-up clothes.
For some, like me, shopping Chez Mom, was an enviably easy task. Since we had same tastes, there was a lot of pieces I liked. It was always sort of last minute- I would need a jean jacket that makes this outfit more casual.
Over the year, I have acquired more unusual pieces. I have assembled a collection of LBD (Little Black Dresses) from all era of and style, from the early 20’s to now, which have caught my own daughter eyes. It has always delighted me to lend them to her as my mom had done for me. For the most part I do share peaceful sartorial relationship with my daughter but I do have boundaries ‘’the very expensive collectable and fragile stuff is off-limits. Especially if she is going to a party and people are going to mess it up with drinks, food and make-up.
I’m sort of nervous with the borrowing of some gowns. Borrowing can be tricky. I have to not be in a fat phase or if it’s a certain time of the month, no one can come near my closet not even my own daughter! I do enjoy sharing my closet with my more conservative daughter. What I like to do with her is accessorize If she says ‘’ I’m just going to wear this minimalist black LBD, then I will say ’’ well, you should stop by the shoes inventory’’. It’s like playing stylist!
In many lucky cases, symbiotic fashion relationships are a family tradition. For example, since I regularly go on shopping sprees for ERA VINTAGE WEAR, returning with Courrèges ,Dior, etc… It is no surprise that my daughter has made a regular habit of popping into my closet for a quick fix.
I will let my daughter take anything. She has pulled out my black Chanel boots for a New Year’s bash and everyone was asking her what those were and what year, and materials. However, I don’t always love our open-door policy. If she does not bring them back it’s bad. I have a fairly organised closet (a bedroom completely transform) I have specific sections for everything: clothes, belts, sunglasses, jewelry, scarves, etc… Its great when I want or she wants to do a walk in- walk out raid, because you can find everything.
A girl takes a mental note of the stock of her mother’s fripperies. There is something from childhood, when your mother is getting ready and you see her as a princess. You become obsess with the transformation.
I would see my mom get dressed and put on her perfume L’Air du Temps, and go out with my dad, and I would think ‘’Someday maybe I can wear a Yves St-Laurent dress that twinkles all over’’ and sky high stylettos.
My childhood dream came true after waiting patiently: one day when I was able to borrow a white strapless silk jersey jumpsuit suit my mom wore to Studio 54 for my Prom night, I felt like the queen of it all in it! I was secretly a little nervous because it is not easy – it’s white , it’s strapless and I am 16!... But she told me never wear anything that has more attitude then you do…. but I had attitude and I went with it and didn’t care.
I also felt like that when I wore my first fur coat at 19. The fantasy materialised after my mom passed away. It was sentimental but I had wait all my life to wear it: white silver fox short coat. I remember thinking it was the most beautiful thing and being from Montreal, I felt no guilt as we must find ways to be stylish in subzero climat.
But there’s more to the appeal of the hand-me-down frock than a famous label and a couple of ostrich feathers. It’s something that somebody you love very much cared about. It meant something to them, and when you wear that, you feel special.
‘’Few’’ years ago, I went on a mission at Christmas: a vintage Barbie holiday for my 7-year-old.
I was especially focused on the carrying cases
When I was little, there were these amazing carrying cases, complete with cardboard drawers and tiny, tiny hangers for each garment. Oh, how I loved those hangers and my cases too!
I confess that I didn’t so much “play” with Barbie as “organize her closet.” That was the fun part for me, putting all the dresses and blouses and skirts on the hangers and organizing them on the racks.
I have such happy, happy memories of all those clothes, with their tiny buttons and tiny snaps and teensy seams and perfect, perfect smallness. I wanted to offer that to my daughter, as well–since the clothes I played with as a child, which would have been absolute heirlooms today, were lost somewhere along the way between moves. Maybe they might have been too precious to allow daughter to actually PLAY with today?... Anyway: Isn’t that a tragedy? Doll clothes too nice to let children pretend with?..but not for mine
Turns out, Barbie clothes are super, super collectible, which I think I knew on some level, but not to the degree that I discovered while putting the gift together. What I learned, fascinated me: the tagged Barbie clothes, produced by Mattel, are all catalogued and collectible and highly sought-after by people who love All Things Barbie. But the handmade clothes? The ones made from scraps by someone’s mother as a sacrificial act of love and devotion for a child to play with? Those seem to have very little value at all, and can be bought by the lot on eBay for ten to thirty dollars a gallon.
Lucky for me, those are exactly the Barbie clothes I most wanted! The ones that were of primary interest to me were the ones that were made with bits of lace and leftover fabric and unfinished seams and no tags at all. They fascinate me, and I knew that not only would they be fun to play with for my daughter, but that they’d be fulfilling their purpose in this world by coming into a little girl’s home.
So I bought. Giant lots, big bags. Some of them were…not up to snuff, let’s say. All of them had that odd thrift-store smell to them. And some of them... were heavenly!
It’s their hand-made-ness that I love the most. Their stains, their imperfections. These were made by someone who wanted to take the time to stitch teensy stitches just to see the joy on a little girl’s face. And let’s be honest: Some of our Barbies were not so pristine, either. And no one cares even a little bit in my house!
There are the teensiest little blouses, and sweet little cropped pants. You can tell that these clothes were made over the space of decades, mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, but a few in the 1980s, as well. With such careful details–bust darts and itty bitty collars and hand-sewn snaps.
They have trim and lace and button details on them that I can’t even imagine.
I have to guess that most of them were made from sewing room scraps. Something about that makes it EVEN BETTER to me. Since this is what I do everyday!
A lot of them are made so carefully–and others are a little amateurish. I can’t say in complete honesty that I love those the most. I really appreciate good craftsmanship, after all. But there is a great deal of charm in those little spots where a few handstitches were the only way to make it work.
Occasionally, I see a great idea applied on a small scale, like using ribbon to hem a full skirt. Or accenting with tiny zigzags at the edge of trims.
Not all the pieces I collected & bought are for Barbie, of course. There are some for Skipper's, KELLY'S and others for the bevy of non-Barbie ladies who are nearly the same proportions.
Genuinely the ONLY disappointment of the entire endeavor has been the rare occasion when a garment won’t fit a particular doll.
One day, we were having a super rough afternoon. Everyone came home so grumpy, and my girl and her daddy (aka my boyfriend) were snipping at one another over nothing. Out of nowhere, I asked my daughter if she wanted to play Barbie. She replied, “Will you play with me?” Uh, YES & yes again!
Next thing I know, my daughter and I–are on the floor of the play room, jammed up against the dresser drawers, dressing and organizing and searching for hangers and trying on tiny shoes. And it was so much fun, fun to re-discover these tiny treasures. Exciting to show her how to operate the itty buttons. And affirming to know that these things are meant to be played with and loved...and they are!
If you ever have a moment where you think, “Does sewing even matter? Does what I make MATTER?” The answer is YES, in so many ways you may not even know. Your stitches may survive you, your family, yard sales, eBay and storage lockers to someday land in the hands of a family who desperately needed exactly what you were making just to make it through the day. Keep sewing. Just keep sewing.