Vancouver Designers Take On the World

Fashion as an industry and as an art is constantly moving forwards and backwards. It’s the past and the future. It is just as much here and now as it is Versailles in the 18th century or Mars circa 3013. An art form that is often scoffed at by those who feel like outsiders to the notion of fashion, it’s an industry that belongs to everyone, yet is represented by such a narrow portion of itself. Despite what many believe, the fashion world is not exclusively composed of steely Anna Wintours, wild and unorthodox John Gallianos or impossibly coiffed Carolina Herreras. While these larger than life characters undoubtedly exist, they are few and far between. They are the mascots to a large and diverse industry that exists and thrives under many different banners, throughout many different cultures, and with a multitude of different spirits.


Borrowing traditional elements from exotic and ancient cultures and translating them into wearable pieces that still speak to the modern North American woman is not exactly a new concept, yet is something that is particularly prevalent this season and not just in places like L.A, New York, Toronto or Montreal (the North American pulses of the fashion industry) but also in rainy Vancouver. Vancouver is renowned for its multicultural spirit. With elements of Asia, Europe and Africa, Vancouver is a melting pot of different cultures, while also retaining its own distinct energy, one that centres strongly around British Columbia’s breathtaking landscape (with our majestic mountains and calm seas – those lucky enough to call B.C home know that it is a complete playground). Designers and artisans that are local to the area naturally draw inspiration from the city’s multicultural energy, creating pieces that are uniquely foreign while keeping the unique, earthy aesthetic that is so quintessentially Vancouver.


These days the typically understated Vancouver woman is embracing this multi-cultural energy, trading her earth toned jersey t-shirt dress for a bold, embroidered tribal print maxi-dress, and her Justine Brooks sterling silver acorn necklace for an eastern European inspired cross-stitched pendant.Everything from jewellery to clothing this season is bold and strikingly exotic. Strong geometric prints and extremely tactile, textured fabrics and details are the basis of this trend. Colours are robust and vibrant. Strong shades of tangerine, lemon, emerald and tomato override the ethereal pastel shades of last summer. And unlike previous seasons where an overtly feminine, hourglass shape reigned supreme (is anyone else sick to death of the peplum?), a defined, cinched in silhouette is not the star of this trend, with the focus instead being on the intricate detailing of the fabrics and the shamelessly bold colours. Sack-like shifts and mile-long maxi dresses are not for the faint of heart or the ultra-petite and while the silhouette this season is undefined, fit is more crucial than ever.


For those who would prefer not to adopt this statement making (and sometimes controversial) trend with their clothing choices, there is always jewellery. Jewellery is an easy and effortless way of incorporating a style or motif into one’s wardrobe in a subtle and universally flattering way. One cannot create visual chaos with necklaces, rings or bracelets in the way that they can neck-lines and hem-lines (an inch or two one way or the other can make a world of difference in how a woman is perceived).


Below are five of our favorite pieces that pay homage to traditional fashions of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Each piece is designed in British Columbia by some of the province’s most renowned and obscure (but undoubtedly talented) designers and artisans.


1) Canadian label Harriet Grey (designed by Vancouver’s own Kenda Haga) is renowned for its costume jewellery which has a high-fashion aesthetic and caters to a wide range of ages and tastes. Audrey Hepburn-esque ladies will delight in the line’s abundance of faux pearls, ribbons and Swarovski crystals, while those who channel Edie Sedgewick will adore the brand’s frequent use of hematite, burnished brass and silver caps and skulls. This pendant composed of nickel-free brass and colorful resin evokes images of the wild and unruly African jungles.


2) Obakki, a high-end brand of luxury clothing founded by Treana Peake in, uses fashion as a catalyst for their humanitarian efforts and for their Obakki Foundation, a foundation that strives to provide the necessities of life in developing nations (nutritious food, clean water, and education) in a way that is sustainable so that the communities within these nations can grow. 100% of all donations and net profits go directly to Obakki’s humanitarian projects. This silk organza t-shirt dress (which sells for $460.00)  is designed to pay homage to the war-worn nation of South Sudan with original images of Sudanese landscape printed on the fabric, photographed by the company’s founder Treana Peake.

obakki tshirt

3) This vividly patterned, silk crepe dress by Nicole Bridger (which retails for $228.00) evokes an exotic sense of intrigue while remaining true to Nicole’s relaxed and effortless aesthetic. While the silhouette is loose and undefined, the gathered front and slightly asymmetrical hem-line creates a flattering amount of definition while lengthening legs.

Nicole Bridger Flow Dress

4) Element 7 is a Vancouver-born line of eclectic and often avante-garde jewellery. Created by Jennifer Yemu Li and Stephen Shen in September 2012, the brand has had immediate international success with A-list celebrities such as Rhianna and Beyonce as avid fans of the label’s unusual body and head pieces. This sterling silver “Dessie” head piece evokes images of an extravagant Indian wedding, but in a contemporary and wearable way. This piece would pair just as well with a distressed black leather jacket and skinny pants as it would with a simple little black dress.


5) All too often it is a challenge to find dresses for upscale affairs that aren’t over the top or forgettable. It’s a delicate balance that is hard to find – it’ s black-tie formal without being red-carpet flashy or work-party conservative. Most of us default to a LBD and call it a day after searching futilely for a subtle show-stopper. This silk, knee-length dress by Jason Matlo is undoubtedly decadent with gold brocade and cut-outs of sheer-silk. It’s a worldly dress for a modern day Marie Antoinette. But with the knee-length hem-line and the slim, universally flattering black skirt, it is just as elegant and wearable for a wedding as it would be for a black-tie ball.





-Alicia Arruda



Posted by Assignment Fashion

Designer and founder of Assignment Fashion.