Sarah Stevenson has traveled all the way to Milan and back to perfect the art of textile making and fashion design, something she’s been doing since the tender age of seven. The Toronto girl even was offered a position as an intern at Armani in Milan after she graduated from the Institute of European Design, but instead stayed true to her dreams of starting up her own line. This brings us up to now, her latest collection features art nouveau prints, sweeping silks and a water lily print that could bring a glimmer to Monet’s eye. We caught up with the designer and chatted about her inspiration, the differences between Toronto and Milan chic and giving up the position at Armani to make it in her hometown.
What’s the first piece you ever designed?
My first communion dress when I was 7. My mom let me choose pieces from different dress patterns and then combined them. She even took me to choose the fabric and the beads that she later appliquéd onto it!
Apple blossoms, water lilies and Art Nouveau. Your prints are absolutely fabulous. Where does the inspiration come from?
Last January, I took a trip down to Allan Gardens. It was a cold wintery day and once I got inside it felt like I was away at some tropical destination. I spent hours in there photographing the flowers which I later drew and painted to create my prints. Around the same time I was reading a book about Art Nouveau, and as I was drawing, swirling lines kept emerging so I incorporated them into my designs.
Which piece from your Spring collection are you most proud of?
The Art Nouveau print. I redid it several times until I got it right. I am really happy with the outcome.
What’s your favourite film for its fashion?
To Catch a Thief with Grace Kelly. The costumes are by Edith Head and are so elegant and timeless!
What’s on your iPod?
I am always updating my ipod! Lately I’ve been listening to Vampire Weekend, LCD Soundsystem, Lykke Li, The Shins and the new Arcade Fire.
After studying in Milan, what can you say is your favourite thing about the city? Why?
The countless art, photography & fashion exhibits happening all over the city. Every month a guide is published with all of the events and most of them are free! I love the way that the Milanese embrace and respect design in every aspect of their lifestyles. You can’t help but be inspired walking around the city. I also love the month-end Sunday antique market in Navigli where I lived, the lights at Christmastime strung up all over the city and of course the pizza, cappuccino, & gelato!
How do you describe the street style in Milan? Compared to Toronto?
The Milanese are always very put-together, at first I was shocked at how women always wore stilettos. In Italy they have an expression called “fare la bella figura” which means to make a good impression. Milanese women seem to have this message ingrained in them and they exude a chicness and sophistication whether they are walking their dogs or out at a club! They make it look effortless and cool even though I’m sure a lot of work went into it! Toronto street style is more relaxed and less brand conscious. We don’t have the same pressure here to always look dressed to the nines (thankfully) but we interpret the trends in our own way which makes our style more unique.
What made you return to Toronto?
Shortly after graduation I got an offer to intern with Armani but my dream has always been to start my own line and it seemed like the right time to do it. Toronto is a very accepting city for new talent and there is room to break into the industry. If I stayed in Milan I would have worked for a Fashion house which would have been fantastic but I had to follow my heart.
What’s your favourite item in your closet?
Hmm tough question! Just one? Right now I would have to say my Moms vintage knee high boots, my Yumi Kim jumpsuit, my grandmothers antique clutch, and my Virginia Johnson shawl.
What’s the ultimate dream outcome for your line?
To be successful enough that I can support myself doing what I love the most which is designing fabrics and clothing. I want to make the women wearing my clothing feel beautiful and also feel good about how it was made. I want to keep striving to become more environmentally aware, as technology improves so will the production of my clothing.
Interview by Elli Stuhler