Intelligence, Beauty, and Black: An Interview with Valerie Dumaine, our favourite LBD Designer
Valerie Dumaine is the focus of our gaze this week. We've got an interview about her process and a massive webstore update of her transcendent Fall collection, which is also the focus of our first ever lookbook!
Since we opened in 2006, Valerie Dumaine's collections have consistently been among our favourites to buy and the response from you guys has never been short of monumental! Valerie Dumaine designs from such a consistently unique aesthetic. A beauty that is strong and feminine, pieces that are intelligent in their subtlety, a complexity that keeps her pieces from ever looking dated and of course all the black our wardrobes crave.
Tell us about yourself! Where did you grow up? Where did you study? Do you have any pets?
I spent my childhood and teenage years in St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu and Brossard, but moved to Montreal as soon as I was able to after college. I studied Fashion Design at LaSalle College. I worked for various companies in Montreal for 6 years and then started working on my line in 2003. My first collection appeared in stores in April 2004! As for furry friends, I only have one cat now as her younger brother recently died.
Valerie's cute cat!
Were there games you played as a kid that pointed to a future as a fashion designer/entrepreneur?
I believe that pretty much everything I did when I was young pointed to my future career. I did the makeup and hair on all my dolls/barbies and also loved "enhancing" the makeup of the models in my mother's Sears Catalogue. I then started doing portraits focusing on makeup and hair. In 6th grade, I started drawing clothes (especially sexy bathing suits similar to those Samantha Fox would wear?!). Then when I got into high school, I started modifying my own clothes. I did my first fashion show with a 10-piece collection in grade 10 (all original creations).
Some of Valerie's sketches!
In case you don't know who Samantha Fox is:
How did you first get introduced to the Canadian fashion circuit? When did it click that this was how you wanted, and were going to, make a living?
I always knew that I wanted to have my own line. I guess there was never another option. After design school, I knew I had to work for different companies in order to develop expertise and gain more experience, but this was all with the goal to eventually have my own line. I never really knew if I was going to be able to make a living out of this, but I had to try. I got one grant and several loans, which helped me go through the first couple of years. If I remember correctly, I was first introduced to the Canadian circuit when I sold my first pieces in a store that had just opened in downtown Montreal in Spring 2004 (it focused on emerging designers). At the store's opening, I met tons of new designers and we kind of connected that way. I guess being in a store made it easy for other stores to have confidence in the line and carry it so it quickly became easier to get into other boutiques the season after.
Are there other people involved in your production?
And yes, other people are involved in my production. I have been working with the same team for more than a decade (one company for grading & markers, another for cutting, and the last for sewing).
What does a typical day look like for you?
It's never the same, but to sum it up, I would say that in the morning it's computer work, emails, and other general admin stuff. I then try to do as much 'technical' work as possible -- such as patterns, grading or sewing samples, etc. -- before checking emails again at the end of the day.
What's on your playlist in the studio? Do you have a favourite go-to band or artist that helps you focus?
I don't have a playlist, no iPod and no music on my other devices. I listen to tapes and CDs. Sometimes, I will stream music on the internet. It's hard to name a band or an artist that helps me focus as I listen to so many different kinds of music. I do like to listen to Slayer a lot when I need to be energized without having to concentrate too much (for example, when doing grading, cutting or sewing). But when I design or need to focus more, I'd say Pink Floyd's older ambient albums.
Of course we have to ask this: Favourite studio snack?
Nuts ... especially almonds and cashews ... also roasted edamame (this is pretty exciting as I recently reintegrated nuts in my diet after years of being told I was allergic to them).
A lot of your clothing is made from natural fabrics. What do you love about working with these fabrics? Does it change the way you design clothes?
I like the 'raw' feel of linen and cotton, but they are not so easy to work with. It doesn't really change the way I design, but I know that I can't make anything fitted with those fabrics, so I have adapted by making more looser styles than before.
What inspires you to keep manufacturing in Canada?
Everything! Keeping my production local is very important to me. It's a conviction I always had and it's part of my brand. It's also much easier to have everything done locally in terms of keeping an eye on all the steps, such as grading, cutting, sewing, and finishing. I have also been working with a fantastic team for more than 10 years and I want to continue building on these relationships. I find it very important to support the local economy.
What piece from a past or current collection will you be giving to your mom (or best friend or sister)?
I'd say the Mill top. My mom doesn't really wear dresses (I know, it's a bit weird that she doesn't like dresses!). She is very casual and that top looks perfect on her.
Do you have a piece of clothing that you could never part with, even if it doesn't fit or has holes or is totally unwearable, yet you just can't bring yourself to toss it? What's the story behind it?
I think that pretty much all of the clothes I own are very old and have many holes in them. I have been keeping the same items for so long now! I always think they can be fixed ... I cut the sleeves or I make shorter pants (even shorts) out of old pants. My fiancé can't believe all the items I have and cannot throw away. He's happy though, as I started doing the same with his clothes! He has holes at the elbows in his shirts (he is always in front of books or a computer screen) so I convert them to short sleeves when it's feasible. You will be interested to learn that I still have a black skirt that I bought when I was in 6th grade (using the money I won from a lottery ticket I received at Christmas from my Grandma). This skirt is now very short on me, but I still wear it!
If you could host a dinner party with any three people, living or dead, who would they be and why?
John Oliver is so funny and clever; he would make such a good entertainer and he can really get into interesting discussions. Henry Rollins, what a great motivator and activist! He'll kick your butt to make sure you do something. He's very inspiring and will get you to do a lot of thinking. Last but not least, my mom! She gets along with everybody and is always interested in learning from and about people. She also smiles all the time and makes everybody happy ... especially when she starts throwing puns around!
Were you a YM, Sassy, Cosmo, or Spin reader as a teen?
I didn't know any of these except for Cosmo. I think I was an Archie reader when I was a teen! Maybe a Vogue once in a while when I received it as a present ... I was thrilled when that happened!
In what way do you hope to influence your clients ideas of dressing?
Avoid the "Fast Fashion" that is so present everywhere! Support independent, local, ethical, green, compassionate, and/or activist designers (all or any combination of these). We must all slow the pace at which we consume things (not only in terms of fashion ... in our everyday lives as well). Let's keep key classic items for a long time. If at one point you are tired of them, be creative before deciding to get rid of them ... you will be surprised at how many more miles you can get out of an item with slight modifications or a different styling. I guess telling people to think twice before buying doesn't make me a great "sales person"!
What do you have on your mood board (whether physical or imaginary) for you fall collection?
Pleats ... vegan leather, and cozy sweaters!
Valerie Dumaine's designs are at their heart for all of us women who are the beautiful gamine, the driven powerhouse of activity, the reflective creative spirit and the soul of the party. Depending on the moment, sometimes all at once ;)
Cheers to being a complex woman like our muse Valerie Dumaine!