Vancouver Trendsetters Take New York Fashion Week by Storm

If you want something done right, design it yourself.

February 16, 2018

By Alyssa Hirose

The life of a fashion designer may seem elegant and glamorous, but the reality is far less dazzling. “Your fingers are bleeding, your neck hurts, your feet hurt, you don’t sleep—right now, I have an eye twitch!” laughs Kirsten Ley, one of two local designers who showcased their newest collections at New York Fashion Week last Thursday. Ley, along with designer Melissa Yin, strut into NYC as part of the Global Fashion Collective, an extension of Vancouver Fashion Week that gives new international designers opportunities to showcase their work all over the world.

“I am so, so lucky to be a new designer and to be a part of New York Fashion Week,” says Yin, whose work was showcased in Prêt-à-Porter, a show focused on wearable, high-end designs. Ley’s Fall/Winter 2018 collection, on the other hand, showed in Conceptual Artistry, which displayed avant-garde, haute couture fashion. “I’m beside myself, and very humbled, and kind of reeling from the experience.” says Ley. “I’m still floating on a cloud right now.”

One of Kirsten Ley’s designs from her F/W 2018 collection, Nero. (Photo: Arun Nevader/Getty Images for Global Fashion Collective.)

Ley was born and raised on the North Shore, and moved to Los Angeles when she was 17 to pursue an acting career. Even though being an award-winning actress had always been her dream, her love of fashion kept showing through in unexpected ways. Case in point: as a child, she designed “Oscar dresses” in that hopes that one day she would get the chance to wear one. “I always designed extravagant gowns and that was the exciting part for me—not making it to the Oscars,” she laughs, “I was like, ‘what am I gonna wear?'” Between auditioning for commercials and TV, Ley worked as a stylist in a few high-end retail stores. She found that, often, the clothes available on the market just couldn’t compare to her imagination: “I could never find what I wanted to put on my clients, because it wasn’t out there,” she says. With support from her friends, Ley decided to move back to Vancouver to enrol in the fashion design program at Blanche Macdonald.

Yin, however, wanted to be a fashion designer ever since she can remember: “Fashion was my childhood dream,” she says. Deciding where in Canada to attend design school was one of the most important decisions she made before immigrating in 2012. Originally from China, Yin’s love of fashion brought her to Vancouver, where she got her degree from LaSalle College. Like Ley, Yin realized that regular retail clothing just wasn’t cutting it: “I’ve always wanted to dress properly—look healthy, be comfortable, but for sure be fashionable,” she says, “but I could never find the right stuff.”

A design from Melissa Yin’s F/W 2018 collection, Nine to Five. (Photo: Arun Nevader/Getty Images for Global Fashion Collective.)

After Ley and Yin graduated from Blanche Macdonald and Lasalle College, respectively, they each focused on their individual designs. Free from the restrictions of retail, Yin experimented with comfortable, professional and empowering looks, while Ley explored structure, confidence and history to inspire her designs. With a little help from Vancouver Fashion Week and the Global Fashion Collective, their work has since been showcased internationally.

“The beginning of my collection is kind of like a death processional and then it comes to this green rebirth, like a phoenix rising from the ashes,” says Ley. (Photo: Arun Nevader/Getty Images for Global Fashion Collective)

Ley’s Fall/Winter 2018 collection, entitled Nero, was initially inspired by the Roman emperor infamous for burning his own empire to the ground. “I got into the colour palette of smoky blacks, burning embers and these bright orange tones,” says Ley. The intensity of her palette mimics the intensity of her imagination:”I thought of what it would be like to be longing for death because you’re living under this tyrannical ruler who’s burning your own city down.” This exploration of death led her to reflect on death sonnets (John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” is her favourite), which in turn led to the more hopeful theme of revitalization. “I got these forest greens, and the longing for afterlife, and becoming one with the earth again,” Ley says, “so there is the whole cyclical nature of life and rebirth.”

Yin’s collection, called Nine to Five, is fashion for women who work. Inspired by the fashion of the 1970s, Yin’s designs feature lots of embellishments, greased leather and flared pants. Her colour palette, black and “hot red,” symbolizes the power and strength of the working woman. “Red, to me, is passion,” Yin says, “passion, and affection, and power, and energy.” Yin’s main textile in this collection is greased elastic leather, which she describes as the most comfortable, stretchable leather. “You have the benefits of leather, but it also stretches and follows body shape for a more feminine look,” she explains. Her goal is to design fashion that is minimalist but not plain.

“Businesswomen need to have power, they have to be powerful,” says Yin. (Photo: Arun Nevader/Getty Images for Global Fashion Collective.)

Despite the overwhelming nature of New York Fashion Week, the Vancouver designers felt welcomed with open arms. “To have people who have seen everything, and gone to every show, give you such a nice welcome and excited response was wonderful,” says Ley. Helping rapper Saint JHN pick out leather at a fabric store was a highlight of her experience; the two ran into each other and started chatting, she gave him some advice and he ended up coming to her show. “That’s New York, I guess,” she says. Yin was delighted to meet America’s Next Top Model runway coach Miss J. Alexander backstage at her own show.

Yin and Ley are both thrilled to be showing their Fall/Winter 2018 Collections at Vancouver Fashion Week next month (March 19 to 25). Yin’s Vancouver collection will feature more red material, highlighting the strength and power of the working woman. Ley will be opening a ready-to-wear pop-up shop for her designs, moving slightly away from avant-garde couture. “I’m very excited to be producing clothes that people can actually wear—and that you can sit down in!” jokes Ley.


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