Last month clothing designer Breeyn McCarney presented her first independent showcase, revealing the Fall/Winter 2010 collection entitled Hard-Boiled Wonderland after the novel by Haruki Murakami. Using only natural fibres and reclaimed fur or fur purchased from trappers, McCarney's goal is to operate with zero impact on the environment. I had the chance to interview the thoughtful designer after her successful, packed-out show at the Courthouse in Toronto about the inspiration behind her designs.
Laura: Is there a story you tell with your designs?
Breeyn: The narrative of this story was really inspired by where I was living at the time. This collection was conceived when I was living in a small village in the northern woods of Saskatchewan. It was really beautiful for a city girl, but I wondered how it was viewed by the locals. The forest would possess no novelty for them, it would just be where they lived. And there were a lot of very serious problems in this village--substance abuse, poverty, suicide. That was really the starting point--the fact that all this natural beauty wasn't enough to soothe the issues that also affect cities so badly. So often we hear that our social issues are a result of our disconnection from nature. I was in a place closer to nature than any other I'd experienced and it was certainly not better.
I have a rather dire view of what awaits us as a species.
All that said, this place still had joy, and art, and music--and so I started looking at the ways humans cope with terrible things. I also saw the photographic project "The Ruins of Detroit" by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre. These photos were of something so sad, and yet they were so beautiful. I am very environmentally conscious, and have a rather dire view of what awaits us as a species. So for the story of this collection, I wanted to make a worst/best-case scenario for that future. Girls living on the other side of societal collapse, having lived through something terrible, but finding the beauty that was still there and carrying on. It's a dream world, for sure. I wanted to call it "The End of the World" but felt that was a bit heavy. I'm a big Murakami fan, and so I took the first part of his title "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World".
McQueen has influenced my approach to design from the beginning.
L: What designers do you admire and who influences your approach to design?
B: McQueen. McQueen has influenced my approach to design from the beginning. All of his pieces are so gloriously detailed and constructed. Each piece could just be hung on a wall and looked at. I really admired his overall aesthetic from the beginning, and achieving that level of craftsmanship is my life-time goal. I also think Westwood is a genius. I saw this dress in a magazine once. ..it's a long-sleeved, full-length, full-skirt ball gown--and it has one seam. That is such an incredible feat of pattern-making/cutting that I will be forever impressed by it.
L: Tell me about your background education/experience.
B: I started out as a painter, but I was really dissatisfied with the whole culture of art. Don't get me wrong: there are some very talented artists out there with very important things to say and genuine art theory. But I seemed to get overwhelmed by the pretentiousness of it all, and it was really disillusioning. I turned to making clothes as a comfort, and my partner at the time finally said, "Um, why don't you just do this instead?" Fashion has its own pretensions, for sure, but for some reason I find them far easier to cope with than those of the art world. I started doing fashion full-time and have never looked back. I moved to London, England, on a whim and things just sort of snowballed from there. I have very little formal fashion instruction under my belt. I have my certificate in tailoring from City&Guilds. And I've taken ancillary courses at Central Saint Martins for handmade textiles and some classes at Ryerson for illustration and manufacturing techniques. Everything else I've had to learn on my own. Practice is really what moves it all forward. It has taken longer for me to get where I am sans fashion degree, but I am getting there slowly.
In other countries, people worry about being recognized in their own country. In Canada, that is not enough.
L: Is there any designer whose career you'd love to emulate?
B: I don't know that I'm trying to have my career emulate anyone else's. As a designer in Canada, it's tough. Our industry is so small, and we are so set on being recognized on a world stage. In other countries I think people are predominantly worried about being recognized at home. Here in Canada for some reason that is inherently not enough. I think there is a real struggle between staying here and "putting Canada on the map" and going elsewhere where it might be easier to achieve the success that one would desire. It's a really hard question to grapple with. (Images: Karen Liu)