From the moment the first model stepped onto the runway during Shelli Oh's womenswear collection at TW Toronto Women's Fashion Week, I knew that Shelli was a designer I was going to want to know more about. This feeling only increased as the rest of the Fall/Winter 2017 looks were presented. I was enchanted by the collection, and then, when I later had the opportunity to interview Shelli for this feature, I was equally enchanted by her – she's lively and engaging, easy to talk to, it felt like catching up with an old friend. It gives me great pleasure to introduce you to Shelli, her professional journey, and the inspirations that led to her recent collections.
At a young age, Shelli had her heart set on becoming an architect, and for many years it seemed like it would be the obvious vocation for her. She grew up in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, at a time of massive subdivision development, and Shelli was so fascinated by the rising structures and spaces that she would gaze upon the building sites with intense study. Shelli also loved drawing floor plans, her favourite spaces to draw being the sets of her favourite television shows. Later, Shelli had the opportunity to take an architectural drafting course offered by her high school, but it was her art teachers who took an interest in her and helpfully guided her towards fashion. Shelli loved to have creative freedom and through the guidance of her mentors, together recognized that a career in architecture would not give her the creative freedom she so desired, and, in digging deeper, realized she wouldn't be doing the things she was really interested in. Fashion wasn't completely foreign to Shelli, after all – she could never find clothes that fit her and she had already dabbled in making her own clothing as a hobby. Allowing herself to explore the field of fashion further, she participated in a work study as a technical designer at the age of 16. Shelli began to chart a new course in fashion, obtained a post-secondary degree in fashion design, then went to work for Betsey Johnson in NYC. During her time working in New York she met the person who would become her first business partner, who sensed the entrepreneurial spirit in her and asked her to move back to Toronto to start her own label. The rest, as they say, is history.
Shelli Oh doesn't only design womenswear – she has a menswear line, too, and I was just as mesmerized by her men's fall/winter collection that was shown during TOM*FW (Toronto Men's Fashion Week) a few days before her women's collection was presented. Shelli's inspirations behind each collection were vastly different, and since this was the first time she showed men's and women's separately, it allowed her to fully express the different themes, as well as set the collections to the appropriate music that accompanied each.
Photo credit: Shayne Gray
Shelli was inspired by French new wave film for her FW17 menswear collection. It tells the story of fictional character Lucien, a man of artfully disheveled dapperness, who is well-dressed but also a little bit scruffy. The collection was so named for Serge Gainsbourg (Lucien was the poet's birth name), and Serge, too, served as inspiration for Shelli – a man very fitting of the French new wave style. The runway show further reinforced this theme with an opening video clip featuring an excerpt from the French film 'Anna,' starring Serge Gainsbourg and Anna Karina. The song selections perfectly complemented the collection, giving you a real feel for the imagery Shelli wanted to evoke (1. Jacqueline Taïeb – 7-Heure Du Matin (01); 2. Jacques Dutronc – Les Cactus; 3. Serge Gainsbourg - Requiem Pour Un Con; 4. Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot - Bonnie and Clyde).
When designing her FW17 womenswear collection, Shelli was inspired by a rediscovery of all the pretty and delicate things that make her smile. She explored texture and structure, combined lace with wool, and focused on her appreciation for handmade details, like the hand-linking of chains and delicately applied feathers. The collection is ultimately a mosaic of elements that make Shelli happy. The pieces feel more couture than ready-to-wear, and as a whole the collection has a magical, ethereal quality to it. I truly believe that the music selected for runway shows has a lot to do with how the audience perceives the collection, and I thought Shelli's song selections were perfect for both. For her women's collection, Shelli wanted to emphasize the magical qualities it possessed, and she was moved by the music she chose. The first was Carmord-Sur-Mer (Epilogue) by La Patère Rose – a piano number featuring the singer whispering softly in French, which established the magical quality of the collection. The next song, Mogwai's I Know You Are But What Am I, beautifully transitioned from the first because of its piano arrangement, and chiming bells added to the ethereal feeling that Shelli wanted to create. The final song was very personal to Shelli – There Was Magic, Then... by The Gentle Waves. The song is about the story of a girl that Shelli relates strongly to, and it was the perfect way to conclude the show (I now have this song on repeat!).
It was a highlight for me to be exposed to this talented designer. I look forward to seeing future collections by Shelli Oh, and to adding some of her pieces to my wardrobe!
Want more? Let's hear from Shelli herself! Here's what We Want To Know:
I can't start my morning without...hearing one of my 'happy songs.' I have a number of songs in my musical repertoire that make my heart smile. Those are my 'happy songs.' Some I'm proud of, some I'm not, but they fill my day with sunshine. I need to hear at least one to properly start my day...
I have a weakness for...Coca Cola. It's a problem. It doesn't matter how much time has passed between having one, but it feels like the life giving juice. Sad, but true.
Most people don't know that I...am a big believer in life on 2 wheels; I love motorcycles and scooters. I ride everywhere when I can. I have once strapped an industrial ironing board to the back of my vespa (like airplane wings) and taken it home that way. I am a regular for motorcycle events like the Moto Social, Mods and Rockers, and have started doing the International Women's Ride and the Distinguished Gentlemen's Ride (to raise money for charity).
Currently reading... The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky - well, trying to finish it. It's a hard read. I am a lover of the ballet, and Nijinsky was a legend in the time of the Ballet Russes. He suffered from a complete mental nervous breakdown and this book chronicles (in his own words) his descent into madness. It is the unexpurgated version of his diary and I've had to put it down many times as it really brings you into his mental state in a very personal way, which can be jarring. I've only recently picked it up again to finish it.
I want...to spread light and love; I want to be able to make a difference – to share what I can, and to never take anything for granted. I want people to know that they're not alone, and that they're loved. I want people know their own worth and let their light shine bright. I want to do what I can to facilitate all of this...
Thank you so much Shelli, for participating in #WeWantToKnow! It was a pleasure to feature you. :) To keep up with Shelli, follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, or visit Shelli's website here. Watch out for Shelli Oh's designs to make an appearance at the Mad Hot Ballet Gala on June 6th, 2017, where Shelli will be dressing some friends and dancers in the National Ballet of Canada.