Olivia Rubens in Trinity Bellwoods Park

Don’t you love it when you meet a friend through a friend? I had the pleasure of getting to know Olivia Rubens through my good work friend Dee George, a fellow Cancer featured on the blog earlier this year.  Her Scorpio Sun, Capricorn Moon and Taurus Rising combination makes her a thoughtful and grounded designer with joy and intelligence in her creations.  We sat down much earlier this year to talk about her SS18 collection and how she got into fashion.

What made you want to become a designer?

I caught on pretty late, compared to a lot of people, but maybe not. I’ve always had a thing for going to Value Village to source vintage finds. It’s a thing that I do with my best friend back home in Ottawa. Then I started altering the pieces I found a little bit, going to fabric stores, and once she stopped coming [shopping with me], I figured I was way more into it than she was, so I thought, “I guess I really like this!”

I modeled in my 11th-grade fashion show, and in the 12th one, I was the “lead designer,” which was fun. I was a noob back then. I decided not to take math or anything “important” in 12th grade, so I made myself take that path and applied for school at Ryerson.

I didn’t get in the first year because I was inexperienced. My weakness was illustration, and it still is. I’m not terrible, but I was not so great back then. You have to be good at that when you get in. I did a year of arts [contemporary studies], which are general arts, and then I got in the year after. I stayed on the fashion floor in residence; I got to know a bunch of people and how the program worked and decided I wanted to do this. They helped me apply the next time.

The Lorelei coat and the Lois dress from Olivia Rubens eco Spring/Summer 2018 look book. Photography: Ann Lin, Makeup: Charm Torres, Hair: Erika Fung, Models: Maria Rubio (Angie’s), Wardrobe assistant: Shanna Stanley-Hasnain

What inspires your aesthetic?

I don’t like taking inspiration from anything that’s current [like referencing other designers/designs], even though that’s almost inevitable, I don’t like to pay attention to media so that I don’t accidentally reference something. I do catch up on shows every season, although it’s just a bit later. I try to get my mind away from that. I try to be different always, sometimes too much, but I don’t think I am too much in terms of Canadian conservatism and it’s more commercial aesthetic. I’m still trying to find my aesthetic and my voice. Otherwise everything around me [inspires me], whether it be culture or people, as well as a lot of intangible ideas or scientific processes, and places but nothing too concrete or tangible. I try to change it up each season and try to find something relevant. I always do my research to know what’s coming up for the next season, and then I try and find something relevant but also that inspires me and relates to me, and that into which I can really delve deeply.

The Kerianne onesie from Olivia Rubens eco Spring/Summer 2018 look book. Photography: Ann Lin, Makeup: Charm Torres, Hair: Erika Fung, Models: Maria Rubio (Angie’s) and Tiffany Hung (Plutino), Wardrobe assistant: Shanna Stanley-Hasnain

You work with a lot of sustainable materials. What inspired that choice?

Mainly this competition that I did: my sponsors pushed that onto me. It was frustrating at first. In Canada, there already are not a lot of options for textiles. It’s already limited as it is, but it’s been a challenge. It’s also been really nice. It’s silly really, but fashion is so behind on sustainability and eco-friendliness, in comparison to most industries, so if I can do it now then why not get a head start. When I did do the competition, I did a whole look out of reused denim, and I found that to be very gratifying: repurposing it to make it look like something that looks completely different from the initial product. You wouldn’t have guessed that it was 15 pairs of jeans. It makes me feel good, so I’d like to continue with that. I’m still on the edge about furs and leathers; I still haven’t made up my mind about that. I feel like I need to do more research, but for the moment, those are restrictions around which I have to work.

The Jennifer jacket and the Shanna dress from Olivia Rubens eco Spring/Summer 2018 look book. Photography: Ann Lin, Makeup: Charm Torres, Hair: Erika Fung, Models: Maria Rubio (Angie’s), Wardrobe assistant: Shanna Stanley-Hasnain

How do you want the wearers of your pieces to feel?

It relates to my market. My woman is someone who doesn’t want to look like anybody else. She is someone who wants to stand out day to day, whether she is someone who is already interested in design and art or whether she is contrastingly a lawyer or doctor, i.e., if she wants to feel extra distinctive each day. My looks say something about them, and they’re unique. It’s not something that you would wear every single day, but it’s something that you would prize for a long time, which also ties into my focus on sustainability. I want my woman to go out and find something that means a lot to her, something that she picks up knowingly with a story behind it so that she is happy to wear it and also she knows that she can evoke such confidence and her exceptional personality.

Where are you working right now?

I’m working as a design assistant for Hilary MacMillan. I am able to encapsulate her design personality at this point, understand her customer and her fit, and common styles and design details, so I’m able to design things here and there, or give valuable input. Mostly, she directs me as to what is being designed, and I produce the garments from start to finish, then prep everything needed for production, while she takes care of all business, technical and logistical needs. I also assist in sales at pop-ups, and assist at all her shows. For the past two seasons, we’ve been participating at Re/set, which has been a great experience so far!

She’s been really helpful. She gives me input on my own work, and always encourages me to compete and work for objectives in my own design realm. She’s always backing me and introducing me to new people in the industry, and supporting my aspirations to attend grad school abroad. It’s really good practice improving my craft. I’ve improved exponentially, and putting in those 10,000 hours is important because sewing, among the other skills I practice, including drafting and designing for a different style or company, isn’t something you can get right away. These skills are so important to practice, and to be good is so so hard, in my opinion. So that’s been a really good experience, and also learning how other people want to make things, from a production and pattern detail or fit point of view. She has her way of making things, and I have mine, because of the way that we were taught in each of our schools. Otherwise, she’s just a fantastic person, so it’s awesome to work in the studio.

The Jessie dress from Olivia Rubens eco Spring/Summer 2018 look book. Photography: Ann Lin, Makeup: Charm Torres, Hair: Erika Fung, Models: Maria Rubio (Angie’s), Wardrobe assistant: Shanna Stanley-Hasnain

Do you have a favourite piece you’ve made?

It’s hard to be emotionally attached to your clothing because if someone hates on it, you can’t take it to heart. You have to keep moving on. I had an interview for grad school last November, and the interviewer said, “What you do previously is always going to be your worst work. Your best is always going to be what’s to come, but what you’ve done before is always going to be your worst, and you have to accept that.” My past is my past, and I can be attached to it, but I can’t get that attached because I am going to get criticism for it. And especially after that interview, I got so much criticism that it’s hard for me to be attached to any of my previous items. I like to create new things. I do like and dislike my last fall collection because I think it was a little dull for me, but I did do some really interesting things regarding textiles, like marbling leather and wool. There was a leather onesie that was really cool, and the competition sweater I did: I knitted a sweater out of 15 pairs of jeans. As I said, that was really satisfying, but I think whatever is to come will be good. My Spring collection that I just finished – one coat that I made, in particular, can be used as a prime example – one thing that I want to do is sustainability. The other thing that I want is that customers won’t know that it is sustainable. I think that there is this terrible stereotype or bias against eco-friendly clothing because it’s very granola and blah. Usually, it comes in such boring colours, and people want to support that, but those can’t always be crazy statement pieces then. I want to make statement (paired with regular contemporary) pieces with eco-friendly fabric. So that’s what I’m trying to do with this Spring/Summer 2018 collection I just released. One of the coats is metallic turquoise, but it’s hemp!

How would you define your style?

It’s changed a lot over the years. I understand that a lot of designers don’t want to put in the effort to dress well, but if you know how to design well, and you know what you want to put on your models, why wouldn’t you exude that attitude, so that’s what I like to do myself. So in the sense that my design is evolving, so is my aesthetic in the way that I dress. I still like to dress pretty out there, but I like to tone it down with more mature femme, more power-woman, but still a kind of funky look. I do have interesting hair, my stretched ears, my piercings, and some people expect that in a designer. It’s not as popular as you would think, that people are very alternative in this scene. I like to wear my own clothes sometimes, but don’t often put nearly enough effort into making any of my own clothing as I do for my collections. Although if I make it, it’s there, it fits, and I like it, why not?

The Laura coat (hemp!) and the Lyndsay dress from Olivia Rubens eco Spring/Summer 2018 look book. Photography: Ann Lin, Makeup: Charm Torres, Hair: Erika Fung, Models: Maria Rubio (Angie’s) and Tiffany Hung (Plutino), Wardrobe assistant: Shanna Stanley-Hasnain

What are you working on right now?

I just released my editorial lookbook for my Spring/Summer 2018 collection. We just moved our production with Mont Pellier over to the Fashion Exchange on the George Brown campus, so I’m proud to say that everything will be made in Canada, and dyed in North America, on top of being eco-friendly. I’m also replacing my silk organza in the line with silk hemp, and hopefully my nylon mesh with recycled nylon mesh, to go completely sustainable. There were a few hiccups in sourcing the correct materials, but we have been doing a lot of sourcing and have found great replacements.

I have applied for a few competitions, as well as the new TV show Stitched, which will be the new ‘Project Runway Canada’ show. Wish me luck!

I’m continuously working on research and my portfolio for grad school (either London College of Fashion or the Royal College of Art), and am now doing research and am in the beginning stages of designing my Fall/Winter 2018/2019 collection.

Otherwise, I’ll be creating a couple more garments in metallic colours to shoot in New York in November in collaboration with Peter Gray and our great team with Mont Pellier, which is pretty exciting! I am also working for Hilary full-time, with all of this going on as a side hustle, so we are moving through our showing and releasing of our Spring collection, as well as selling and marketing our Fall/Winter 2017/2018 collection. Very busy!

What’s your stance on astrology?

I’m not super into it, but I was really freaked out a couple of years ago. My friends have this HUGE book. It’s narrowed down to the exact day, time, and year that you were born. So they read me my past, present, and future. It was so bang-on I was freaking out, but I can’t remember what book and that was the only time I really believed in it because whenever I read horoscopes, I feel like you have this bias or naivety already. I think that if I read it after and it did happen, I’d be into it. You know when you read Cosmo, and those are kind of bullshit? If I talked to someone who is more knowledgeable and who have done their fair share of research, and explained my horoscope to me, I’d likely relate to it more. Aside from that, my best friend – she lives in Vancouver and is a tattooer there – she’s super into Tarot. So every time we meet up she reads my Tarot, and she did last Christmas. It’s kind of hard to face sometimes, especially with Tarot because they can be daunting or negative. Horoscopes tend to be positive. That’s why I don’t really believe it because life isn’t ever always positive. It’s positive half the time, but other half is unfair. Tarot is hard to face so every time I’m scared to hear, and this recent one was pretty negative, but it’s been a whole nine months since that reading, and I think my life is coming back on track, so maybe in some sense, it was correlated. I don’t know if I believe it. I’m going to go with the flow and see what happens.

Do you identify as a Scorpio?

Yeah definitely: a little bit emotional, way too caring, very empathetic, very opinionated, stubborn, pretty confident, maybe sometimes too confident? Very self-conscious, I think that’s pretty much nail on the head Scorpio.

Do you think that Scorpios get a lot of flack for being mysterious?

In that sense, I don’t think I’m a Scorpio. I put myself out on the table for everyone to see.