Ellen Wise Couture
San Francisco, USA based designer
Can you introduce your brand and yourself in a few sentences?
My name is Ellen Wise. Ellen Wise Couture is the eponymous label of custom design. From the bucolic setting of my Woodside studio above the San Francisco Bay Area, I bring fresh vision to the timeless art of haute couture. Devoted to creating one-of-a-kind luxury evening, wedding and professional attire, each design enhances the femininity and confidence of the woman who wears it. Every garment is designed and hand crafted from the highest quality natural fiber fabrics. Often termed ‘Slow Fashion,’ each piece is an ageless creation with an unmistakable air grace and elegance.
What sparked your interest in fashion design?
My path to couture has been as unique as my designs. I am a former concert violinist, research scientist, patent attorney and environmental advocate, I credit her left brain/right love of science and art as the sine qua non of my decision to become a designer.
Also, I have a slender 5-foot -9-inch tall frame, so I had trouble buying professional clothes. I often sewed my own - including a jacket I wore to a California Bar Association conference in 2008. I was wearing that jacket when, during a break in proceedings, I wandered into a well known designer boutique. The shopkeeper was so taken with the jacket that he pressed me to produce it for his stores. I explained that she was an attorney, not a designer but the encounter nonetheless proved fateful. She recalls the idea as a light bulb turning on in her head - was it possible that her talent for making clothes that flattered and fit could become a new professional career?
Can you describe your creative process?
Each piece begins by imagining a garment that will imbue confidence, energy and exhilaration when worn. Selection of fabric is the critical first step. The fabric informs virtually every aspect of the design. Color, pattern, texture, fibers and weave are but a few of a fabric’s essential qualities that inform an engineering process that leads to the final design. I stick to certain tried-and-true principles of age-old couture, but that process frees me to create designs I hadn’t previously imagined. When a design has been sketched, I use the moulage method, in which patterns are draped and perfected on the dress form, to create a toile, or mock-up of the design in plain cotton muslin. The toile is carefully adjusted on the client or model. Lines, curves, volume, ease of movement and functional elements are optimized. Details may be changed and elements may be added or removed. The final toile is carefully de-constructed and becomes the pattern for the new design.
What is your favourite part of being a designer? What drives you to design?
Design is something I need, even more than want to do. It is challenging and energizing at the same time. Even when a design is not coming together as planned, there is delight in discovering a new way to proceed. In law, celebrations of success are short-lived in comparison to the days, months and even years of exhaustive analysis, negotiation and argument. Design is like music or sport - I look forward to practicing!
How do you find working as a designer where your brand is based? Has the culture/surroundings affected your design aesthetic? Do you feel connected to your home?
This question has two very different answers. I am a native of the San Francisco Bay Area. I love its physical beauty, its intellectual energy, its music, art, multiculturalism and even its competitiveness. These aspects of life in Bay Area fundamentally inform my design aesthetic. However, personal style has changed dramatically over recent decades. Growing up, women wore the finest styles they could afford, and men took care to coordinate their shirts and ties, shoes, belts and pocket squares. Today’s tech industry is much more casual than the electronic/missiles and space industry that preceded it. Jeans, t-shirts and hoodies predominate. Even top female lawyers and corporate executives dress casually when they can get away with it. My rock is my studio, which sits atop a mountain in a bucolic setting with incredible views. Each day I am inspired by the changing natural beauty that surrounds me.
In anticipation of your runway show at Vancouver Fashion Week, what are you most looking forward to?
When the music starts and the girls begin walking, their faces and movements expressing their pleasure to each design.
What is the inspiration behind your S/S20 collection to be showcased at Vancouver Fashion Week?
This collection was conceived when, in November 2018, I attended a ballet at the Palais Garnier in Paris. Seated in an upper tier, I had a close-up view of Chagall’s famous fresco ceiling that has graced the Paris Opera house since 1964. The vividlly colored, whimsical painting pays tribute to the composers, musicians and dancers whose artistry has filled the hall. In the words of the artist Marc Chagall,
“I wanted to represent, as in a mirror, a bunch of dreams, the creations of the actors and musicians; to keep in mind the colorful clothes of the audience stirring on the lower level. To sing like a bird, free of any theory and method. To render homage to the great composers of operas and ballets.”