Valérie Dumaine hadn’t even finished elementary school before she knew that she would make a career in the fashion industry. During the 1980s, she was drawing and designing garments inspired by TV series such as DINASTY and music video clips by the likes of Madonna. Her decision to enroll in the fashion design program at LaSalle College, in 1994, surprised no one. Ten years later, her first collection landed in stores in both Montreal and Ottawa. This April, the designer will be celebrating her 15th anniversary.

In this interview with the designer, we find out what her influences are and learn about her views on the industry today.

You have always known that you would be working in the fashion industry. How did you discover your passion for this amazing fieldIt all became clear when my grandmother gave me her sewing machine. I was thirteen and immediately began modifying my clothes. My stepmother also played an important role since she was a seamstress and patternmaker. One day, while visiting her, she made a skirt for me in less than an hour. I was excited to realize that you could make clothes, made to measure, in less than an hour! She eventually started giving me a lot of leftover fabrics, in addition to providing sewing tips, to get me rolling on making my own clothes. In high school, I designed my first ten-piece collection, which I presented during the end-of-year talent show. That was the beginning of it!

Who was your inspiration as a designer?  If we go back to my high school years, I would say that Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel, and Yves Saint Laurent were key inspirations. I loved the pant/blazer look, and I was always dressed that way! At LaSalle College, my favourites were Alexander McQueen, Ann Demeulemeester, and Martin Margiela. I really admired Missoni, Prada, and Miu Miu when I started my line. As time went by, however, I became less interested in fashion’ per se, in that I increasingly found inspiration in arts movements, such as Constructivism, Suprematism, Bauhaus, etc.

What is the first step you took after you finished school?  I worked for a women’s coat company as a sketch/technical drawing artist for a few months. I had already planned to go to London to find an internship. I was fortunate to have a good friend who lived there, so I stayed at his place while interning with an independent designer in the heart of Portobello Arcade.

After 15 years on the market, what is the personality of your collection?  I always find it hard to answer this question. I would say that its timeless and minimal with attention to details and fabrics. In other words, feminine and elegant but not cute (I somehow dislike this expression for clothes). Lots of care goes into the design so that those who own a Valérie Dumaine piece can feel they have something special that is also ‘wearable’ and casual.  

How do you keep creating? What inspires you now?  Everything is an inspirationthe people that surround me, the spaces we inhabit, the architecture of the city, etc. Recently, I visited the Redpath Museum and found its stones/geology collection truly amazing. I was blown away by the array of colours and mixtures of materials. Interestingly, I am also fascinated by my patterns and sewing mistakes’ because they point me in directions that I would not have otherwise considered. These ‘nonintentionaldesigns occasionally provide the central idea for my collections.    

How has the fashion industry changed in the last 15 yearsOn the negative side, there is too much fast fashion. On the positive side, there is a greater awareness regarding the need to deal with environmental and ethical questions. Obviously, one is a response to the other. Slow fashion is gaining more supporters, like ‘slow’ movements in other spheres of consumptions. Established and emerging designers all have a role to play and it begins, in part, with creating timeless and durable pieces, reusing both materials and clothes (i.e. upcycling), using more sustainable fabrics, and being transparent about our production process so that customers can make informed decisions. In my case, it is also about making compassion and design work together. It’s a different industry than the one I encountered when I first started.

What is the biggest satisfaction after all these years working in the industry? I am always thrilled to see someone on the street wearing one of my creations. I remember how proud I was the first time this happened. It still makes me happy fifteen years – or thirty collections – later. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that I am still the designer that I wanted to be and that I am able to make a living doing what I like most.  

What advice could you give to people interested in working in this inspiring field?  You must be true to yourself and be genuinely passionate about what you do. Its such a hard industry to be in that if it does not come from the heart, you will be unhappy. Be patient and resilient. Id also recommend starting progressively, experimenting, and doing small runs to see how it all comes together because overproducing will drain you, both financially and emotionally, with obvious repercussions for the following collections.