Chloë Angus’s winding path from small-town girl to fashion designer
By SHERI RADFORD
Chloë Angus, hard at work in her gorgeous new studio and showroom on East 6th Avenue. (Photo: KK Law)
The best way to fuel creativity is to grow up without a television, a phone or even electricity. At least, that’s how it worked for Chloë Angus. What the local fashion designer did have as a child was a small Singer sewing machine—and encouragement from her mother. “There were five kids in my family,” Angus says. “I think my mom was just happy to keep us busy doing different things.” Angus sewed clothes for herself and her dolls, along with “anything I could talk my brothers into wearing on Halloween.”
The family ran an organic seafood farm on the Sunshine Coast, 13.5 km (8.5 mi) by boat from the nearest small town, Egmont. When Angus was 12, she got a summer job working in Egmont’s one consignment store, but she made more money selling t-shirts she’d designed than from her wage. “I would catch live fish and paint them with some fabric paint, and I would press them into the shirt. And I signed on it that it was from Egmont, BC.”
After graduating high school, the bright lights of the big city drew Angus to Vancouver. “I spent most of my childhood scheming how I was going to get out of the small town and into the city. It’s funny, because now I spend most of my adult life scheming how I’m going to get back,” she says. After travelling around and exploring the world a bit, she—almost on a whim—started up a landscaping company and built it into a successful business. “Landscaping is about colour and balance and fitting into somebody else’s ideas with your own aesthetic. And a lot of hard work.”
As her 30th birthday loomed ever closer on the horizon, Angus did some soul searching and decided it was time to revisit her first love, fashion. She signed up for a one-year program at the prestigious Helen Lefeaux School of Fashion Design. Angus credits her farming background with giving her the work ethic (not to mention the stamina) to juggle a demanding school program, a thriving landscaping business, and a new marriage.
As a newly minted fashion graduate, Angus caught the attention of a buyer for The Bay, Canada’s most venerated retail institution. She designed several collections for The Bay’s Canadian by Design department. The rest, as they say, is history.
Sketch for a spring design. (Photo: KK Law)
Over the past 11 years, Angus has gone from toiling away on her designs in her basement, to a small office downtown, to a larger studio on Dunbar Street, to her current 280-sq-m (3,000-sq-ft) studio on 6th Avenue. She designs everything from t-shirts to fancy wedding dresses (just two or three each summer, for a few lucky brides), and an extraordinary amount of time and care go into each one: “We spend weeks on fitting a simple t-shirt—a t-shirt that looks as good on an extra-small as it does on a triple-extra-large.” Best known are her Spirit Wraps, the result of a creative collaboration with local First Nations artists such as Clarence Mills (Haida) and Corrine Hunt (Tlingit). Angus is also the fashion sponsor for the Leo Awards (BC’s version of the Academy Awards) here in Vancouver, and she loves dressing the trophy models and some of the actresses: “It gives me the opportunity to be over-the-top creative in any way that I want to be.” When actresses sometimes hesitate at the fancier gowns, “I always tell them it never hurts to be the best dressed lady at the party.” Recently, Angus had her first chance to design all of the costumes for a movie, a shot-in-Vancouver short comedy called I Wanna Date U.
Even as Chloë Angus Design grows and evolves, one thing that will never change is Angus’s commitment to staying in Vancouver. She finds design inspiration in the city’s natural beauty, and she loves the climate here compared to the rest of the country: “It might be raining really hard out today, but it’s not snowing,” she says. “I am a true Vancouverite. I own a nice collection of gumboots. I like umbrellas. I have a really fabulous raincoat coming out for fall 2015. I don’t like parkas. I think the rest of Canada is pretty much uninhabitable most of the year.”
The other place Angus finds inspiration? Beautiful fabrics. “Often I see a piece of fabric and it just talks to me. It says, ‘Make me into this.’ And I know right away what I will do with it.”
With any luck, Angus will continue finding inspiration for many decades to come.
Find Spirit Wraps at The Gallery Store and the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. To see an array of Angus’s creations, visit Chloë Angus Design.