The Make Den Maven: Irene Stickney on how fashion changed her life

~This story originally appeared in summer 2011, issue 9 of dandyhorse. We are reposting this article in memory of Karl Lagerfeld, long-time artistic director at Chanel, who has died today at age 85 near Paris. ~

Irene is pictured in both her gang colours (seafoam) and as alter ego, unicorn Karl Lagerfeld. Photos by Kristen White. Interview by Rebecca Matus.

The Make Den Maven

Irene Stickney thought she wanted to be a doctor. Then she learned to sew, and there’s been no stopping the fashion designer/bike gang member since.

dandyhorse caught up with the owner of The Make Den to find out how fashion has changed her life.

Who are you?

The daughter of a mathematician and the granddaughter of a Dandy.

How appropriate for this article!

Favourite designer?

There are so many designers! Right now I love digital prints so I’m into Mary Katrantzou but it changes every 5 minutes. I love that I have a love/hate relationship with Karl Lagerfeld. The Alexander McQueen exhibit made me cry. And I wear a lot of vintage, and things I’ve made so that’s outside the whole fashion bubble.

When did you first realise you were interested in fashion?

I didn’t pick fashion – it picked me! When I was four, my parents brought me back these little satin PJs from a trip to China. The jacket had a Mandarin collar and I thought I was so couture in them. I wanted to wear them to church so badly that I threw a tantrum. Obviously “appropriate” wasn’t part of my vocabulary. Later in high school I made it my job to wear the most out-of-control outfits I could. I had platform roller skates with wheels that popped in and out of them which I wore with bellbottoms and a lime green halter top from the 70’s. Once I wore a garbage bag! It was belted, of course. I watched Fashion Television religiously.

What was your back-up plan?

I never considered fashion as a career path in high school because I didn’t know how to sew. I always wanted to know how but there was nowhere to take classes in Toronto then. I thought I would just become a doctor who loved fashion. I took science at Guelph for a few months, but it was painfully obvious that the program wasn’t right for me.

At that point, how did you begin to break into the industry?

I dropped out of university and learned how to sew. It took me three years to get the hang of sewing but I started selling my clothes at this little shop I was working at on Queen St. Then our little crew started throwing fashion shows for local designers. Only they weren’t little and they eventually turned into Alternative Fashion

Week. Once I knew what I really wanted to do it was like a light went on. It was like: “Okay, now we’re going to make this happen”.

What programs or extra-curricular activities do you recommend for teenagers who want to go into fashion design?

Take fashion if they offer it at your school! Change schools to one that does if you need to, or take sewing classes. Draw, draw, draw all the time, read lots of magazines and style blogs – or start your own! Take co-op in high school and intern with a designer or a fashion magazine.

How has fashion changed your life?

I look at the insides of garments when I shop now. I like to know how things are made, what machines were used, where it was made. But more importantly, I love what I do. At the end of the day, I have this amazing thing, a skill or a passion or whatever you want to call it – this thing that no one can take away from me. I love knowing that all I have to do is draw something and then I can make one for myself. That’s magic. Also, I have a fashion designing bike gang called the Deadly Nightshades. I don’t think I would have one of those if I’d gone to med school.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Still doing the same thing, but doing it better and better. I’d love to be able to host more international designers at the studio. I’d love to have Julian Roberts or Savile Row tailor Thomas Mahon come and facilitate a workshop. I’d love to have Kathleen Fasanella as a guest. I want to bring couture to Toronto, and I want to bring cutting edge designers to Toronto as well. The studio is going to look more like a fashion business incubator in a few years, with tons of resources for people who want to start designing and making things. It will be a place where designers and students can collaborate and share what they’re doing with each other.

Are you where you imagined you would be five years ago?

No. Five years ago, all I wanted was to finish my fashion design degree at Ryerson. I had no idea what I wanted to do beyond that.

How satisfied are you with your career in fashion design?

I get to see people experiencing the excitement of making things every day! I’m very blessed and I couldn’t have a more awesome job.

Favourite quote or idea about fashion?

“Design is a constant challenge to balance comfort with luxe, the practical with the desirable.” —Donna Kara

~This story originally appeared in summer 2011, issue 9 of dandyhorse. We are reposting this article in memory of Karl Lagerfeld, long-time artistic director at Chanel, who has died today at age 85 near Paris. ~


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