When fashion designer Connally McDougall attends Vancouver Fashion Week, it will be more than a homecoming.
Now based in London, the Vancouver-born and Victoria-raised McDougall will bring an intellectual and emotional suitcase jammed with inspirations from the buildings, people, sights and sounds of the cities she has visited in her well-travelled life, spanning Hungary, Austria, Toronto and B.C.
“I get a lot of my inspiration for my collections through travel and memories of going and seeing different cities and places,” she said in a telephone interview from London, where she is studying at the prestigious Central St. Martins College of Arts and Design.
McDougall, 25, will show a collection of 10 design pieces at Vancouver Fashion Week, March 18 to 23. Her presentation will be on March 20, a day reserved for emerging designers.
It will be McDougall’s first showing at an international fashion show, alongside designers from more than 30 cities around the world. Until now she has only shown at salons or private shows.
Victoria-based Niche magazine has sponsored her, lining up models, hairstylists, makeup artists and choreographers to make her moment on the catwalk a success.
Tracey Drake, Niche editor-in-chief, said the magazine had 16 people in mind to sponsor before whittling it down to two. At that point, Drake said they chose the designer they thought would mostly likely to be in fashion for the long haul.
“We wanted someone who was going to be a good alignment for our magazine,” Drake said. “And Connally is exceptional. She’s had an interesting background and her fashion is really quite spicy; ethnic in tone.”
McDougall’s parents were Christian missionaries and she spent years in countries including Austria and Hungary. She likes to say her first exposure to the world of fashion was at age five, awaiting the birth of her sister with a neighbour who kept her occupied sewing mittens for the newborn.
“She showed me how to work the needle, up and down, up and down,” McDougall said. “You don’t need a lot of language to understand ‘Hold the needle like this.’ ”
In her late teens, McDougall attended Pacific Christian School in Victoria before going on to study fine arts at the University of Victoria. It was during her third year at UVic that she applied to Central St. Martins.
During what she described as a “Gulag-style” interview before gaining admission, a panel tried to break her down by telling her all her ideas on fashion were foolish. She was then told to describe an imaginary fashion line, from a single inspiration to the shore shelves.
“The first thing that popped out of my mouth was ‘lederhosen,’ ” said McDougall, remembering the short, embroidered leather pants with suspenders worn by men and boys in Austria and Germany.
And then she was off, describing for the interviewer how in her imagined line, the embroidery of the lederhosen would be done in metallics. The H-shape formed by the suspenders with their distinctive cross piece would be sewn into seams on the back of a blazer.
It was enough, because McDougall was told she had made it past “the firing squad” and accepted. She also later learned she was among 40,000 people who had applied for the one opening.
“I’m really, really lucky and humbled. I feel like I get to represent Canada and Victoria and my family,” McDougall said.
Living in London since last August, she has found an endless series of inspirations. The art and various neighbourhoods seem endless, she said, and the variety of buildings, old and modern, are a constant source of fashion inspiration.
“There is a lot of architecture and geometry when you are putting together a garment,” said McDougall. “It’s art, but you have to abide within the laws of physics.”
She hopes to create a line of everyday clothes for women that can be worn in an office or studio.
She designs her pieces to be mixed up, making for a variety of looks. And hopefully, in the name of sustainability, her clothes will be owned long enough to become “favourite pieces.”
McDougall is starting to think about making London her permanent home. She believes she knows something of its personality and likens it to a smartly dressed, older woman who wears unseen red knickers and striped socks.
But she said she will always have a place in her heart for Victoria. It’s where her family still lives and it will always be at least a second home.
And if London is that older woman with exciting undergarments, Victoria, with its flowers and greenery, is like something from the movie Amelie, in which a young French woman in Paris has fanciful, colourful and imaginative adventures.
“What I miss most about Victoria is the way the air tastes and smells. It is so crisp and light-hearted,” McDougall said.
“It is hard to have a bad day in Victoria. It’s so beautiful.”
Vancouver Fashion Week bills itself as the fastest-growing fashion week in the world and is attended by more than 20,000 people. It is at the Chinese Cultural Centre, 50 East Pender St., from March 18 to 24.