By Norah Myers
Vanessa Heron was born to be a fashion designer. The granddaughter of an Italian tailor and a seamstress, she grew up sketching, creating and cultivating a love for fashion, particularly evening wear and haute couture. Her family provided her with a basic foundation in drafting and tailoring. Vanessa further studied pattern making, sewing, and fashion illustration while still in high school. After graduating from Balmoral Hall School for Girls in 2004, she was accepted to Ryerson’s fashion design program in Toronto.
In her first year at Ryerson, Vanessa worked with her fellow design students and the students who went into fashion communication in their second year. They all enrolled in marketing courses and classes in illustration, construction and sewing. They learned colour theory and communications classes. “[The amount of work I did] hit [me] like a train,” Vanessa said with a laugh. Vanessa noted that every class in Ryerson’s program builds on every other one. The classes work together to allow each student to take a design from conception to completion.
In her second year, Vanessa built on her passion for evening wear. In her third year, as part of a team, she explored men’s design and used the tailoring skills she had learned in classes as well as from her grandfather to create a men’s collection. She strongly emphasized the importance of teamwork in fashion. In Ryerson’s fourth year – the ‘thesis year’ – each student combines and utilizes all of his or her skills and creates a collection from start to finish.
Students also learn the basics of market research to understand their audience. They are given the tools to research current fashion trends and they incorporate the trends into their work, designing collections that are to be worn the following year. The fourth year collections are presented by the designers to a panel of judges within the fashion industry for critiquing.
At Ryerson, each student gets a credit for 400 hours of internship work. Vanessa completed more than 500 hours and worked as an intern for three different designers. She worked for an haute couture designer and personal shopper named Renata who became her mentor.
Vanessa then branched into haute couture bridal wear with designer Nina Duong. Taking the experience she had gained from her first two internships, Vanessa moved on to intern for Sunny Choi, talented fashion illustrator and designer of women’s clothing in Toronto. She sat in on meetings, attended dress fittings and pressed garments. She was given the opportunity to improve her technical sketching skills and it is there that she also had the opportunity to work with David Dixon, a successful Canadian designer.
Vanessa graduated from Ryerson in the spring of 2008 and began working as a product developer for Silver Jeans Co. in October of the same year. She held the position for approximately eight months and then transitioned to an assistant design role for 1921 Jeans and Sheryl Crow’s line, Bootheel Trading Co. After approximately a year and a half in that role, Vanessa moved into a design position for Silver Jeans Co. where she currently works with three other talented designers under the guidance of a head designer and design director. Vanessa feels like she is part of a family.
Her job has given her the opportunity to travel to New York City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Upon graduating, she didn’t anticipate working in the competitive denim industry given that her experience was in evening wear and couture, but she says she feels fortunate in the job she landed and is keen on learning more about denim. She says that her personal style has evolved with her job: from elegant and classy to a more sophisticated edginess. She says when she sees someone on the street, the first thing she does is look at his or her jeans.
Vanessa says it is best to work for someone else who is established and reputable to gain valuable experience before launching your own individual label because it can be a tough battle for those new to the fashion industry. She now currently works as part of the ladies design team for Silver Jeans Co. and was recently given the opportunity to design a new contemporary European inspired line of jeans for the brand. She has developed a love for luxury denim and sees herself working for Silver Jeans Co. in the long term. She would like to continue learning and to grow as a professional designer.
When she isn’t working on Silver Jeans Co.’s 2013 spring collection, Vanessa Irish dances to unwind and stay in shape. “It’s my form of meditation. It’s like my yoga.”