At an early age, Karen Niven realised she had two obsessions. She loved to sew and she loved the 1950's. It all began when she was around five. After helping her mom sew her Halloween costume, a 50's inspired poodle skirt, she got inspired with sewing and ....poodle skirts. "I made a pink one a purple one, a blue one a shiny one, a polka dot one. I still have them all and some of them still fit" she laughs. Sparked by her passion for sewing she took classes all through middle and high school to hone her skill.
Niven attended the fashion program at Vancouver Community College right after high school with a gleam in her eye, but faced the challenges of the design, art and illustration components. Her strength of sewing and construction skills carried her through and where others fell short she excelled. Along with a her love of sewing, she brought to the program her passion for the 1950's. As she grew up, her tastes became more refined, but the era of influence stuck. She traded her fascination with the trend of the poodle skirt for the classic look of old New York money. Looking through her portfolio it is evident she appreciates the craftsmanship and sophistication that belong to the affluent women of this era. Reflecting back to an earlier trip to New York, Niven admits this may have influenced the winter collection she designed.
As she walked me through her grad portfolio images, Manhattan skylines accompanied sketches of strong women clad in designs to match. The 1950's were the beginnings of women joining the workforce and of course they needed to be at par with their male counterpart. Fashion was a way to convey this. Niven played with this notion. She wanted to re-create the quality of clothing from back then and make it relevant today. The collection evokes a time when clothes weren't mass produced, a time when good tailoring was important and when women dressed as ladies. Small details throughout reflected this such as buttons made to match the fabric, fabrics chosen to match the mood and materials tailored to match a woman's silhouette.
Niven's grad collection plays on that "1950's old New York class," but can also be accessed and worn by everyday women in this decade. One dress that stands out is simple, but sophisticated. Rich black fabric with raised embellished polka dots, scoop-back with a horizontal neckline, on-trend exaggerated shoulders and matching sewn buttons all add a touch of depth to an otherwise simple garment. Other pieces include a mustard coat, a patterned blue and yellow pencil skirt and an ash grey and a black gown, all seamlessly pulled together.
Karen Niven currently works for Fidelity Denim where she enjoys the marketing aspect of the industry. Her love of aesthetics and creativity leave her options for the future open. Like most 20-year-olds, she still does not know which avenue of life she wishes to walk. "Right now I'm so fresh, I'm really enjoying my time at Fidelity learning the industry. It's so different than school.....[In the future] I can really see myself designing for someone else or marketing, maybe graphic design or styling...Whatever it is I'll definitely be doing something creative". You can see more of Karen Niven's work at karenniven.tumblr.com.
For more information on the Fashion Design program at VCC go to www.vcc.ca/fashionarts.