Profile: Breeyn McCarney

June 12, 2012

By Julia Eskins

Photography by Kareen Mallon

Politics, art and old-world craftsmanship are three elements often left off Canadian fashion runways. In a sea of “wearable”, sometimes it takes a fresh force to make some waves and redefine what the W-word really means. Breeyn McCarney is doing just that.

Breeyn McCarney with a corset from her Vessel collection.

The Toronto-based designer is quickly emerging as the newest talent to shake up the industry, with independent shows and custom womenswear for a growing roster of clients. Self-described on Twitter as “a mouth piece who makes dresses,” McCarney strives to strike a balance between her passions for political and environmental activism, intricately crafted garments and creative control.

“I’m obsessed with old-world techniques like beading and embroidery. My dresses are never going to be mass-manufactured, mainstream dresses. But they can be wearable and I try to gently nudge clients in a different direction,” says McCarney. “I lived in London for three years… People there would wear the craziest stuff all the time, like it was no big deal! I thought that cultivated a lot of creativity. Toronto can be tough because it’s a city so focused on making things manufacturable.”

McCarney says she lived in London for three years and found it to be very inspirational.

McCarney chose not to show at the World MasterCard Fashion Week and has instead opted for presenting her collections elsewhere, including private venues and |FAT| Arts & Fashion Week. Most recently, the designer collaborated with fine artist Irena Komadinic for Vessel, a heart-inspired collection combining hand-painted fabrics and McCarney’s signature beading and knitwear techniques.

“A show is as much a part of the collection as anything else. It’s the atmosphere, it’s the hair, it’s the venue,” says McCarney. “You create a magical world for eight minutes and then it’s gone. If you weren’t there to see it, you’ll never know what it was like. And that’s amazing. I don’t really feel like that is possible at World MasterCard Fashion Week because there are a lot of rules, like you have to show on a stark white runway. I don’t know if that makes me a control freak, but I really need to be able to extend the collection into the show as a whole.”

Beyond the creative component, McCarney makes a point to source environmentally friendly materials from first world countries, and uses fabrics that are produced ethically. While this has garnered McCarney respect from the eco-conscious community, it has also created an added challenge of finding the right sponsors. “There are a lot of conflicts of interest for me and I have to make sure I hold true to the values that created the label in the first place,” she says.

In addition to designing one-of-a-kind eveningwear and daywear for clients, McCarney has explored other routes for financing her shows, including launching an online crowd funding initiative similar to Kickstarter to raise money for the Vessel show. The designer is now focusing on the business-side of things, with the hope of having a storefront boutique, a separate studio space and another show in the next year.

At McCarney's studio in downtown Toronto.

“For me, the most successful way has been to do it on my own. It’s more difficult that way and it’s harder to get people’s attention, but luckily I have people who believe in me.”

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