Shelli Oh- Elegant Chic
Since her debut collection in the fall of 1997, Shelli Oh has been acclaimed by critics as the womenswear designer synonymous with the words precious, feminine and ethereal. Over the years, the collection’s delicate charm and signature prettiness has touched the hearts of women across North America and beyond. Her collections met with rapid success both in Canada and across the United States. The overwhelming demand by American retailers resulted in an expansion to over 70 boutiques across the United States in just its third season. For two consecutive years, Oh was honored as one of six designers in Ontario, and 25 designers nationally, to become a Matinee Fashion Foundation Grant recipient in recognition for her excellence in design. As menswear started making its way into her collections, it became clear that she was going to be marked as a favorite among press and celebrities alike. Suddenly the designer known for her pretty women’s swear collections was making strides in the industry with menswear collections that stood out from the crowd. Now, more than two decades later Shelli has made a name for herself with two stands out high-end luxury collections, each with their own voice and unique flair.
A staple favorite with many a celebrity, Shelli’s pieces have been spotted on TV’s Supernatural stars Jared Padalecki and Misha Collins, Shadow Hunters actor Jade Hassoune, actor Luke Baines, Star Trek Discovery actress Avaah Blackwell, Downsizing actress Kathryn Aboya, Degrassi actor Richard ‘Morpheus’ Walters and actress Soma Chhaya and National Ballet of Canada principal dancers Jillian Vanstone and Harrison James.
As a survivor of domestic abuse with an overwhelming desire to give back, Oh added a charity baby wear collection to the collection roster where 100% of the proceeds go to local non-profit The Redwood, who work hard every day to help women and children live free of domestic abuse. She has also spearheaded a program at the shelter to help teach the women in their care how to sew in the hopes of inspiring them with creativity, as well as offering them practical skills that can prove helpful down the road.
The Shelli Oh collections infuse a refreshingly unique vitality and vision into a high-end line of luxury clothing for both men and women, with a signature focus on distinctive details, unique textures and stylish charm...
24Fashion TV: When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career as a fashion designer?
Shelli Oh: Ever since I was a young child, I thought I was going to be an architect - my education all the way through high school was catered towards a career in architecture. While I was also doing an architectural drafting course, our school also had a fashion course, which I also took just for fun. I started making my own clothes around that time, due to having issues finding clothing I liked. I had an amazing art teacher who sat me down and had me re-examine my goals to make sure I was following my heart, and not what I thought I should be doing to please my family. When I looked more introspectively, I realized that he was onto something. When you think about it, they’re similar in the sense that they both play with creating spaces, but in terms of realistic goals, with fashion I could create whatever I wanted, whereas with architecture, I would be limited to what clients wanted, and to certain standards (because the likelihood of me owning my own architecture firm would be slim to none - more restrictions!). So when I graduated, I decided to go into fashion instead. And I’m so happy I did - I love what I do. I found myself.
Where do you usually find creative inspiration for your new collection?
I find my inspiration in a variety of places. It generally starts with texture for me - my women swear collections are defined by creating what I like to call ‘tactile landscapes’, by combining hand sewn detailing and a combination of textures to appeal to the senses. It’s similar with the menswear, but it’s more about combinations of patterns, textures and colors. I’m often inspired by music, dance and film. French new wave film and UK indie music/mod culture have been an especially big inspiration for my menswear, and the magic of ballet and nature are muses for my women to swear. You could say that it’s the little things that bring me joy in my life that inspire me most. My collections are my way of telling my personal stories...
How is working in fashion different today than from when you started out?
I started my label back in 1997 when the world was a completely different place; the way the industry works has had to adapt to the technological advances that have changed the way people do business. The way brands market themselves has evolved so vastly since I first started thanks to social media and the internet. Fast fashion has changed the retail landscape so much that it’s forced brands to contend with a new pace. An awareness of eco-responsibility and ethics is slowly making brands rethink how they manufacture and how they can adapt to reduce their footprints. There’s good and bad, but I think with change comes opportunity...
What role do you think social media plays in fashion today?
Social media has changed everything. It’s changed the way we market ourselves - engagement is a new currency. Influencers are now a way of advertising. Before any event or launch social proofing is a key element in marketing strategy. Before any retailer or press considers you, they look at your social media - number of followers and engagement can impact your success now. What I find interesting about social media for brands is it allows the consumer a more personal connection, and the industry with a broad understanding of who you are and what the brand’s vision is. It helps with storytelling. It allows more behind the scenes glimpses into what you do and how you do it.
How was your brand affected by the Covid-19 lockdown?
Luckily, we had a strong e-commerce business going prior to lockdown, so a lot of that just continued. Obviously less red carpet /special occasion looks, but we managed. We had just showcased at London Fashion Week last year before lockdown started, so our expansion plans had to be put on hold temporarily. This season we did a digital showroom event to launch during London Fashion Week.
We also started manufacturing PPE items early on in the pandemic - for the first half we made and donated masks for essential workers and those at risk. We then started what we called the fashion mask series to raise money for our favorite local charity as well as help fund the continued making and donating of masks for those in need. The fashion mask series did better than I could have expected. It was also great creatively as it allowed me to create fanciful, beautiful and fun masks (as the making of our regular 3 layer masks is less creative!).
Did you have to adjust your collection and make some changes to it because of the Covid-19?
We didn’t have to change any designs, if that’s what you mean. We did have to abandon our wholesale plans because of the lockdown. For this new collection I gave some thought to adjusting the collection, but after consulting some mentors, it was decided that people will still want to dress up when this is all over and that people will be looking to me to do what I do best, so I took a risk. I’ll let you know how it pans out!
What do you think about sustainable fashion? Should fashion be more sustainable?
Absolutely. The UK fashion industry is farther along with regard to sustainability than we are, but we’re getting there. I think it needs to go beyond greenwashing, which is unfortunately what a lot of brands are doing to pass themselves off as in order to hit the sustainability marks. It’s not a ‘trend’, but a necessity. We can’t call ourselves a sustainable brand, but we are doing what we can - taking steps towards becoming more sustainable. We have invested in entirely plastic free and sustainable packaging for all our mail-out items, and the paper our hang tags printed on are made from recycled t-shirts fabrics. Furthermore, we already use a lot of natural fabrics, but are looking into more eco-fabrics made from recycled product. All of our pieces are produced here in Canada.
What is your favorite part about being a designer?
I am passionate about all things creative! I love the ability to tell a story through making collections - it’s an intricate process that brings me joy. All the hand sewn details that go into the pieces are done with love. I genuinely enjoy the process - it’s a beautiful thing. There’s something magical about envisioning something in your mind and making it happen - at every stage of its creation, seeing it manifest slowly through each step; seeing it evolve where it needs to, and where it winds up whether it’s how it was initially imagined or whether it changed. That’s magical to me.
How do you want women and men to feel when wearing your clothes?
I want people to feel an emotional connection to the clothing - to feel special wearing them. To feel a little of that magic that’s put into making it. For example, with the women swear collections, I strive to create what I call ‘tactile landscapes’ through unique textures, hand sewn details, or sometimes a combination of both - this tends to evoke an emotional response because of its appeal to the senses. Like art. You want to touch it; to feel it. But unlike art, I invite you to touch and feel it - I want you to wear it. To be drawn to it and to feel special in it. That emotional connection is everything to me. With the menswear, it’s a similar intention, but that connection comes from our more whimsical approach to our combination of pattern and color and special details. Every man that has tried on one of our full length topcoats has a change in their demeanor - a mysterious smile, their posture changes suddenly and you can see that confidence. Like a light has turned on. I love seeing that.
Can you shortly describe your brand?
The Shelli Oh collections infuse a refreshingly unique vitality and vision into high-end luxury lines of clothing for both women and men, with a signature focus on distinctive details, unique textures and stylish charm...
The women swear collections are defined by an ethereal femininity and meticulous hand sewn detailing that create elaborate tactile landscapes, engaging the senses to evoke an emotional connection and elevating the pieces beyond luxury.
The menswear collections are rich with unique signature details, and are characterized by an unconventional medley of traditional tailoring with a whimsical twist and a true dapper art house dandy air.
What comes next for Shelli Oh Designs?
Our Fall 2021 collection is part of a digital showcase that launched on the 16th of February during London Fashion Week. Showroom Canada carried selection of some of Canada’s top fashion talent, on the digital platform Joor.com through the Toronto Fashion Incubator and in partnership with the High Commission of Canada in the UK, the department of Canadian Heritage and the Canadian Apparel Federation. I am hoping to continue that expansion planned from last London Fashion Week before the lockdown happened! We are also looking to a do short film in the coming months - stay tuned!
By Galina Antonova,
Editor-in-Chief, 24Fashion TV