Interview with The Makehouse’s Jenny Ambrose, Fashion Designer

Tell us about you! Where are you from, what was life like growing up (if you aren’t from Victoria, what brought you here)?

I grew up on the prairies in Saskatchewan with parents who built our home from the foundation to the furniture. My mum making most of our clothing so I grew up watching her cut and sew. I moved to the UK in 1998 when I was 19 years old to start a new life adventure and by the time I was 22, I needed something to replace the excitement of my night-lifestyle. I picked up sewing again for the fist time since age 13. In 2004 I set up my own eco-friendly clothing and lingerie label, which took over my life for a good 6 years before I morphed into an enthusiastic sewing instructor. I returned to Canada nearly six years ago after my nephew was born. My true vocation called me once again to open The Makehouse in September 2012 once I settled in Victoria!

Here’s a couple videos that contain a little more background (I’ve been a busy girl in this life!):

The Fabric of Community
Meet Your Makers – Jenny Ambrose, The Makehouse

(Photo Credit: Saskatoon Starphoenix)

Define what “fashion” means to you.

I like considering “fashion” as a verb ie: to make something into a particular or required form. Of course past trends in clothing, hair, makeup etc. are interesting to watch and analyze, but the real excitement for me lies in the how. How can I make that? How did they do that? What is that made from?

What made you decide to pursue a career in fashion?

I never really thought about pursuing a career in fashion. I loved sewing and making clothing and wanted to be able to make my living from that. I wasn’t focused on a final goal of working ‘in fashion’ – it was more that I fell in love with doing the actual work. It’s kind of the opposite of what I see in young people these days, who want all the glamour without all the sweat (and risk!).

(Photo Credit: Pamela Bethel)

Tell us what it’s like preparing for a runway show like the upcoming Victoria Fashion Week?

I already have most of the garments that I’m planning to show ready, though I still have a few pieces to make. Mainly I need to get some tops sewn for the lingerie looks that we’re showing – otherwise the models might feel a wee bit exposed.. I do often end up making something that I hadn’t planned at the last minute!

What fashion genres inspire you most and why?

I’ve always loved the styles of the 1940’s, 50′ and 60’s (well and even some 70’s if I’m honest!) I love the basics of those era’s (like a blouse and high waist pants from the 50’s) as much as the more glamorous garb that the socialites of the day would wear. I’m sad that fleeces and jeans have taken over our every day life. I think fleece should be banned, except perhaps as a lining.

(Photo Credit: Jenny Ambrose)

What are your favourite pieces to design and create?

I love making underwear. Lots of underwear for guys and gals. I also love making jumpsuits (onesies, rompers – whatever you like to call ’em!).

Describe for us how a design goes from an idea in your head to being available for purchase?

I’m usually inspired by the fabric first and what I think it want/needs to be! I don’t have any elaborate story behind the clothes that I make aside from sometimes how or where the fabric was acquired or if the garments used to be something else. Sometimes I will start with a shape and find the fabric to suit, but usually it’s the other way around. These days most of the clothing I make is for the shop window to inspire students and act as a teaching tool to show construction techniques. I do make a lot of my own wardrobe and garments for my husband too!

(Photo Credit: Jenny Ambrose)

How do you select what materials to use on your designs?

I have a LOT of fabric. I could probably stop buying fabric tomorrow and be able to sew new clothes every year for my entire family until I’m 100! I really love working with knits with bamboo and merino wool. I also like vintage ditsy florals and large scale flowers or abstracts. One of my favourite fabrics that we carry at The Makehouse is a repeat print with the tops of vintage thread spools!

Are there any designers or celebrity fashionistas that you love the most and what is it about them that you love?

I love fashion icon Iris Apfel. I adore her eccentric yet classic style and pure confidence.

(Photo Credit: Richard Bridge)

What are your plans for the future?

We have a busy spring/summer planned packed full of workshops and fashion camps for young designers. I have an endless list of workshops that we would like to pilot, so there will be plenty of new to look out for in the fall. I have an idea specifically for Victoria Fashion Week, which will remain under wraps until I pitch it to the organizer. 😉 The thing about sewing is that the possibilities are endless making it easy to remain zealous!

You can check out more of Jenny’s work, The Makehousehere.

(Photo Credit: Pamela Bethel)

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