I remember running into Connally McDougall one dreary afternoon in Victoria; the sky was grey, the rain was wet, and she was dashing across the street in a hurry. We stopped to say hello, and under the shelter of black umbrellas I casually asked an old friend what she’d been up to. Although my memory of her answer is as hazy as the clouds were that day, her excitement for the future was monumental and contagious.
At twenty-five, McDougall has already begun to make waves in the fashion world. Her design company, Connally McDougall Design, has become a fixed feature in the closets of many on the west coast, and her eye for effortless style has been formally recognized by the world-renowned Central St. Martins School of Design in London, where McDougall is set to study full-time in September (alumni include John Galliano, Stella McCartney, and Alexander McQueen).
Before she dashes off on me yet again, I set out to learn the theory behind her practice.
THEREGION: It’s been said that art is the heart’s language. What does art mean to you?
CONNALLYMCDOUGALL: Art is when the right and the left brain come together and copulate to make a new art form. Art is communicating with the body and the mind to create something beautiful, be it dance, fashion, food, or writing. It’s about expressing ourselves, our own individual points of view, but it’s also what makes us universal, what makes us human.
When I was eleven years old, my parents moved to a new country and we became missionaries in Austria. Immediately, the only language I could articulate myself in and be heard was art. While I struggled to learn the language, and struggled to get along with other children in the village, it was the one way I could make my voice heard. That was really the beginning of our love affair.
REGION: Your collections and custom designs are created with the utmost care and attention to detail. From luxury fabric to hand tailoring, craftsmanship seems to be a key element in your work. Where does your appreciation for quality fashion come from?
CONNALLY: Craftsmanship and detail are incredibly important to the work that I do because I put my name on it. So much of what we put out into the world we settle on; we figure it’s good enough, it’s fine. But when you have your name written in satin on the label of a gown, you want that gown to be the best gown that ever was. When I’m tailoring a suit, I want to curve and cut each pattern piece into the wool and into the layers of interfacing so that it not only looks perfect from the outside, it looks and feels perfect from the inside too.
Attention to, and quality in, detail are hallmarks of what I’d like to produce. I love when someone doesn’t need to look at the label of a garment to see an ensemble and understand that it’s a Connally McDougall piece.
REGION: Since the beginning of your career, you’ve garnered great support from your extended networks. Whether it be through sales at local boutiques, bids at silent auctions, or donations to your Indiegogo campaign, Connally McDougall Design has a solid group of champions behind it. Why is community so important to the success of an emerging designer?
CONNALLY: That’s a beast of a word, one I don’t like to use it because I find it cheapens how I interact with people. When you do anything with integrity, whether that’s speaking, sewing, living, or loving, people respond because they see that you aren’t putting up a facade—you truly mean it when you say “You look beautiful!” or “That seam is wrong!”
It’s so pivotally important to not only network, but to make friends in the business. We must treat each person with the same level of respect, whether it’s the person who sweeps the floor of your studio or the millionaire who buys a gown for his wife. That’s how a working environment, how my studio environment, and how the world I picture my clothing in should be.
Community is huge for any designer trying to step out in the world though. It’s often that when you make art, you rarely get paid for it. There are a few lucky souls who get to live their art and be compensated for it, who really have an opportunity to produce some of their best work they couldn’t otherwise have made if they didn’t have financial backing. That being said, the emotional support that a community brings is crucial. It’s the people who surround you when you’re frustrated with your sewing machine and on your last nerve—they might not understand exactly how much work or effort goes into what you do, but they’re always there with love and support (and casseroles), wanting to be part of you achieving your dreams. When you treat your life with integrity, people genuinely want to help you succeed.
REGION: Can Canada compete in the world of couture fashion? What differentiates Canadian designers from their international counterparts?
CONNALLY: I want to say yes, I really do. There are a few Canadian designers, both with businesses here and abroad, but there’s so little sense of occasion in Canada that I must say, it’s not the designers who need to compete for Canadian fashion, it’s the consumer. Consumers need to choose to step away from the shopping malls! Step out of the comfort of box stores! Realize that they carry the same items as their counterpart next door! It’s time to take a look at your closet and choose pieces that reflect who you are.
As one of the first Canadian women chosen to study at Central St. Martins, I’m hugely honoured to have the opportunity to represent Canada on a global scale, but I’m also excited to show that Canadians are artistic. We’re witty, we’re intelligent, we have a voice.
Though we may be quiet in a lot of other ways—and we might not have a lot of pomp or ceremony—there’s something magical about living north of the border. There’s something inexplicable about the sensibility of Canadians that I believe is begging to be shown.
REGION: Picture this: It’s autumn in London and outside your studio window is a grey, rainy afternoon. Inside, yards of fabric and watercolour sketches are strewn about the room and you are in the middle of a custom dress order for a dear friend. What are you listening to?
CONNALLY: Otis Redding.
McDougall is hoping to fund her studies through an Indiegogo campaign. Check out her video below, and visit her campaign here.
Feature Image taken by Mario Szabo. Included images supplied by Connally McDougall.