Blanche Macdonald - Aila Hayward, Childhood Memories of the Yukon

Runway images by Peter Jensen

I said in a previous article and that applies here as well - my first step at the last Blanche Macdonald grad show last fall was out of the crowd and into a side room. There the grad students portfolios are all on display showcasing their illustrations, technical drawings and more.

I love looking through these and am actually not all that patient waiting. Oh to have that whole room to myself.  I actually managed to make that happen one season and it was heaven. It's a smorgasbord of delight to wander through the fashion illustrations to try and get a feel for the creative artist who lurks inside.

Aila Haward's artistry caught my eye right away. I love how her designs have a flow to them and the hints of ethnic notes that peak out here and there. The bold colours are captivating and she works textural prints into the mix beautifully.  These illustrations are truly eye candy for me and I can see the looks in my head rocking the runway.

When it came to the show, there is always that reality check as the designers are only allowed to offer a couple of looks. When the mix of illustrations is this strong - I would have loved to see all of them. Something to think about Aila! While the designs on the runway were definitely chosen from the simpler looks in her portfolio, they still incorporated the themes of combining strong colour and textural elements.  Someone near me leaned over during the show and noted their interest as these looks stood out.

So with no further ado, I want to offer this Q and A with another promising young designer I will have my eye on. I would love to see this full collection of looks come into being. Crossing my fingers a full runway show is in Aila's near future.

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Where were you born, where did you grow up?

I was born at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton. My hometown is Morinville, Alberta, which is a small town just outside of St. Albert. Up until I was about six, I kind of traveled a lot. I usually spent half the year in Morinville and the other half visiting family. My Dad worked as a miner in a small town called Keno up in the Yukon, which is wear I pulled the main inspiration for my grad collection. My mum is from Northampton, England.

What you like when you were young?

When I was small I kind of liked to be alone, but I was slightly eccentric. I used to play dress up all the time. I remember I raided my mothers closet and stole all her scarfs to make an outfit and wore it more than once. When we did story time together, I would get really into it and act it out doing different voices for each character. My mum always let us be who we wanted to be and always encouraged extra activities. I always wanted to be smart, so I started playing chess and reading fairly young. I also took singing, acting, dance, piano lessons along with going to summer camps.

What were your interests in High School?

In high school I loved most subjects. but mainly the sciences. One subject I didn't like was gym. I usually tried to play Frisbee or fake an injury. In my spare time I was either drawing or hanging out with friends and family. One of my older brothers hung out with the same people a lot, so we were pretty close.  I also worked at the local dollar store as much as possible so I could help afford to pay for my horse, my jumping lessons and shows, although I can't say my mum ever made me pay.

Looking back, can you remember any signs that you would end up in fashion?

I think I probably should have realized that fashion and design in particular were my kind of "true calling."  As a small kid, I used to do a lot of crafty things. I would make outfits for all my dolls by using scraps from my grandmas sewing. I would measure my dolls, make little patterns and then hand sew it all together. I eventually moved on to making outfits for my poor cats. I'm pretty sure I made a tuxedo collar for my brother's cat and he hated it. I will openly admit to still doing this, but my cat oddly loves lie.

Eventually I turned to a friend and asked if I could make a Medieval costume for her and she said yes. With what little knowledge we had. I measured her out and then we raided her mothers scrap fabrics - I think we got in trouble - and created a beautifully fitted, poorly hand sewn dress. Now I know the dress we actually made wasn't Medieval, but Elizabethan. Either way, I think we did great for 5th graders. After the dress, I took on sewing teddy bears and making rag dolls with personalized outfits and tried to learn how to knit, needle point, crochet, and bead.

Talk about when and how you decided to study fashion design. Was you family supportive? Did you have some experience in the industry?

Fashion was kind of an extra thing I was going to do. When I was little, I remember telling myself I would be a doctor or a vet. Then when I made enough money, I would go into fashion. After high school, I took pre-vet courses and ended up spending more time sketching dresses and patterns in my notebooks then taking notes. My mum was the one who noticed I was sending myself down the wrong path and maybe should just go for fashion  She said, "Why would you waste your time doing something you kind of like when you could be doing something that you love -your passion" I only finished one year and then my mum bought me my first sewing machine and patterns and fabric to make clothes. She helped me figure out the patterns and later bought me a mannequin and a serger, Even when I decided to move out here. she came back from England to make sure I was ok.

My dad was unbelievably supportive too. He helped pay to hold my seat at school by selling one of his favorite bear rugs and he continually listened to me when I was stressed. I am also blessed to have three brothers and a step brother and sister and one sister in law who think what I'm doing is incredible along as well as many close friends of the family and other family members and friends who are spread across the world. I just can't even express how blessed and honored I feel to have so many supporters and fans

Why did you choose to study at Blanche Macdonald?

After I decided to no longer be a vet, I decided to listen to my mum and look at fashion schools. At the time I didn't think I had that much skill, mainly because I am fairly self taught. But I wanted to see what the best schools were and the obvious ones that came up were London College of Fashion, Parsons and so on. Canada had one in Ontario, and then the number one was Blanche MacDonald. I figured I'd fill out the form and see if they would even accept me with my experience. The next day Jill got back to me with an offer.

Talk about your time studying Fashion Design. What was hard for you, what was easy for you, are they any high, low or funny moments you can share?

I loved my time in the fashion design program. The teachers are all so nice and helpful and all of us students became really close. It was like a little family. We all wanted the best for each other and supported each other. It was really sad to leave, but we have all managed to keep in touch so far.  I remember Starbucks and Tim Hortons were our best friends....and funny cat videos. The hardest part was the self doubt and feeling that in the end it might not come together, then just saying nope, I'm going to make it work. It's going to be exactly what I want. The easiest was probably wanting to be there. The school just made a very friendly and supportive atmosphere.

What was the inspiration for your grad collection? 

The inspiration for my grad collection is based off of my childhood memories of the Yukon ... in specific Keno, native art, and the mines. The collection is called "Where Queens Are Kings" as a kind of a hint to Keno's town slogan, "Where Silver is King."

Describe your collection.

My collection is contemporary day and evening wear with the main focus on versatile statement pieces. The garments are meant to look sophisticated, be warm, and stay conscious of animal rights (using faux-fur or donated fur and leather). I believe my line is perfect for a young, urban-based women (20-40) who love awkward beauty that goes unnoticed every day, like the mines. These women are confident, intellectual, and driven. They are usually in the public eye and most likely work in the arts, writing, architecture, design, or even fashion itself.

What is the palette? What fabrics did you use?

My color palette was based off of the Yukon in the fall time, so I went with a deep red, a dark grape, grey, black, and gold. For fabrics I used mostly silk (chiffon, taffeta, satin), with a few polyesters (charmeuse and coat fabric), faux fur and donated leather. I did have two custom prints made on organic cotton sateen - the tunnel print of a mine tunnel and the explosion print of a dynamite explosion at a mine.

Do you have a favourite look?

I actually have two favorite looks from my collection. One of them is a one shoulder, floor length patch dress. In my illustrations, it;s the one between the two coats. The second one would be from my runway and it's my explosion dress. I'm so happy with how it all worked out. The pattern pieces took forever and there are so many layers and fine details to it. I love the fit. On that note, I'm extremely proud of my coat. Lining up the pattern on the coat took me a full day to do and so far it seems to be a customer favourite.

What do you think you can bring to the fashion world that is new?

I'm hoping I can bring something a little personal to the fashion world - slightly theatrical fun to help women feel confident powerful and sexy. I also hope what I offer can help bring awareness to things happening in our world that we may pass by.

Where do you go from here?

Currently I am in the merchandising course at Blanche MacDonald until next September and am hoping to start interning right after Christmas. I hope to intern as much as possible and would love to try my hand in costume design. In the long run, I would love to become a couture house and hope that my positive outlook, creativity, and determination will help get me there

Can you share a quote on what fashion design means to you if possible?

Fashion design to me is taking a moment - whether it be a present or past - and turning it into something that makes you feel like that moment .... if that makes any sense.

Anything else I didn't ask you would like mentioned?

The only other thing I can think of is to share people who I admire - Dior, Queen Elizabeth 1 and my man Albert Einstein (idol). And a bit of advice for young designers: just be you, go with your instincts and always be nice

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To contact Aila Hayward please email

For more information on the Fashion Design Program at Blanche Macdonald go to