Kwantlen Polytechnic University - Blair MacDonald, Marianna

Runway images by Christopher Pike Photography

Kwantlen Polytechnic University's grad fashion presentation - The Show 2015 - was held in April at the River Rock Casino Theatre in Richmond. With 39 strong collections showcased that featured strong constructions skills and polished styling - it was hard for any one student to stand out. 

After a lot of soul searching, I chose a baker's dozen to feature in my write-up for Metro Living Zine - to read click HERE. Then came the hard decision on which young designers to cover in solo articles. You want to highlight a mix of different aesthetics in particular.  As Kwantlen has a strong focus on picking a target market, anything outside the box can really catch one's attention.

Blair MacDonald's interesting 50's style designs did just that. The collection was also beautifully constructed, the fabrics and palette were well chosen and the styling bang on.  It all came together on the runway beautifully. 

Next came the fact she had fashion illustrations available. I think illustrations give another peak into the creative potential of a new designer, so it's always a big plus for me when I can include them in an article.  Here you'll find both regular illustrations and some interesting, more organic sketches - something I don't think I've included in any past article.

So without further ado - welcome to a behind the scenes interview with rising star Blair MacDonald. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did

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Where were you born, where did you grow up?

I was officially born in Regina, Saskatchewan, but I grew up in a teeny tiny Saskatchewan village called North Portal that is right on the boarder of Saskatchewan and the United States. North Portal is your typical boarder town, bordering on the USA and surrounded by farmland.

What you like when you were young?
I was a very outgoing but serious child when I was young. Much like the way I am now actually! I was very creative and had this huge imagination that seemed to have no limit. I spent a lot of time outside roaming free, climbing trees, riding bikes, building forts. Not a week went by without some new bruise or scrape from my adventures outside. As a child I liked a lot of colour, I really wasn't afraid to be me. There were times where I would wear all purple to school or decide that I needed to have 3 headbands on at once. I was fearless in my creativity and had such a strong understanding of who I was at such a young age. 

What were your interests in High School?

In high school I loved so many classes. I was your classic nerd (still am really). I loved to learn and to be challenged. I loved the arts of course - Visual Art, Choral, and Drama - but I also loved English and History. It comes as a bit of a surprise to most, but I also really enjoyed Math and Science. Algebra and Physics were my highest marks with a 96% in my grade 12 year. I did a bit of sewing as well and was even a part of the musical in grade 11. We did the Wizard of Oz and I was an actor, singer, dancer, costumer, and helped out with the make-up and hair committee. I also danced for 12 years of my life, starting at the age of 4. I was in Ballet, Pointe, Jazz, Musical Theatre, and a stretch class. I was fairly serious about my Ballet and ended up taking all of my examinations up to Grade 8. In my spare time I would read, write, dance, sing, draw, paint, listen to music, hang out with friends, basically I was very busy in high school! 

Looking back, can you remember any signs that you would end up in fashion? A personal story would be great here.

For me, I always knew I belonged in the world of fashion from a very young age, even before I knew what it was. I loved to play with dolls and I was always playing dress up and changing my outfits at least 5 times a day. I would experiment with clothing by draping a pair of pants to make them into some sort of shirt or playing around with a towel until it made a dress. It all just steadily grew from there. Growing up, What Not to Wear was my favorite show and I soon became the "fashion expert" of my household. About grade 5 or so, I was drawing clothes and outfits for my friends and by the time I got into high school, I had begun to make actual garments and accessories like bags and headbands. . The signs were always there but for me the progression from one point to the next was natural but also extraordinary. I grew up in a place where the fashion industry never existed. I didn't know any fashion designers or even what it was, so for me to know what I wanted to do since day one is pretty amazing.

Talk about when and how you decided to study fashion design. Was you family supportive?

Studying fashion design became very real for me in about grade 11. A fashion school came to my high school and did a presentation about their programs and I got really excited and really nervous at the same time. Everything they said sounded so right, but it also became very real all at once which was kind of scary. Suddenly, it wasn't just a pipe dream but something I actually wanted to do. I had to do a lot of research and figure out what was the best fit for me. I knew I needed to move to a big city, but I didn't want to leave Canada. My family has always been supportive of all of my endeavors. I am so blessed and fortunate to have parents who try their best to understand me and who support my dreams. They always knew, just like I did, what I would be when I grew up so it was only a matter of finding the right school for me. Somewhere where I would get a proper education that would help me to get a career one day. 

Why did you choose to study at Kwantlen Polytechnic University?

In the process of trying to find the right school for me, my mum did some research of local Saskatchewan designers to see if we could get more information because frankly, we were clueless. My mum found Dean Renwick, a local Regina fashion designer, and set up an appointment with him. I brought all of my sketches and pictures of art work and we asked his opinion about where I should go to school based on my skills. Though he suggested some top schools in America, I explained to him that I preferred to stay in Canada to which he suggested Kwantlen and Ryerson. Kwantlen ended up being the university of choice. I had never heard of it before so I had no idea what I was getting into. I remember getting my invitation to portfolio review and just being floored at how much work was required, work that I miraculously completed in just one month.

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 had so much fun studying fashion design. You learnt something new every day and each day was different. It certainly isn't an easy program to take, though. I would call it more intense than anything. From the beginning I tried to keep an open mind and was willing to try anything they threw at me which in turn made me available for so many opportunities. I had no idea what to expect when I started, especially not the feeling of feeling like I so completely belonged there with all my amazing peers. That was probably the best part of my university experience, the people I met and the friends I made, both classmates and instructors. 

The lows, however, were always really hard. There would be days that you would be so physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted from pulling a 12 hour sewing day that you couldn't even think straight. I remember being so tired that all I'd want to do was eat, sleep, and cry all at once. But the highs were amazing, especially the pride in finishing a particularly difficult project. I have so many special memories of laughing with my friends over the silliest things that only we understood, receiving praise from a highly respected instructor, seeing my work on display and hearing others be inspired by it, spending four amazing months in England on an exchange, having the opportunity to intern with a company that showed me my future, being bold, brave and receiving that tiny spark of brilliance and inspiration to create something amazing. It's so hard to try and convey everything that I experienced in four years. It was a roller coaster ride of ups and downs with my creative switch on full blast but I enjoyed every moment of it. 

What was the inspiration for your grad collection? Share anything you'd like readers to know?

The main inspiration of my final collection was my Irish grandmother who passed away this past summer. It was very important for me to honor her values and her memory. I started out with this vague idea of creating new heirlooms from old heirlooms, essentially repurposing second hand clothing and the entire concept morphed from there. My styling and theme was inspired by the glamour and sophistication of the 1950s. I wanted to make beautiful clothing that bespoke of days gone by, yet still had a timeless quality to them - much like my target market and my grandmother. I really wanted to create clothing that told a story in every stitch, that made women feel beautiful and poised. That what was most important, to convey a message to those who wore my clothing, but also those who experienced it visually, I wanted to make people feel something because of my clothes. I also named the brand after my grandmother (Marianna) as it suited not all the collection but it just felt like the right thing to do. 

Describe your collection.Marianna is a collection of high end special occasion wear mainly targeting women around 30-45, though it is considered a timeless line as women of all ages can wear it. The Marianna woman is timeless and flawless in her poise. She is confident, vibrant, and sophisticated. She seems to softly glow and sparkle in her glamour. The line includes full length gowns, cocktail dresses, as well as long and short jackets. Each piece is handmade with a variety of repurposed clothing and fabrics ensuring that each piece is a unique piece of art. Special attention is given to the internal structure of each garment to ensure the quality of the fit. Many pieces also have hand beaded details, an added level of luxury. 

What is the palette? What fabrics did you use?

I chose to stick with four key colours: Cream, Emerald, Onyx, and Gold. These colours were a homage to my grandmother's Irish heritage. As I had decided to use repurposed (second hand) clothing and fabric as my fabric, I tried to use mostly natural fabrics such as cottons and silks. A few of the many different fabrics I found and used were: a velveteen dress, brocade upholstery fabric, a silk dupioni wedding dress, a silk sari and even a tablecloth! 

Do you have a favourite look?

Not really. I loved all the pieces I made and being able to see them on models and people that suited the styles made each person light up and showcase the pieces that much better.

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

I think I can bring to the fashion industry this idea of not wasting old clothing and fabric, of finding new ways to repurpose it, to turn an old heirloom into something new that can passed onto the next generation. This isn't an "new" idea, it's actually quite old but we as a society have forgotten the importance of reusing what we have and making it last. I think it's a very important issue that needs to brought to light.

Where do you go from here – are you going to work for others for awhile, launch your own line, take a break and travel?

From here, I go where the wind takes me. I'm open to any opportunity that feels right regardless of where it is. I'm willing to move all over the world to follow my dreams. At the moment however, I plan to find a satisfying job in the industry and gain as much experience as possible. I'm sure one day when I'm ready to settle down I will start my own business, most likely a custom couture shop so that I'm able to have a personal connection with customers. 

Please share a quote on what fashion means to you.

Fashion design to me means hard work. It means never giving up in the pursuit of your dreams. It means pushing yourself and to keep trying to find what you're looking for. I look at it like a problem, how am I going to solve this problem, how am I going to make this work? It's a never ending process that pushes you beyond your boundaries.

Anything else I didn't ask you want mentioned

I am so fortunate to have had so much love and support over the past four years. I'm so grateful for everything my friends and family have done for me, especially my parents. Without them, I wouldn't be the person I am today. They helped shape me in so many ways and I am so thankful for that. Never regret chasing your dreams and doing the seemingly impossible

To contact Blair MacDonald email And be sure and check out her blog - Normal People Just Don't Get It.

For more information on the fashion design program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University go to