University of the Fraser Valley - Vanessa Lefaivre, Vere Audax

Images by Peter Jensen Photography

Absolute Style 2015 - the University of the Fraser Valley's (UFV) annual grad fashion show - inspired me as always.  It's such a long drive up the valley to Abbotsford, but at the end of each season I feel grateful I made the trip. In addition to the regular fashion design courses, this school offers weaving, surface design, machine knitting, digital graphics and designs for the specialty market.

These extra courses always have an influence on the grad collections. Nowhere was this more evident than in the three looks offered by Vanessa Lefaivre. Hand dying, unusual construction techniques and a vibrant hand-dyed palette were incorporated, taking the garments into the couture realm. She also had five designs in the Specialty market section - bustier, jacket, coat and two in surface decoration. The audience sat up and took notice.

Lefaivre's design work had already caught my eye when I perused her portfolio pre-show and in the brief chat we had, she came across focused and enthusiastic. This collection went on to show well on the runway. It was no surprise when fellow attendee Jamal Abdourahman, founder of Vancouver Fashion Week, took her contact information so he could follow up on her showcasing this collection in September.

So today I offer you another great up-and-coming designer with a very bright future ahead. Enjoy this Q&A and photo series, and I hope you'll come in September when she will be offering an expanded collection on the runway.

= = = = =

Where were you born, where did you grow up?

I was born in Mission, but lived in Abbotsford until I was 4. The neighbourhood my family and I lived in was a rough area so we moved to Chilliwack where I spent my youth.

What you like when you were young?

I was never a “girly girl”. I would spend a lot of time outside just letting my imagination run wild and playing with my friends. I was very outspoken and opinionated (still am). I had no interest in fashion at all and I didn’t care about what clothes I wore to school.

What were your interests in High School?

I loved Science in high school and learning in general. I would give myself a very heavy class load by taking chemistry, biology, physics, math, AP calculus, English and AP literature. The only artistic class I took at the time was drama, but most of the time I didn’t bother going to it. My school did not offer any sewing classes, but if it did, I would not have taken it anyways because I was so focused on the sciences.

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

There was no solid sign that I would be involved in the fashion industry. People were quite shocked when I told them I completely switched my university major on a whim.

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

I was already attending the University of the Fraser Valley. At the time, I was working on my Bachelor of Science degree as a chemistry major and calculus minor. I was also learning Japanese on the side because I’m obsessed with the Japanese culture. I had completed my first year of my bachelor degree but I wasn’t happy. Over that year I kept having a longing to create something with my hands, not write out formulas and equations for hours.

This was also the period where I started getting involved in the cosplay community. Cosplay is where a person dresses up as a character from anime, books, video games, online games, tv shows or movies and takes on that character’s personality. I went to anime conventions where thousands of people were creating their own costumes of characters they love. So I taught myself to sew along with the help of my aunt and some of my best friends. I wanted to become better at sewing and wanted my costumes to look professional. 

I was walking to one of my classes when I noticed a sign for the Fashion Design program and it peaked my interest. It was two weeks before the program was starting for the new school year, so I contacted the Department Head Deanna Devitt hoping I could still join. Luckily for me, I was interviewed by them the next day and welcomed into the program. My parents have been supportive with my career change and have helped with the tuition costs. They just want me to be happy and I’m very grateful to have that support.

Why did you choose to study at the University of the Fraser Valley?

Since I was already attending UFV, it was an obvious choice. I would have not had enough time to apply anywhere else. I also liked the shorter commute from Chilliwack and that the program would only consume two years of my life.

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?

It was weird transitioning from chemistry classes to fashion related classes. The structure and marking system were very different. In the fashion program I had many more personal relationships with other students and staff. I don’t even remember the names of my chemistry teachers, but I’ll always remember my fashion teachers. It was difficult at first to try and convert my very costume oriented sewing background into fashion. It wasn’t until I started to get sucked into the world of avant garde fashion that I truly started to appreciate fashion. With every project I had a tendency to bite off more than I could chew. All my designs were much more complex than what the students were required to do. I somehow managed to get everything done in time, but I’ve sacrificed my social life and sleep along the way. I think my brain is hardwired to think if it’s not challenging and not going to test my limits then there’s no point.

Lefaivre's garments showcased in the Designs for the Specialty Market segment

I also wanted to suck up as much knowledge as a possibly could during my two years, so overcoming these challenges were more rewarding. My lowest point was the feeling of constantly drowning in the amount of work that I needed to get done, especially in my final semester. My highest point was by far seeing all my hard work strut down the runway during the Absolute Style fashion show. It brought tears to my eyes.

What was the inspiration for your grad collection? 

My Clementia line, by my company Vere Audax, was inspired by opposites. My theme was the seven deadly sins and seven heavenly virtues. Each virtue would be paired with it’s respective sin. The designs would have some underlining similarities but still remain quite different. I wanted to combine very soft and harsh features on each dress to represent the balance that can be found in chaos. For the harsh lines I took inspiration from modern architecture and abstract sculptures and paintings. For inspiration of the soft and flowing features of the gowns I looked at water and at the fabrics itself.

Describe your collection.

Clementia is a bold avant garde evening wear collection made for contemporary women who want to stand out from the rest of the crowd.

What is the palette? What fabrics did you use?

The palette used for this collection consists of deeps reds, dark purples, black, white and every gradient in between. Most of the gowns I dyed by hand. I would start off with white silk fabric - for example I’ve used chiffons, satins, charmeuse and peau de soie - next sew the garment with white silk thread, then make and boil large vats of dye to colour my gowns. For a single colour gradient only one colour of dye is needed, then you continuously dip one end of the garment in the dye for roughly 45 minutes to create the various shades. For a double ombre more work is required because you need 2 boiling pots of dye in different colours and be dipping both ends of the garment at the same time. When dipping the colours need to overlap at the centre to create the gradient. These methods are a lot of work but they guarantee that your fabric will be one of a kind.

Do you have a favourite look?

My dress Superbia, which is the Latin term for the deadly sin pride, is my favorite. It is the black gown with the 3 giant cowls that stick out on each side of the gown. It was by far the most difficult to construct, therefore the most rewarding.

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

I hope to bring excitement and innovative styles to the industry. I want to inspire the generation that will come after mine. I want to create wearable art that can be enjoyed by many.

Where do you go from here?

Well, I had a week off which was nice, but there’s no rest for the wicked. I am being sponsored by Vancouver Fashion Week thanks to founder Jamal Abdourahman. I am both grateful and super excited for the opportunity. I will be showcasing the Clementia line along with 5 other gowns from that line that are currently in the works. After fashion week I’m not sure what I’ll do yet, but the future looks bright. I’m thinking of going to Japan in the near future as well.

Please share a quote on what fashion means to you.

Fashion should be a form of escapism, and not a form of imprisonment. - Alexander McQueen.

= = = 

To contact Vanessa LeFaivre - email And be sure and check out Facebook business page at

For more information on the fashion design program at UFV - go to