HALIFAX - A rainbow of Scottish tartans are piled floor-to-ceiling on a shelf in the corner of Veronica MacIsaac's tiny Halifax studio, a chaotic space cluttered with fabric scraps, scribbled notes and an empty wine bottle.
The designer is busy preparing for her latest fashion show, set for next Saturday at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.
MacIsaac designs tartan clothing with a modern twist, filling a void she noticed growing up in a family that makes kilts for a living.
"Men have kilts, but women don't have the equivalent. There's mid-calve-length pleated skirts and the sash across the shoulder, but it's all pretty hokey," said MacIsaac, her boisterously curly dark hair draped over a Cape Breton tartan shirt.
"I had been telling my mother for years to do a women's line, that she should make tartan clothes for women. Finally one day she said, 'Why don't you do it?' And it was like one of those Oprah, come-to-Jesus moments. It had never crossed my mind that it's something that I should do."
MacIsaac has carved out a niche in the fashion world that women with Scottish heritage and tartan lovers had been longing for — all from her tiny studio in Halifax.
Since starting Veronica MacIsaac Apparel eight years ago, MacIsaac's work has appeared on runways in Canada and the U.S. and in international publications such as British Vogue and Vogue Italia.
She sells her pieces to people all over the world, including Australia, China and across Europe and North America.
"I got into this so that people could wear their own family tartan, but just in a way that they would normally wear it," said MacIsaac, adding that some customers do not have Scottish ties, but simply like her designs.
MacIsaac makes an array of clothing for the modern young woman, from mini skirts to wrap tops, dresses and blazers. She's even dabbled in mens wear, having made tartan vests and bow ties.
But one of the most rewarding parts of her work is transforming a family kilt into a wearable piece, she said.
"One woman, her husband had a kilt made by my parents, and he had died suddenly. They didn't have any kids so it's not like there was a son to pass the kilt down to. But he loved this kilt and wore it all the time," said MacIsaac.
"I made her a little fitted and then flared out skirt and a short-sleeved 40s-style jacket and she loved it, and it was emotional for me. I take great pride in doing that. I take great pride is taking something with all these memories attached to it and giving it new life."
In MacIsaac's bright living room, a dozen pieces slated for the runway in her upcoming fashion show hang from a rack next to a mannequin wearing one of her latest creations.
It's a show-stopping floor-length gown in a deep red with maple leaf tartan accents and sexy cutouts at the waist.
"I'm actually using a lot of non-tartan this time. But this is not my descent into non-tartan clothing or anything," said MacIsaac with a hardy laugh. "I just thought I'd include a few pieces that are a little different."
MacIsaac said she's also pared down her ideas for this collection, which will feature roughly 25 designs, about five to 10 less than what she usually includes in her shows.
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