Canadian designer Hayley Elsaesser is struttin’ through The 6ix with her clothes.
Hayley Elsaesser is a very busy woman, and rightfully so. I felt blessed that she had time for me whilst hectically prepping for her fourth World Mastercard Fashion Week show – which was a last minute decision – in Toronto last March. Elsaesser is a Canadian designer based in Toronto. Like many designers, she started from the bottom.
For the longest time, Elsaesser knew that fashion was her thing. “Ever since I was a kid I loved putting together fun outfits. And for some reason I’ve always been drawn to unique and out of the ordinary clothes,” she says. “It was always what I would spend my allowance on, and my first job was working retail. I’ve always loved fashion.”
According to Elsaesser, she started making her own clothes as a teenager out of necessity living in a small town of Cambridge, Ontario. Eventually, she decided to move to Australia and study fashion at Queensland University of Technology to broaden her inspiration and creativity. “I found the style [in Australia] to be more fun and exciting,” she says.
This proved to be a great move for her. After she graduated and launched her label in 2013, she immediately debuted for Australia’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in early 2014. Later that year, Elsaesser went back home and also had her first show in her hometown Toronto, in which she won Fashion Magazine’s Best Emerging Designer award.
In the three years since her label launched, Elsaesser has built a reputation for herself. Her use of vivid colours and incredibly quirky prints like glowing poodles, deadly slushies, and eight balls wearing cowboy hats on a variety of silhouettes are just a few examples of Elsaesser’s wild imagination. This has led to a cult following and a rise of a brand that only keeps growing.
In addition, her shows have consistently wowed and are always one of the most anticipated shows in Toronto’s World Mastercard Fashion Week. Already, Elsaesser has strongly made an impact in the Toronto fashion industry; and she continues to keep going.
On top of the cult following, Elsaesser’s clothing has caught the attention of celebrities, especially Katy Perry who has numerously worn Elsaesser’s clothes including Madonna’s Bitch I’m Madonna music video. “It is a bit surreal. The first time I saw Katy wearing my clothes at Coachella it took a few minutes to sink in,” she says. “It’s really amazing to see someone that you would never dream would even know your name wearing your stuff on multiple occasions,” she adds.
“For me though, it’s actually more exciting seeing normal people in real life [wearing my clothes]. That’s a huge treat for me.”
Elsaesser’s motto is more is more. She believes that fashion is a powerful tool to bring out one’s bright side and to not be afraid of who you really are. “Growing up I was incredibly shy and used fashion as somewhat of an icebreaker. It was also a great way of showing my unique personality without having to speak,” she says. “I love how fashion has such an ability to bring people together, give a person more confidence, and just be so transformative. I think people who wear fun and bold clothing have more fun, but also attract positivity!” With her label, Elsaesser hopes that her clothing lets her customers make their own statement, expressing individuality.
As we all know, diversity has been an on-going issue in the fashion industry. The problem is always addressed, but rarely any significant action is taken. Elsaesser is one of those rarities.
Besides the bright colours and prints in her clothing, Elsaesser is also known for diversity in race, size, gender, and age on her runway. One of her models is her aunt, who is in her 70s. “To me [diversity in fashion] just means a realistic expression of our city and my customer. Diversity is celebrating more than one idea of beauty rather than one cookie cutter,” she says. Elsaesser herself does not have a size two figure and she confidently sports rainbow highlights in her jet-black hair. She does not give a damn.
Like a true Canadian, she takes pride in where she comes from. Toronto fashion, however, is known for its neutral and dark clothing, thanks to the minimalism movement that the country has fully adapted. Elsaesser does not only believe in individuality and diversity, but with her label, she is breaking those Toronto fashion stereotypes. It is no question that Elsaesser’s clothing is the complete opposite of minimalism.
When asked if she was bothered that in comparison to other fashion cities, Toronto is considered boring when it comes to fashion,
“Yes, this really frustrates me. This is the reason I decided to go study fashion in Australia where they love colour and to have fun with clothes. I spent a semester studying fashion in Vancouver and I was told my clothes weren’t commercial. Clearly this wasn’t correct, and I knew it. I think [in Toronto] people are often afraid to be the first, and are more focused on following trends. I can really respect people who aren’t afraid to stand out and be different.”
Toronto is such a diverse and colourful city; it should be represented that way in fashion. When asked if she wishes to bring a colourful, livelier, and fun side to the Toronto fashion industry, “Absolutely,” she says. “I think it’s about time some colour is injected here. The label has been so well received here I think it’s only a matter of time!”
Elsaesser now runs her flagship store on 695 Queen Street West, a very suitable location for her label. The store’s spunky atmosphere perfectly represents Elsaesser’s world. Ombré fixtures, bright yellow insect printed wallpaper, a neon sign of her name, eight ball cushions, stuffed dogs wearing Elsaesser sweaters, and a wide range of music from Drake to Nirvana to ABBA and Blondie blasting all day.
The store, in addition to her staff always bring a warm welcome and treat you as if you’re like family or a friend who they haven’t seen in ages. Elsaesser’s label is only three years old, and already her game plan has proven to be a winning one.