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Imagine walking down the street and seeing a stranger wearing your pants. It's happened to Quynh Nguyen. She's not the victim of some weird stalker: the biology student is a part-time fashion designer with her own line of clothes. Even still, the experience of seeing someone decked out in her duds was unexpected.
Photo: Linda Dawn Hammond / IndyFoto.com
"The first time I saw someone who I didn't know in something I designed I got excited. I don't take this very seriously, it's more like a hobby, so I thought 'oh my god, these are like real clothes.' It was very surreal."
Nguyen has been making her own clothes since she was in high school. Initially she was only making clothes for herself, but soon was creating streetwear for friends as well.
"I'm totally self taught," she said, adding with a rueful laugh, "It's quite the learning process —there are definitely things I could have benefited from if I had taken design classes."
Having her own line of clothing started as idle fancy, but as her proficiency in design grew — along with the difficulty in meeting demand for her clothing — she decided to make the leap. VXN Clothing's first line came out for fall/winter 2001. She's since done two more seasons, which are sold in stores in Ottawa, Toronto and Guelph, Ontario.
"I went to stores and said, 'I'm a designer, here are my clothes. Would you like to sell them?' Basically I chose stores where I would shop, and where I felt my clothes would fit in," she said.
A line of clothing for Nguyen generally consists of 10 to 12 items. What she designs is heavily influenced by what she wants to wear. She started making a lot of pants, but now has a variety of shirts, skirts and dresses in her line. Inspiration comes from a variety of sources.
"I wasn't the best student in terms of paying attention in class, and I was in these huge classes in Leacock. I would end up getting distracted and designing things, scribbling on pieces of paper," she said.
"I have a lot of different influences — costumes, or things from movies, or going into a store and seeing something I like or seeing a detail of an item that I like."
Once she's come up with an idea, the work of making the piece begins. Over the years Nguyen has amassed a number of block patterns that she can modify for new designs and sizes. Once the pattern is made, she'll sew a sample item, and after some further tweaking she sends the patterns and samples to a tailor who she has contracted to make the items.
"I get a tailor to make them, because I'm not making them in factory quantity. Generally, I get four to six hundred pieces made. That's about fifty of each piece," she said.
For Nguyen creating clothing is an escape from the rigours of her neurobiology studies, but the latter does creep into her design. One shirt she designed is called "action potential" (a term that describes part of the process of a neuron firing).
"When I did my first season and went to the stores and said I'm a biology student, they wanted me to name all the items in my line for things in biology. My entire first season was named after periodic table elements," she said with a laugh.
Even the greatest chefs don't eat their own food all the time, so the question naturally arises, where does a young fashion designer buy her clothes? Nguyen favours a boutique call Preloved.
"They take vintage clothing, and cut it up and re-sew it into new items. I try to avoid going there, because every time I go I end up spending a couple of hundred dollars."
Nguyen has so far avoided selling her own clothes in Montreal — she wanted to keep her school and work lives separate. Now that she is nearing graduation, however, she's considering approaching local stores. Can we expect her to join the ranks of Versace and Chanel in the next few years? Maybe, maybe not. Nguyen is keeping her career options open.
"I'm very inexperienced, I'm very young. There's a lot of things I don't know about business and even about design. I've enjoyed it because I want to do it, not because I have to do it. I feel I have the freedom to be able to do it because I truly love it."
Nothing sticks to him.... Not even the French Quebec newspapers can define Mario because he's a Play-Doh candidate who is pliable and changes shape.
Canadians exchanged with American units of various branches of services, but to the best of my knowledge, they did not go ashore and fight.
They are the "secret service" of McGill — operating in the shadows for more than a century. Destabilizing foreign regimes is not their mandate: they're more likely to organize a speaker's series or museum tour. "They" are the Women Associates of McGill.
For nearly a century, the basic objectives of the Women Associates have been to provide a forum for women of McGill — be they staff members or wives of governors and staff. They also provide a sense of welcome and belonging, especially for newcomers.
The Associates organize talks by distinguished lecturers, operate book discussion groups and arrange tours to museums and points of historic interest. Social activities include a diners club, a bridge group and the garden group stages an annual Christmas lunch and craft fair for all Associates members.
Their most visible venture is the annual book fair, started by the Associates in 1970, which has raised $1.2 million over the years. The McGill Alumnae Association joined the Associates in this popular event in 1973. The funds go towards scholarships and bursaries.
The book fair requires a year of behind-the-scenes preparation: collecting, sorting and pricing of books. Books are gathered through a citywide network of depots located in the homes of Associates and Alumnae, and sorted and priced in the basement of Redpath Hall.
The Associates have always lent a helping hand to an evolving university community. In 1903, the Women's Auxiliary of the McGill Campus branch of the YMCA helped to provide furnishings, supervise housekeeping and organize entertainment.
When WWI started in 1914, the Auxiliary was reorganized as the McGill Women's Union and became very active in war work in support of the men overseas. This included preparing medical dressings, gift parcels and writing letters to those in hospitals.
In 1922, the Union amalgamated with a parallel organization of professor's wives, called the McGill Women's Club, and in 1933 was renamed the Women Associates of McGill. During WWII, the Associates were again deeply involved in war work through the Red Cross, providing assistance to refugees and other charitable activities.
McGill experienced very rapid growth in the post-war period and it became important to provide a welcoming environment for new staff and their families. This led to a number of projects like the mums and tots group, the gourmet dinner club and other social activities, as well as the cultural and community service work.
This year is the Associates' centenary, the 70th anniversary under its current name, and the book fair will observe its thirtieth birthday as a joint Associates and Alumnae venture. To celebrate their 70th anniversary, the Women Associates of McGill hosted a 1930s themed tea for members at the Royal Victoria College on March 11.
The Women Associates of McGill are always looking for new people and ideas for their programs. To join, please call the Membership Secretary, Pamela Brook at (514) 288-1047.