Today I am thrilled to be interviewing the lovely Irma of The Vintage Dressmaker. Irma is an extremely talented seamstress and her 1930’s and 1940’s inspired dresses are absolutely amazing. It was so much fun getting to know her and learn more about her work!
I hope you all enjoy this interview, and that you make sure to check out Irma’s beautiful dresses!
Tell us about your business, The Vintage Dressmaker!
I’m a self-employed dressmaker and designer specializing in 1920-1950s style womenswear. I work mainly with private clients but have also made dresses for shops and costume houses. I guess I’m what you could call an all-in-one as I design, draw patterns, source fabrics and trimmings and make the dresses. Though more challenging it is also the most satisfying thing about my business as I’m part of the whole process and as such, in control of all aspects of it.
When did you start your business? What inspired you to start it and what excites you about your work?
I started my business at the end of 2010. I had already started to get into vintage in 2009 and had made a few dresses. I have a degree in fashion design and styling but hadn’t really been working within the field.
But I think one of the catalysts must have been when a friend of mine was getting married and she asked me to come and help her choose the fabric for her wedding dress (She was going to have it custom made in Finland where she was getting married)
We found the fabric and I returned to the fabric shop the following weekend to grab some fabrics for myself and I made myself a vintage style blouse which was a massive hit the following week at work ( I was then working at the British Library) and got even couple of customers asking where did I get the blouse. A little lightbulb went on in my head.
I was already craving a change in my work situation and finally decided to take the plunge and go back to my design roots so to speak and resigned from my then job and on towards my new venture in dressmaking.
I love the whole process from sketching to the finished product.
What is your process? What tools do you like using? Where do you do your work? Can you walk us through a day in your life with your business?
I work from home. From initial ideas talks with the client (design, colour and fabrics) to measurement taking, then sketching design ideas, followed by fabric and trimmings sourcing and then the first fitting which always is the critical stage as it is then when all alterations if need be, take place. Having a big collection of vintage sewing patterns from which I adapt and use as a base. I like to stick as close to how they were originally made and am very particular about the seams. I guess French seams are a big favourite and I hand sew all hems and other parts of the dress as they would have in the past. I believe this creates a more original feel to the end product. For more intricate dresses such as Bridals or evening dresses, I would make a toile before cutting into the actual fabric used for the dress, mostly silks.
I do mainly work with natural fabrics (silks, woolens, cottons) also manmade fabrics such as rayon and viscose and tend to veer away from synthetics. I sometimes like to use original silk or cotton threads for sewing or stitching and I have to say the difference between modern and vintage can be palpable. I also own a big collection of original vintage fabrics, from 1910s to 1950s, that when possible will use for clients orders and collections. For example my latest 1940s dress collection are all made from original 1940s rayons, woolens and silks. And the difference is huge. I do also source reproductions fabrics, especially in cotton and silk and have found most of them on the West Coast. I always use original vintage trimmings in buttons, buckles etc as they tend to be an amazing detail on the dress. Being a big lover of Art Deco, needless to say lots of my designs will have geometric paneling.
What do you love the most about your business?
I think what I love the most is seeing the reaction of my clients when they see themselves wearing something I’ve created and they’re happy with the dress. I also love the actual process of fabric sourcing and finding the right trimmings. I aim to use only original buttons and buckles. And original vintage fabrics wherever possible.
I also love traveling to source for aforementioned items and have acquired lots of them on the West Coast, namely California where I have established many contacts.
Going to vintage fairs is also a very satisfying experience.
What is the most difficult aspect of your business?
Getting new clients as this being a very niche market it can be harder to attract potential new ones.
Also working on your own and from home can create your own little bubble and it can sometimes be a very isolating experience and you can get distracted easily. Ultimately it is all about creating a balance.
Why vintage? What about it is special to you and made you decide to go into this business?
I’ve always loved history of fashion and before doing my fashion degree in Madrid, Spain I wanted to get into costume design for theatre.
Vintage, therefore was a natural interest which I got into around late 2008, early 2009. I remember wearing a gorgeous 1920s printed chiffon dress for my sister’s wedding, which I bought in Dallas, Texas from a vintage seller.
Vintage is special to me because it is all about the styles and fashions of the bygone eras when it was quality over quantity. Also the shapes, structure and construction of the clothing was timelessly elegant. The colour palettes and the fabrics are also something that you don’t find in modern clothing. I love how imaginative and detail orientated the fashions were, with all those intricate cuts, beautiful buttons and buckles.
So, I guess I wanted to reproduce and bring back some of that beautiful craftmanship and designs.
How do you decide which vintage fashions to reproduce for your shop?
I’m a big fan of the 1920s and 30s. My very first dress collection for 1930s inspired and it was a massive hit! So that has kind of stuck with me. I also have done little surveys from time to time on my social platforms to see what people would like to see next.
Lately it looks like a big favourite has been the 1950s so watch this space!
Where do you draw inspiration from for the clothing that you make?
From lots of sources. Old fashion magazines, prints, photos, books, vintage trimmings ( buttons, buckles )vintage patterns, textures and old films
Sometimes it could also be a texture, be it textiles or maybe even an architectural detail in a building, especially Art Deco ones.
How do you go about designing your clothing?
If it’s for a client, I usually have an initial chat with them to see what style, colour, fabric etc they’re after. Then I’ll sketch designs based on those ideas and take it from there to source fabric samples etc. I have a big fashion books library which I would also use as an inspiration, plus old fashion magazines etc.
When did you begin sewing?
I did my degree in fashion design so naturally I started properly then. But I had done sewing at school along with knitting and crocheting.
Funnily enough my degree show was very different in style for what I do now. Think punk/grunge hybrid streetwear! But I guess the retro vibe was still there. Heh.
What started your love of vintage?
My love of history of fashion and especially the 1920s. When I was a teenager I used to love go through history of cinema books and the twenties especially caught my eye already then.
When I was studying fashion in Spain, one of our course work was to make a small scale dress from any era of history of fashion and while everyone else in my class opted for either the sumptuous rococo, 16th century or the late Victorian style I was the only one who went for the 20th century and namely made a lovely 1920s flapper dress.
How would you describe your own style?
My own style is very much a combination of 1920s and 1930s. I’m a very big fan of prints and own lots of 1930s printed cotton dresses ( anything feedsack and I’m there)
I also love crochet tops and knitted tops and dresses and 1920s sheer silk blouses as well.
But yes, I tend to wear quite a lot of original vintage.
Who or what is your personal vintage style inspiration?
There are quite a few such as Louise Brooks, Claudette Colbert, Clara Bow, also the Art Deco style and old black and white movies.
What is your favourite era for vintage?
1920s and 1930s hands down.
Do you have a favourite vintage era fashion designer?
Chanel, Vionnet, Schiaparelli, Charles James amongst others.
Tell us about yourself!
I hail originally from Spain (dad) and Finland (mum), and have lived in both countries and now based in London ( and have for the last 20 years!) So I guess I can call three countries home! Apart from my fashion design degree, I also have a diploma as a Make-Up Artist, and after working as bookseller for a number of years, I finally went back to my roots as a costume designer and dressmaker.
What do you do in your free time?
I love going to exhibitions ( art,costume, photography, the lot) traveling around the country and elsewhere. I’m a big fan of Art Deco architecture and religious architecture and love checking out cathedrals, churches and abbeys. I also love walking, and instead of hopping on public transport, I’d rather explore the city by foot, And boy, has London got a lot to offer this way!
Cinema is a big passion and catch as many movies as possible.
Also socialising with friends for drinks and dinners.
Do you have any words of advice for someone who might be thinking of starting their own creative business?
Be pro active, try market and promote your business as much as possible, meet like minded people, within your creative field and otherwise.
Do you have anything special you would like to promote to my readers?
Check out my latest collections, the 1930s beachwear and the 1940s dress collection on my website and my etsy shop!
Where can we find you online?
Thank you so much, Irma, for taking the time to answer my questions! It was so much fun learning about you, your work and the stunning dresses you make! I’m sure my readers join me in wishing you nothing but the very best in the future. Keep up the beautiful work!
I hope you all enjoyed this interview with Irma as much as I did! Aren’t her dresses simply to die for? Like something plucked straight off the set of Agatha Christie’s Poirot – I love them! 🙂
If there is anyone you would like to see interviewed here, let me know in the comments and I will do my very best! 🙂
Note: All images featured in this interview used with kind permission from Irma of The Vintage Dressmaker.