Monday, August 25, 2008

Talking to Two of Hearts

Tabitha Savoie (left) and Jenny Yen pose with the Paulina dress from their 2008 fall collection.

My nervousness over my first ever designer interview lifts when I spot one of the talents behind the new Two of Hearts line, Jenny Yen, balancing a leaking thermos of coffee with an armful of stuff and a black dress, all while trying to open the entrance to her Main Street studio. The moment is so endearing and, well, normal: Haven't we all been there at one time or another, too many things to carry and not enough hands? Plus she's a fellow caffeine addict. I have a good feeling about this already.

We introduce ourselves and chat amicably as we trundle up the concrete steps to the workroom. (I help her carry what I later find out is the Leila dress from the fall 2008 line.) Inside the brightly lit space, fellow Two of Hearts designer Tabitha Savoie is already at work boxing up orders. "It's kind of a mess in here," Tabitha says sheepishly as the three of us sit down to talk about their new line.

Both ladies already had their own clothing lines before they decided to team up for Two of Hearts: Jenny designs sophisticated, tailored pieces for Cici, while Tabitha's knack for fun screened tops is epitomized by her line Togs. They met three years ago and have been friends ever since, so it seemed only logical to take that to the next level by combining their skills and collaborating on a joint line.

The ecological emphasis behind Two of Hearts was inspired by the organic movement and the impressions of the pair's trip to China in the autumn of 2006. They were overwhelmed by the pollution and poor air quality of big cities like Shanghai, and by the changes manufacturing had wrought on the rural landscape. "It made me realize how good we have it in Canada," says Tabitha.

Although the partnership thing was new for both of them, each feels that they've contributed the best of their design skills to create pieces that are distinctive from anything they've done before. "I like to do sophisticated pieces, and Tabitha adds a tomboy touch with her silkscreening. Tabitha's better at doing tops, and I do the bottoms," says Jenny.

"We split up the patterns, but in the end when you see the pieces hanging together, a Two of Hearts piece is different from a Cici piece or a Togs piece," Tabitha adds.

The fall collection is a cohesive fusion of what each designer brings to the table. Quirky details like leaf and branch motifs and screened faux pockets combine with vintage-inspired tailoring (see the Peter Pan collars, belted waists, and the structured Navi sailor pant for evidence). The clothes are made from eco-friendly materials like organic cotton, soy, and bamboo, but also feature a bit of spandex for comfort and wearability. "These are materials you can run around in, and they're in bright colours. Unlike other eco lines, [Two of Hearts] is bright, not somber and subdued," says Jenny. She and Tabitha are also quick to point out that Two of Hearts aims to be a bit more urban than other eco lines--very different from notions of eco-friendly hippie garb we may have when we think of sustainable clothing.

The Valerie vest

Indeed, when asked which piece from their fall collection they'd choose to live in for the season, each designer picks a different item and comes up with a plethora of options for how to wear it. Tabitha chooses the Valerie vest for "the vibrancy of [its] emerald green" while Jenny selects the Gigi dress. Both picks are versatile and can be worn with jeans or leggings, or layered over a long-sleeved tee or turtleneck.

The Gigi dress

Finally, I ask about the aspect of the fall collection that intrigues me most: What's with the retro '70s feel of the lookbook and the clothes? Tabitha and Jenny explain that they were inspired by two Sears catalogues from the 1970s that Jenny found in a used bookstore. They drew ideas from the commercial poses of the models as well as the avocado greens, browns, oranges, and tans that were typical of the appliances and decor from that era.

Despite the era-specific references in the fall collection, Tabitha and Jenny are eager to see how twenty-first century shoppers will respond to Two of Hearts once it hits stores. It takes about six months for a design to go from the drawing table to the clothesrack--a fairly long process. As Tabitha says, "It's really nice to see it come to fruition."

Look for Two of Hearts at Spank, Tutta Mia, Pleasant Girl, and Life of Riley in Vancouver. For more information, check out the Two of Hearts website.