There is a real air of mysticism around Audrey Cantwell, the women behind independent clothing line Ovate, and I feel exceptionally lucky that she agreed to take part in an interview for Wyrd Words & Effigies.
When Wyrd Words & Effigies was still in the planning stages, I had it in my head that I would strive to one day feature Ovate, and champion her creations to my readers.
Audrey’s designs take your breath and spin it, before putting it back. They tangle with your heartstrings and slink into your consciousness…where they stay put.
Can you please talk about how Ovate began?
I always knew I wanted to have my own line, I never had any interest in working for someone else. I started Ovate about two years after graduating. I had been designing collections under my own name for a few years but was experimenting a lot and still trying to find my aesthetic. Once I had a clear vision of what I wanted to be, I launched Ovate.
Ovate is a title laden with meaning. How did you come to decide to use it? Did it take a while to find?
An ovate, in ancient times, was a seer, diviner, healer and prophet. Ovates understood the mysteries of death and rebirth, could transcend time, read into the future, and communicate with the Ancestors.
I researched ideas and names for almost a year before deciding on Ovate. I rifled through history books, books on mythology, the occult, and nature. Ovate was the perfect title for my project.
One thing that’s really struck me about your work is how uncluttered and unfussy the designs are. They have an effortless elegance about them, while at the same time radiating with this dark, mystic energy. Was ‘unfussiness’ something you decided on at the beginning, or do you find it really comes down to the individual piece?
I’ve always been attracted to simplicity and minimalism, but without that cold, futuristic edge it can often have. I love the understated. Too much detail and over design often kills a piece for me. My own wardrobe is almost entirely made of black basics… that never ending search for the perfect long black skirt or black silk camisole. These things never go out of style and are essential to building a perfect wardrobe. I like when a garment calls attention to a beautiful fabric and silhouette rather than excessive trims, details, pleats, bright colours…
You choose to keep your collections relatively small. Can you talk about the reasons for this, and why it is important for you to do so?
I am a one person operation and I also do about 70% of my own production so my time is quite limited when experimenting with new designs. I keep the collections small to make sure I have time to perfect each piece. I also don’t see the point in huge collections that are mostly filler, with a few special pieces in each. I try to make a collection as concise as possible. I see each collection as an entire wardrobe, mostly very wearable basics, a few dramatic pieces, an evening look, some outerwear, accessories, bags and a few statement pieces of jewellery.
Your collection Mare Frigoris brings to mind the legendary fictional queen Guinevere, and the clothing of medieval royalty. There is a certain opulence about the designs in this collection, but also a real strength and maturity. Can you talk about the inspiration behind this set and what your personal thoughts of it are?
The inspiration behind Mare Frigoris was the cold sea, barren, rocky shores, isolation, solitude, melancholy. I used the colour blue for the first time. I wanted it to be dramatic but soft at the same time. I do see the connection to Guinevere as well.
You have collaborated with photographer Krist Mort a number of times through multiple creative mediums. Can you talk about how this relationship started? What was it about her work that captivated you, and how is it working with her?
I have been following Krist Mort’s work for many years. She was the muse for my first ever collection, and continues to be. I asked her if I could send her some pieces I made to use in one of her shoots and the results blew me away, since then I have been working with her every season, I can’t imagine anyone else capturing the essence of Ovate as perfectly as she does.
The North is a prominent feature in your creations. Can you please talk about the ways in which the North influences your work?
I am from the North in a sense, from rural Quebec. It is winter here for over half of the year. I love the north, the cold bitterness, the icy winds, the snow covered fields, the leafless trees. This is the most beautiful and inspiring setting to me.
You collaborated with Joanna Szkiela to make an array of stunning jewellery pieces. Can you please talk about this collaborative relationship?
Joanna is a dear friend of mine; we met several years ago here in Montreal at a designer trunk show. We instantly connected through a similar aesthetic and love for nature. I had the idea for the twig rune rings years before and was searching for the person jeweller to help them come alive. We spent over six months perfecting them and that was the beginning of our collaborative relationship. We are currently finishing some new pieces for this winter which I am very, very excited about…
You state that natural fibres and materials are an important part of your work, and that you try and avoid synthetics and artificially manufactured materials. Can you talk about the importance of these materials to you on a personal and a professional level?
As my designs are quite minimal, one of the most important qualities in a garment for me is the material. Nothing manmade can be as beautiful as a natural fibre in my opinion. I have a love affair with wool, silk, leather, fur, linen, cotton, bamboo.. Nature is my biggest inspiration. Natural materials appeal to me with their imperfections and variations and rawness.
I’ve seen some images of your studio space – it looks stunning. What does this space mean to you and what is the best thing about it?
I work from home and I love the freedom it gives me. I wake up early and work till late, taking breaks whenever I begin to feel weary or uninspired. I don’t like to force things. I like to enjoy my work. I live in a loft in an industrial building (an old chocolate factory), I work downstairs and have a mezzanine with my personal space up there.
Do you believe your childhood influenced the path that you are taking today?
Yes absolutely, I grew up in the forest in rural Quebec. Ever since I was old enough to wield a pair of scissors, I was making things.
Do you do preliminary sketches of each design, or is the creation process a lot more spontaneous?
I haven’t sketched in years! My process is very spontaneous and intuitive. It begins with finding beautiful fabrics, I normally drape my samples on the mannequin and develop patterns that way.
You’re in your early twenties and must feel immensely proud of what you’ve managed to accomplish so early. What are your hopes for the future of Ovate?
I love the idea of staying small, which I plan to always be. I want to stay handmade, stay locally manufactured and continue to collaborate with creative people who inspire me. That is all I need really.
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