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The Vancouver Sun

Wendy Van Riesen, the designer behind Dahlia Drive, has a fascination with the subversive, the secretive and the nostalgic.

Van Riesen takes old slips and regenerates them using silkscreening, hand-painting and heat-setting techniques. She turns the slips into dresses to be worn on top of other slips. Her muse is Leonardo da Vinci, whose appreciation of the human form and endless curiosity inspire her.

Many of the Dahlia Drive designs incorporate da Vinci drawings, so that a slip may have the intestines or skeleton subtly applied to the fabric.

“At first you think it is lace, but then you look more closely and it’s the intestines,” she says, adding that she loves the subversive nature of her designs.

“I’ve got the insides of our bodies on a slip which is under the clothing and now we are wearing the under, over.”

Van Riesen also loves the way slips flatter the female form.

“Slips are secretive. They were made to not be seen and so they are completely form-fitting. As a result they look beautiful on women.”

Van Riesen developed a layering process that begins with brushing dye on to a piece of drafting paper. After that dries, she paints a design on top. When that dries, she’ll screen on an image of da Vinci or a blown-up image of the lace on her grandmother’s tablecloth using thickened dye. Then she attaches the paper to the slip and heat sets it in.

Her interest in vintage has more to do with a love of history and good memories than with sustainability, but her pieces are sustainable, as an added bonus.

Dahlia Drive’s da Vinci motifs are featured at the Vancouver Art Gallery gift shop as part of its da Vinci exhibit, Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Man. For the exhibit, she also put some images onT-shirts. They will be sold there until May.

Van Riesen took a few minutes to answer Five Questions:

1. Briefly describe your creations.
I rework discarded garments and fabrics with dye, cutting and piecing, mending, embellishing, printing and/or hand painting.

Each piece begins with the history of the material used; stains are over stained, holes become featured embellishments, silk is treated differently than polyester or nylon or cotton. Garments like slips become a canvas for anatomical images and textures which echo those forms. Some slips and most men’s shirts and sheer curtains are buried with rust to stain gate patterns (another lacy, bone/like pattern evoking structure, protection, portholes) then over-dyed and printed.

In these processes, the sculpture itself is surface designed as a three-dimensional form rather than traditional fashion manufacturing, which creates two-dimensional yardage and then cuts and sews it to fit the sculpture (body) form.

The result is a garment informed and inspired by the garment and material and therefore is truly a one-of-a-kind piece. This is a vastly different way of looking at fashion. Rather than looking outside for inspiration to create a new line on a pristine blank canvas, the history of the canvas inspires and leads the creative path or direction. This concept is more sustainable.

2. What is your inspiration?
Picasso, Paul Klee, Leonardo, Chagall, memory, history, parenting and the challenge of being content with what I have.

3. What is your price range?

4. Where can I buy your designs?
Planet Claire, Starfire Gallery, online, Tutta Mia, call me or come to my studio (604-789-5848)

5. Do any celebrities wear them?
Ruth Fluevog has a number of pieces.

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