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My Montreal: Fashion Designer Valérie Tolila of VAIKEN

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It won’t be the first time Montreal designers invade the catwalk of Toronto Fashion Week, from Oct. 20 to the 25, but it will be a first for Valérie Tolila. The designer behind Montreal label VAIKEN will be taking the stage as a finalist in the Mercedes-Benz Start Up competition, a national contest for emerging fashion designers.

Earning a spot in the finale is a milestone for the 34-year-old designer who launched her brand just one year ago.

“I learned that I’m going to have to work even harder for Toronto, because the competition is fierce. But I also learned that if you believe in yourself, people are going to believe in you too,” Tolila says.

Born and raised in Montreal, Tolila took a chance on love and followed her then boyfriend out of the city to various parts of Europe for 13 years, including Turkey, Portugal and Istanbul. She always thought the idea of studying fashion design was “farfetched,” but that didn’t stop her from enrolling in LaSalle College in Istanbul in 2008.

“My mother is a lawyer which is much more academic than artistic, so I never saw fashion design as an option.”

Today however, in her all white, Mile-Ex studio, Tolila seems very much in her element. She describes VAIKEN’s brand style as a reflection of who she is. It’s sexy and elegant, but it always has to be comfortable, she explains.

“I’m like a chameleon; sometimes I like to dress low-key and sometimes I feel like being over the top and getting all dressed up. In the end it has to be comfortable and you have to feel good in it.”

In Toronto, she will be showcasing her spring/summer 2015 collection, inspired by old clothes in her mother’s closet and modern gypsies. Expect to see lots of white, navy and black packaged in clean-cut dresses, shorts and tops.

Looking ahead, Tolila is interested in expanding her brand to menswear and accessories.

I met up with Tolila after she had just returned from New York City. She was battling a cold and prepping for Toronto Fashion Week, but we talked about dedication and making it in the fashion world.

Are there any Montreal designers/labels that you admire?

I’ve admired Marie Saint Pierre for many years. As a designer, I really look at the amount of work that goes into a finished piece and the quality of the fabrics, and she just masters her craft beautifully. Just talking about it gives me goosebumps. I also admire that as one of the organizers of Cabinet Éphémère, she’s supporting young designers. I really respect people who help out others and I try to do the same when young designers reach out to me.

How would you describe your personal style?

At work I wear a lot of black and more black, just because I feel comfortable and [so that] at the end of the day I don’t have threads everywhere. My everyday style is very simple and sporty, but then I always incorporate an eccentric piece that brings everything together and makes my simple outfit look a little more fun.

And where do you like to shop in Montreal?

I like to shop at TNT in Westmount, which will actually be carrying my collection shortly. I love this store because they stock a lot of European brands that you can’t find anywhere else like Isabel Marant, Helmut Lang,Alexander Wang and so many other fun brands. I also shop a lot at Simons, especially the designer section that you find upstairs at their downtown location.

Where do you like to go for a casual bit to eat in Montreal?

I am a big fan of Rosalie‘s. I’ve been going there for years even before I left Montreal and it just feels like home. I love going to Tavern on the Square in Westmount, as well.

Which neighborhood do you call home?

I would definitely call downtown Montreal home. I never thought I would call it home considering I left Montreal for so many years and actually grew up in Outremont, but I was looking for activity and action so I ended up downtown. Now I love the area, just walking around and being close to everything is great.

What’s your go-to restaurant when money is no object?

I actually love eating so money is never really a [consideration]! But a restaurant that I have tried and enjoyed and [that] really isn’t on the expensive side is Le Serpent.

Where do you like to go for cocktails?

I would love to tell you that I’m some super trendy person who loves going out for cocktails, but between work and my son I don’t have time. Maybe once a month, I’ll get together with friends, the moms from my son’s school, and we’ll go to Grinder.

Is there anywhere in particular you like to go with your son?

My son loves to go to Mount Royal. We’ll climb the mountain together and he’s just such a social kid and enjoys playing with everyone.

And do you have a favourite coffee shop in Montreal?

I like going to Le Café-Crème in Westmount. It’s the best coffee ever, it tastes like candy. They make their lattes just how I like them with a bit of cinnamon on top.

Who in Montreal do you think deserves to be better known?

Steven Dahn is the jewelry designer behind Lor G Jewellery. I love what he does and just how provocative it is. The mom side of me also really likesTotanne Montreal. I’m really into home decor and I bought storage baskets from this brand for my son’s room.

Finish this sentence: you know you’re in Montreal when…

…when people are smiling, positive and are accessible, that’s when you know you’re in Montreal.

What’s a typical weekend look like for you?

The weekend is definitely family time. I give 150 per cent of myself to this company, but my son is my priority so the weekend is definitely for him. A typical weekend is just waking up and being a mom, making my son pancakes and stuffing it with Nutella, going out to the Cosmodome or just meeting with other moms.