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Pop-up goes the fashion designer

Whistler's Heidi Denessen releases fall/winter collection and moves into WAC studio
FOR THE BIRDS Steller's jays, from an original painting by Heidi Denessen, adorn a scarf she designed that is part of her Mountain Goddess collection for this winter. Photo submitted

Fashion designer and painter Heidi Denessen has a new collection for the winter and a new space to create her future ideas.

She left behind her home studio, moving into the pop-up studio run by the Whistler Arts Council, and located in an empty retail space in the Westin Resort in August.

"It's been great because I came here for the studio space and camaraderie has been the silver lining. It's really inspiring to see people's work spaces and materials. And I've picked up my brushes. I'm really excited about painting again and that is something I didn't expect," Denessen says, looking around the studio.

She also didn't expect the bonus of being able to focus solely on her work.

"Being at home is convenient but it's easy to get distracted. I think I am here for the long haul," she says.

"I'm really motivated and energized with what I'm doing. I had a great farmers' market season that just ended."

The 670 sq. m. pop-up studio, in a former retail store, opened in May with the support of owners Cressey Development Group. Artists secure space for a nominal fee and share a common area. The studio is open to the public.

Denessen explains that the artists share in the running of the space. It's not a huge commitment, currently two hours per week. The rest of the time they work on their projects when they need to.

In terms of her latest fashion collection, Denessen's style is to incorporate her photography and artwork into her casual pieces.

"It's called the Mountain Goddess collection. It's a more subdued palette; I have wintery trees and branches on some of the leggings. There is an Inukshuk and Black Tusk from my painting on another pair," she says.

The Mountain Goddess is all about what it is like to live in Whistler in the winter — icy, cold, but beautiful. This is reflected in Denessen's use of leafless winter trees, of a painting she made of B.C.'s provincial bird, the Steller's jay, which lives in and around Whistler year-round.

"I've done more colourful stuff in the past and I return to that in the spring," she says. "Still fun and funky but easy to wear. It's more for those not inclined to dive into the crazy prints."

Her fashion has always included printed versions of her paintings, drawing and photography. She tries to make her pieces for buyers who appreciate art and design. Sales are good — up 30 per cent year-on-year at the end of August.

"The collection really is for women and girls from around here. They are either active in the outdoors or just love looking at the environment that we live in. It's for women who wear comfortable casual clothes regularly, but who want something a bit unique," she says.

"For under $100 you get a wearable piece of art."

Pieces include scarves, leggings, cardigans, skirts, tops, hats and more.

"Another change is that we now have a hoodie. I'm also adding new pants that are a jogger; it's a looser fit. That is coming out later in the year," she says.

"And I'll make a Capri version of that for the spring, along with Capri leggings for next spring."

Her aim is to launch two collections per year — her 2016 spring/summer collection is already prepared, and includes two different dress styles and a flair skirt.

Her work is currently available only in Whistler or online.

"That's another big change for me. I'm not doing as many markets — I was going to Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver. Now I am totally focused on my online shop and the Whistler Farmers' Market," Denessen says.

Wholesaling her work previously to small boutiques across Canada proved to be the business model she didn't want to go with.

"It's more feasible for me to run a business that is going to be sustainable," she says.

"The cost of producing my pieces is quite expensive because I am doing it locally (the clothing is made in Vancouver). You want to keep your price point affordable, so selling online is great for me that way."

Denessen uses recycled polyester spandex, using organic cotton under the brand Heidi the Artist.

"That's really important to me. It's an incredible fabric that washes really nicely, recycled, and it also has this finish on it called Chitosante, which is anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. It's breathable, wicks really well."

Being able to stay close to home as the mother of two young children is also important to her — and having control over how her work looks and is presented doesn't hurt either, she adds.

"I love the process of connecting with buyers on email and through social media (Denessen is on Facebook and Instagram). Meeting people from all over the world online," she says.

"I love packaging things up and shipping them. I really enjoy that process, doing it from home and from here."

For more information visit Denessen delivers local online purchases herself.