Shanah Flodstrom has a coat fetish. Because she’s also fond of indie bands such as Bright Eyes, Fleet Foxes, Beirut, and the National, she did what any music-loving person who has a way with a needle and thread would do: she began to design and sew coats and name them after her favourite songs. In her Venables Street studio one late August afternoon, she has the Smiths’ “Shakespeare’s Sister” playing over the sound system and its ruffle-necked black-wool namesake hanging on a rack nearby. But the popular lace-trimmed wool coat and its siblings the Arienette (Bright Eyes), the Ada (the National), and others from her label Little Houses Clothing are last year’s. This fall, Flodstrom has something different going on.
“Actually, the new line is not songs,” Flodstrom says, laughing—no offence to the Smiths. “This year, it’s all 1920s–baby boomer names. I love Josephine and Emma and Madeline.” On her website, photographs of Josephine, Emma, and the other “girls” in Little Houses’ fall collection reveal a decidedly romantic sensibility. Madeline ($80) is a delicately pinstriped, ruffled blouse; Shirley ($125) is a boots-and-tights charming, mod-plaid dress; Josephine ($130) is a retro-teal wool vest; Grace ($145) is sexy stretch-denim pants with ribbed-cuff cool; and, natch, four exquisitely feminine coats all have Flodstrom’s trademark chic, wide collar. The models wear strings of pearls and 1920s-red lipstick, their hair in loose, romantic-heroine updos. Less ladylike are their tough boots, jeans, and a refreshing, very modern confidence. In one photo, a model defiantly holds a rather impressive pair of antlers.
The antlers were borrowed from the designer’s apartment, as were the boots and pearls. That feminine yet modern thing is all hers too. “I dressed the girls how I dress,” Flodstrom says. “As far as the jeans and boots and big coats, that’s me. I have, like, a closet full of jackets.”
At one time, Flodstrom didn’t know how to sew. “I could sew bags because they were squares and that was it,” she says, laughing. Inspired, she took the Blanche Macdonald Centre’s fashion-design program, opened an Etsy shop, and started making “really simple coats. People liked them and I just started getting really excited about jackets.” By fall 2008, business wasn’t just exciting on Etsy, where Shakespeare’s Sister made its star-making debut; Vancouver stores had also nabbed Little Houses’ distinctive, pretty coats with their big-buttoned asymmetrical fronts and collars roomy enough for long, romantic scarves.
“I could never find jackets that I was totally in love with,” Flodstrom says, though she is likely fond of Little Houses’ fall coats. The Hazel ($395), in lovely, lightweight-wool plaid, has a nipped-in shape, an ultra-high collar, and big buttons. “I like my coats to be really fitted. They definitely have a shape.” The playfully bold-plaid Acorn ($295) features charming tilted pockets and a lace-trimmed collar. “When I saw this plaid, I thought, ”˜It’s so Canadiana.’ It’s like a feminine lumberjacket.” A really girlie lumberjack. With three oversized buttons and sweet tucks, the soft-fleece Marla ($110) is fetching. In “Little Red Riding Hood red”, three-quarter-sleeved Emma ($265) just might beguile those allergic to the colour.
Even now, Flodstrom mostly sews from her head, cutting by instinct. “I can make patterns, but generally I’m just too impatient,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll be here and I’ll get so excited, I’ll just start cutting.” Impatience is working. On Etsy, she has customers from Africa to Australia. In Vancouver, Little Houses’ modern-romantic coats are at Dream Apparel & Articles for People (311 West Cordova Street), Twigg & Hottie (3671 Main Street), and Adhesif (2202 Main Street). They’ve also been nabbed by stores across Canada, the U.S., and, recently, in Paris. A French band—alterna-rockers Phoenix, perhaps?—just might prove inspirational sometime soon. Wouldn’t “Lisztomania” make a good name for a coat?