The name Isabelle Dunlop has been bandied about the Vancouver fashion scene for a couple of decades now, especially in indie-boutique circles. But save for her eight-year stint as co-owner of the Block (350 West Cordova Street), the designer’s actual output has been a bit random—a pop-up shop here, a capsule collection there. Consequently, fans of her work (including yours truly) have had to keep a vigilant eye on her Tumblr blog to find out when and where they could find her latest creations.
Not anymore, though. Now, we can all just pop round to Dunlop’s brand-new SoMa store, aptly called Isabelle Dunlop Clothing (4158 Main Street). It’s a welcome move that may come as a surprise to some. But as Dunlop explains, she’s kept this wee dream in her back pocket for a while. She was just waiting for the right time—and price.
“Well, it’s always been like a little idea in my head,” says Dunlop at her funky new shop, which boasts a relatively large studio space in the back. “Then I saw this place, so I called and it was the right rent. So I just thought, ‘Well, I got to give it a go.’ ”
As for timing, Dunlop finally feels she’s in a position to give a retail space the proper attention (and stock) that it needs to thrive. See, Dunlop is not only a seasoned seamstress; she’s also an aspiring songstress. As such, she’s been splitting her creative focus between her electropop band, Combine the Victorious, and her clothing label. But now that she has her stage legs and her band is getting some buzz, she can honour both passions without getting nerved up about touring
“I’ve learned a lot,” says Dunlop of getting in front of the mike. “I can still do the music—it’s not quite so much ‘Oh my god, I’m getting on-stage!’ kind of thing. I feel much more confident. So I can get back into giving this [making clothes] a bit more concentration.
“And they marry well together, because I get inspired by wanting to wear something different on-stage,” she continues, “so I make something new for myself and then make something for the shop while I’m at it. It seems to be working out quite well.”
Since she’s opening the doors to her new venture between fashion seasons, one half of the boutique is quite wintery and features warm pieces such as her signature Vancouver coat ($400). This classic wool car coat currently comes in a beautiful solid teal as well as a grunge-chic black-and-red lumberjack fabric. She also has a perfectly cropped fitted jacket in that latter print ($240). Like most of her coats, they’re lined with a bold, unexpected print.
“I just want it to be a little bit interesting,” says Dunlop, the spunky farmer’s daughter who migrated to Canada from rural Scotland in 1990 after earning a degree in textiles. “So that when you open it up, it kind of makes you smile, like a little treat for yourself.”
Another one of her specialties is her knitted merino-wool scarves, which she washes until they have just the right texture and edgy ends. So no need for scarf-tying tutorials here; these beauties hang perfectly on their own. They come in three sizes: the superlong bow scarf ($140), the all-season in-betweener ($60), and the smaller necktie ($40). For spring, she’s carrying these must-have accessories in a wide range of bright colours, including a gorgeous retro cerise and an adorable Easter lemon.
On the summer side of the boutique, she’s got a selection of one-of-a-kind knitted tunics, traditional garden-party dresses, and bohemian cotton frocks with gorgeous vintage-lace detailing ($160 to $240). And judging by the impressive collection of beautiful and eclectic fabrics she’s got in back, there’s plenty more where those came from.