If there’s one thing I’ve learned about great style, it’s that those who have it invariably have a strong point of view. Whether it has to do with aesthetic or attitude—or a combination of both—seeing the world in a particular, passionate way is usually key to choosing the pieces that can best help you express yourself. For 24-year-old Hilary Sampliner, it’s all about romance, and an unwavering penchant for the magic of the past. When I ran into her at a Grace Kelly inspired fashion show at The Ritz recently, staged in honour of the current Grace Kelly Style exhibit at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, she took my breath away with her sensational vintage outfit and her painstaking attention to styling details. Not that I should have been surprised: Hilary is an up-and-coming young Toronto designer, who graduated from Ryerson’s fashion school last year. A close friend of my daughter Bekky, I first met Hilary when she was a student at Etobicoke School of the Arts and witnessed her love of fashion blossom. Her late grandmother, who passed away before she born, was herself a seamstress and designer. Ever since Hilary found some of her labels in an old sewing basket, and discovered some of her old sketches, she was smitten, and fell in love with the idea of keeping her grandmother’s legacy alive. Hilary named her collection “Ruth Weil”, after her grandmother, and actually used her grandmother’s labels in the clothes she made for her Ryerson graduation project.
While Hilary creates beautiful original pieces for her Ruth Weil label (http://www.ruthweil.com), she gleans untold inspiration from vintage finds. “I rarely shop to buy,” notes Hilary. “ I shop for inspiration and new ideas. I find the most inspirational places to go are vintage boutiques because there are so many original items of varying styles, and you never know what treasures you will come across! I also find great inspiration going to The Room and looking at the new creations by top designers from around the world.” Hilary recently started working at Queen St. West’s 69 Vintage, as studio manager, making repairs and alterations to some of the fabulous pieces sold there.
Like most fashionistas, when it comes to strutting it, Hilary is no wallflower. “I like standing out,” she readily admits. Making a fashion statement and being the best-dressed person in the room is something she always aims to do. “Even at parties in high school I would dress as if I was going to a formal dance in the 1950’s. I loved the attention my ladylike outfits would attract, especially in contrast to my beer soaked surroundings!” she laughs. Hilary says the biggest fashion faux pas is a lack of confidence in your wardrobe. “I think even the most outrageous and seemingly unworkable outfits can be pulled off with the right amount of confidence and swagger.”
Hilary believes that style and comfort aren’t mutually exclusive. On a daily basis, she usually resorts to fitted jeans and T-shirts. “But I always spice up my looks with statement accessories that bring the most average of outfits to the forefront of fashion,” she explains. When it comes to the question of heels or flats, she definitely prefers wearing heels. “Being a very petite girl of 5’2”, heels give me a boost of height and a boost of confidence. But unfortunately, using a sewing machine is extremely difficult in heels, so I usually wear flats.” Her personal style trademark is a strand of pearls—a blatant nod to the classic and feminine esthetic that informs her sartorial sensibility. On the night I ran into Hilary, she was wearing an original 1950’s blue taffeta dress from 69 Vintage that cost $200, teamed with a pair of Betsey Johnson platform heels. Her vintage purse belonged to her grandmother, and her $20 gloves were from Malabar. Her rhinestone earrings cost $45 dollars, at 69 Vintage and her blue feather headpiece was designed by Nicole McInnis for her line of fascinators called “Oh Dina”. It cost $40.
Most inspiring style icon and why?
I have always admired Audrey Hepburn’s style ever since seeing Breakfast at Tiffany’s at a young age. My admiration with Audrey’s look turned into a full-blown love affair after seeing her portray such elegance and grace in the Balenciaga gown in Roman Holiday. What I admire most about Audrey is her ability to take the most simple of outfits and make them shine. No one has ever looked as good in all black spandex then she did in Funny Face.
Mary Katrantzou never ceases to amaze me with her use of interior design inspired prints and architectural silhouettes. I not only admire her design aesthetic, but also the fact that she is a woman who is thriving in a male dominated industry. Another one of my favourite designers is John Galliano. Despite his recent and very public demise, I can separate the man from his work and say he is still one of the most inspiring, talented and original designers of our time.
Where do you get your style inspiration?
Right now a huge style inspiration of mine is Catherine Baba, a fabulous stylist from Paris. She has a very eclectic 1920’s style that is ‘on the up and up’ right now, I credit her for bringing back the turban with a vengeance! Another of my style inspirations, and inspiration to hundreds of artists in the early 1900’s, is a woman named Marchesa Luisa Casati. She exuded confidence and was very wealthy, commissioning portraits of herself with her exotic pet cheetahs, parrots and grey hounds in various staged scenes. Her personal style was eccentric, with headdresses of gold and draped in furs… she was decades ahead of her time.
Best fashion advice?
I cannot remember who first told me, or even if they were referring to fashion, but the best artistic advice I ever received was “take risks”. To this day I live by it. Taking risks is incredibly important especially in a fast paced, competitive industry like Fashion. If you don’t take risks, there is no point in creating.
What is the most beloved item in your closet?
Right before her passing, years before I was born, my grandmother wove a camel coloured wool “car” coat. The coat is simple, classic and beautifully made with knit detailing and fully lined. This coat is the most important item in my wardrobe, when I wear it I feel close to my grandma, the woman that inspired my aesthetic and my career in fashion. Even though we never got the chance to meet, I feel she would be proud of me.