Q&A: Canadian designer Tanya Taylor on being worn by Michelle Obama and whether she’d dress Melania Trump
Tanya Taylor got an amazing 31st birthday gift last week when Michelle Obama wore one of her designs—a black winter floral frock with embroidery—to the White House holiday party. The Toronto-bred, New York-based designer has developed a strong celebrity it-girl following in the last few years, and recently become a go-to for some of the political sphere’s most powerful women. On Friday, Taylor will be at Yorkdale for her holiday trunk sale. She tells Toronto Life about the FLOTUS connection, her New Year’s fashion resolutions and whether she would dress Melania Trump.
Having the First Lady choose one of your dresses is a huge honour. Was the dress designed specifically for her, or does Michelle Obama shop off the rack?
It was custom designed for her. We’ve been working with Michelle Obama’s team for more than two years now. Sometimes if we’re working on something that we think would be great for her, we will send them a sketch. With this one, they said sure, and so we made it. But we didn’t know when she’d wear it.
How did you find out?
Her stylist tagged me in a photo on Instagram. I was with my whole family. We were in the middle of a store called Dover Street Market in New York, and it was my birthday, so it was super exciting. I jumped up and down and the store brought out wine for us to celebrate. It was perfect. My team and I were especially honoured since she wore our design to the White House holiday party.
Being worn by the First Lady is some prime product placement. What has the reaction been like?
Since [the dress] is custom, we don’t have anything in this exact shape, but we do have items with the same embroidery, and those pieces have gotten a lot of interest. It has brought traffic to our e-commerce, which has been great.
Do you have a strong sense of what Michelle Obama likes?
We’re really familiar with her proportions and what she feels comfortable in, so we’ll start by sketching shapes and sending those to her stylist for feedback. After that we have conversations around what colours she’s really liking right now, or if there’s a mood she’s been trying to achieve. She’s definitely been really adventurous in the past year, with fashion and also haircuts. It’s a sharper image she’s portraying—really sleek and modern. She’s not afraid of taking risks.
Sophie Trudeau is another one of your famous fans. How does designing for her differ from designing for her American equivalent?
Sophie is really adventurous. She likes wide leg pants and things like that that—she’s young and she’s having fun with fashion. I think in general there is a little bit more approachability to politics in Canada compared to the U.S., so she wears softer fabrics—it’s a little bit romantic.
Any theories on why political women are attracted to your designs?
I always ask myself this. I think what we do isn’t that complicated, but it is optimistic. And if you’re a political leader or First Lady, that’s something that’s really important: to show optimism and joyfulness.
Speaking of powerful political women, you created a t-shirt for the Hillary Clinton campaign that became celebrity it-girl staple. How did that happen?
Hillary Clinton had a “Made for History” program where she worked closely with Vogue and they picked ten designers to create t-shirts to raise money for her campaign. I was so excited when we were picked—I’m a huge supporter of hers. It was probably the hardest thing we’ve ever designed. With the celebrities, we didn’t have to try very hard. We literally just called the girls who support us normally and asked if they would wear the shirt and post on Instagram. At least half of them said absolutely: Emma Roberts, Jenny Slate, Demi Lovato.
A lot of prominent designers—Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford—have said they wouldn’t dress the incoming First Lady, Melania Trump, because of her husband’s politics. What say you?
I think that I want to see if she does something that I support, or creates an initiative that is worthy of supporting. I think we have to give her a chance and see what she does.
If you were to dress her, what would you envision?
I think softer. I see a lot of structured solids that she wears, with shoulder emphasis. She’d look pretty in something a bit softer. And maybe play with her hair a little.
Is there a particular celebrity who you would kill to dress?
I’m a huge Emma Stone fan.
All signs point to her being an awards season contender. Are there ways you can attempt to make that happen?
Yes. I went to L.A. the other week and I met with her stylist. When somebody actually meets you and you get to tell them why you do what you do, it really does help.
Any favourite Canadian celebs?
I’m obsessed with Tatiana Maslany. She’s been super supportive of us, and she wore us to Comic-Con and a couple of red carpets. I’d love to keep working with her.