A non-descript industrial area of East Vancouver belies the atelier of one of Canada’s hidden gems, couture fashion designer Catherine Regehr. Sought after by Saudi princesses, film stars, New York’s tony fashionistas and Russia’s elite as well as international retailers, Regehr ironically flies under the radar in her own country. And yet, at this point in her life, she seems quite content to do so.
“Well I’ve never really had a market here (in Canada)—don’t get me wrong—I’d be happy if I did,” laughs the down-to-earth designer who has cultivated a luxury couture niche for over 30 years. “Realistically I’ve always exported 90 per cent of my product right from the beginning, doing market week shows like Maison & Object in Paris or trunk shows in New York, and I’ve never looked back,” she confides.
Yukon-born and raised in Whitehorse, Regehr graduated from Emily Carr College of Art & Design in Vancouver studying sculpture and painting, then took off for Paris to study fashion design at L’École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. She worked as a designer on Seventh Avenue, New York for Anne Klein before returning to Vancouver in 1986 and opening her own business.
Regehr genuinely embodies the simplicity of the athletic outdoorswoman and adventurer; blond, youthfully freckled, she loves to kayak, hike, canoe and is a big camping enthusiast. One would readily assume that her métier was designer sportswear! What appears as a dichotomy of interests is more a symbiotic one: her love of nature’s untamed North is channeled into textured laser-cut silk leaves and abstract flower blossoms that float from her couture eveningwear. Luxurious throws mimic the swirling waves of a whirlpool and down- filled tufted velvet quilts emulate the look and feel of the softest rock lichen. Last year a pillow she designed for Dior was inspired by observing repetitive ripples in the water.
The luxurious silk fabrics are painstakingly laser-cut, sewn, and pressed by a small group of women (and two male cutters) who have worked with her for years and are as much family as they are the backbone of petite mains behind Regehr’s business. She also works directly with First Nations artisans in the Yukon area to create organic themes and pieces for her Home Collections.
For Spring 2018, Regehr collaborated with one of her twin daughters, Eva, to design meticulously hand-crafted cocktail and evening wear and expanded on a sumptuous collection of sleepwear, caftans, throws, pillows and newly launched furniture pieces for her Home Collections. Falling Leaf benches and stools are upholstered in techno faille, a durable polyester, and available in 100 different colours.
“I’m so excited about collaborating with Eva because she brings a certain edginess to our designs that is attracting a younger clientele,” exudes Regehr with palpable maternal pride. While they both created the silk T-Neck Dress With Boa Hem, Eva designed the All Over Boa Jacket that adds drama to everything it’s paired with from jeans to evening wear. “I designed the silk Tank Top with All-Over Cherry Blossoms, which is a classic riff on the tank but with a modern twist using laser cutouts attached one petal at a time,” Eva adds.
Spending her summers at her Northern home in Atlin, British Columbia just across from Juneau, Alaska is more than a getaway for Catherine Regehr. “I think that balance—time to be alone in the outdoors and with family is the secret to my longevity, and to survive, in what I always tell Eva, is a very tough business.”