Design

FASHION(S)ISTAS

The three Beckermans draw inspiration from Salvador Dali, and Amelia Earhart

LIANNE GEORGE October 24 2005
Design

FASHION(S)ISTAS

The three Beckermans draw inspiration from Salvador Dali, and Amelia Earhart

LIANNE GEORGE October 24 2005

FASHION(S)ISTAS

The three Beckermans draw inspiration from Salvador Dali, and Amelia Earhart

LIANNE GEORGE

Design

IT’S MID-AFTERNOON in the dimly lit downstairs lounge of Toronto’s Drake Hotel, home to the city’s hipster set. Samantha and Caillianne Beckerman—identical 25-year-old twins who, along with their sister Chloe, 22, are the creative force behind the much hyped new fashion label, Beckerman—are sitting on low stools in front of the stage. Compact and irrepressibly bubbly, the Toronto-born siblings are watching intently as impossibly slender teenage girls alternately glide and clomp across the floor.

“Amazing! Beautiful!” one twin says. “Would you mind trying that a little faster?” says the other, wrinkling her nose. Today, the designers are looking for something very specific: models who are extremely tall, have very long hair and, most important, walk with enough cheek to pull off the creations in their spring/summer 2006 collection—a sartorial paean to surrealism.

This week, the label’s Salvador Dali-inspired second collection, called “Postcards of a Dali Girl,” is set to open Toronto’s 10th annual L’Oréal Fashion Week. The designs, inspired by flight, travel and madcap dreamscapes, are a kooky combination of vividly coloured velvets and raw silks, gowns with hand-knitted corsets and knotted skirts, and pieces embellished with an obscene number of ribbons and pompoms.

(“We’re trying to make knitwear sexy,” says Samantha—a noble if distinctly Canadian pursuit.) The clothes are playful, girlie and a little offbeat, and the fashion critics can’t get enough of them.

In September, during New York City’s fashion week, the Beckerman sisters emerged as the stars of the “Fresh Faces in Fashion” show, an event sponsored by the organization Gen Art that has launched the careers of industry darlings including Rebecca Taylor and Zac Posen. The New York Times called Beckerman the only standout among a group of young designers obsessed with ruffled blouses and linen shorts. “[They had] the fabulous audacity to trim a lace bra with long mint and copper ribbons,” one critic gushed, “like a stripper bursting through a car wash.” “It’s important when you have a fashion show to really bring it, to make pieces that are just so avant-garde,” says Caillianne, who is dressed in a bright red nautical-themed sweater, navy warm-up pants, and bright red vintage Reebok aerobics sneakers. “When people come to a show, they come to have a good time. Ours is really theatrical and crazy.”

Their Dali Girl collection is a roundup of seemingly disparate themes. For starters, the sisters drew on their own otherworldly dreams, prompted by the “vampire” hours they keep. “We live over two bars in New York,” says Caillianne, “and they’re maybe the busiest bars in the city. We hear people all the time, so there’s no point going to bed.” On an average night, they’ll work on their designs until 5 a.m., then begin all over again before noon.

Then there’s the sisters’ mutual fascination with the voyages of Amelia Earhart, the early-20th-century aviator.

“We watched this documentary about her that was interpreted entirely through the postcards she sent back home to her family and friends,” says Caillianne.

“We were really blown away by all the things she saw and the journals that she kept.”

Mostly, their new collection is an homage to their favourite experimental painters and photographers, including Dali, Burt Stem and Jean-Michel Basquiat. “We went to the Basquiat exhibit in Brooklyn, and the colours were so vivid and crazy,” says Caillianne. “Sort of graffiti-inspired—scribbled and free like what we do in our journals. It’s exactly what’s going on in our minds right now.”

From a marketing perspective, when you’re trying to cut it in the mercurial world of fashion it doesn’t hurt to be a trio of blondhaired, blue-eyed sisters who embody their own quirky aesthetic. Samantha and Caillianne have fed off of each other’s creative whims their whole lives. When they speak, it’s a sort of conversational ping-pong match.

Caillianne: “We’ve always been drawing and designing...”

Samantha: “... going to Fabricland, making people’s dresses for semi-formals ...”

Caillianne: “... making our own. I used to send my sketches to Seventeen magazine. One of them got published when I was about 12. It was on the ‘Readers’ Mail’ page. I was like, ‘yesssV ”

As teenagers, they attended Toronto’s posh Branksome Hall, one of the few high schools to offer classes in fashion design. “We took them until they wouldn’t let us take them anymore,” says Samantha. In 2000, they moved to New York to study design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Their graduatingthesis collection won them awards and media attention from Elle Girl, Nylon and Women’s Wear Daily. They apprenticed under heavyweights including Oscar de la Renta, Bottega Veneta and Marc Jacobs before joining forces with younger sister Chloe, an artist who is currently studying at FIT, to launch their own, eponymous line in early 2005. Rounding out the family business is their father, a marketing expert who helps with publicity and number-crunching, and “manager mom,” who helps in all aspects of decision-making.

Beckerman’s first collection, called “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” debuted during fashion week in Toronto last spring and won accolades for its blend of modern style with textured knitwear and traditional Guatemalan fabrics and worry dolls. Canada’s Holt Renfrew recently began carrying their line, which will soon be available in boutiques across the U.S.

“Creatively, we really push each other in everything we do,” says Caillianne. “It’s not so much that we compete, but we try to impress each other. We started a dog sweater company as well, Cubby Couture, while we were in school, because we couldn’t find any cute enough dog sweaters.”

“Funky ones,” says Samantha. “We have two Pomeranians.”

“So literally what we’d do is we’d get on the sewing machines,” says Caillianne, “face them back to back and see who could make...” In startling unison: “... the cutest dog sweater!”

Chloe is more of a traditionalist. “She thinks differently than us,” says Caillianne. “She designs amazing prints. She always puts colours together that Sam and I wouldn’t necessarily choose, and she’s almost always right.”

Right now, the trio sense they’re tapping into a mood, a certain lightness in the air. “I just feel like there’s this huge art phase going on right now,” says Caillianne. “We were in New York when 9/11 happened and it scared the crap out of everyone. The whole party and fashion scene in New York totally died out after that.”

“And this year it actually feels like the energy it used to have is starting up again. The clubs, the parties are going,” says Samantha.

“And everyone’s healing from it,” says Caillianne, building on her sister’s analytical momentum.

“That’s exactly it,” says Samantha, nodding emphatically. “We want to have a great time. It’s all about fun and happiness. And dreams.”