Designer Tanya Taylor Talks Dressing Michelle Obama And Finding Global Inspiration

Photo: tanyataylor on Instagram

With her signature modern yet perfectly feminine pieces, 30-year-old Canadian designer Tanya Taylor could very well be the next rising star in the fashion world. Since launching her eponymous label in 2012, the Toronto-born, New York-based designer has had a whirlwind few years, which have included making it as a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist and winning the 2015 USA Regional Woolmark Womenswear Prize. Along with these impressive accomplishments, her designs have been spotted on celebrities such as Michelle Obama and Beyoncé. 

After studying finance at McGill University and fashion design at the prestigious Parsons School of Design in Montreal, Taylor found her first real fashion experience with an internship at Elizabeth and James, a contemporary fashion brand created by Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. “When I started, there were only two designers,” said Taylor, who spoke with Real Style at the recent Tanya Taylor Trunk Show at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre. 

“They really gave me a lot of responsibility. I also managed our team budget, so I was able to use my background in finance and understand what both the business role and the design role look like at a fashion company.”

Taylor stayed with Elizabeth and James for three years, first as an intern and then as an assistant designer, before setting out to create her own label. According to the designer, the Tanya Taylor vision can be best described as, “optimistic, joyful, and empowering.” Though New York City is a mecca for all things fashion, Taylor finds the majority of her design inspiration overseas. “I work really hard when I’m in New York, so I like being able to get out of the city to see different cultures, different colours, and different artists. That’s usually the way that I can start a collection.”

Photo: tanyataylor on Instagram

A pivotal moment in the label’s history was when Michelle Obama first stepped out one of Taylor’s designs at a 2014 naturalization ceremony at the White House. “It was shocking. I found out on Instagram!” exclaimed Taylor. “I honestly felt like I needed to faint. I probably looked at the photo from every angle. It felt very unreal.” The First Lady has remained a loyal fan of Taylor’s designs, and recently wore a Tanya Taylor dress to her final White House Holiday Party. “It felt new for her. There was a lot of cool embellishment but it was darker and sleeker. She had gotten a new hair cut and there was something cool about it that sort of signified the next stage of her life. I was so excited to be a part of it.”

Though Taylor has designed for some of Hollywood’s biggest names, there are still some that she would love to add to her list of clients. “Emma Stone is someone that I would love [to dress]. I met with her stylist recently in L.A. to try and understand what she looks for.” In general, Taylor explained that the celebrities that they look to are mostly “younger, intelligent girls.”

Photo: tanyataylor on Instagram

Indeed, the brand is inherently youthful, as evidenced by Taylor’s refreshing Instagram strategy. Rather than curating a glossy, impersonal Instagram presence as many luxury fashion brands do, Taylor likes to show a more realistic depiction of her brand. “Other brands have a much more editorial Instagram that’s planned in advance and doesn’t feel ‘real time,’” she explained. “It’s a lot easier for me to be like ‘This is how I’m wearing this skirt.’ It’s not in a self-indulgent way. It’s more just, ‘This is my collection.’”

In fact, Taylor hopes to further involve Instagram in the design process in the coming years. “I want to make [Instagram] feel integrated as part of the design,” she said. “I want to show people what the design team is doing every single day because that’s such a cool part of being a small team.”

The young designer has achieved so much since her brand’s 2010 launch, but it seems that she is just getting started. In fact, her next goal for her company is to develop an international fan base and to go global. “We’re starting to focus on Asia and Europe. I feel like that is a huge market for us that we haven’t had time to think about yet.” Judging by the designer’s success on North American shores, it’s safe to say that global domination is only a matter of time for Tanya Taylor. In the meantime, her girlish design aesthetic of floaty frocks, floral embroidery and vibrant patterns is certainly causing a sensation on home turf.