Not too long ago, eager Jak&Jil followers came across a girl in subtle nature prints — the picture of neat Parisian elegance (an obvious artiste) with a trusty chow chow called Lily Bear at her side. The girl — Canadian by birth, European in spirit — was Calla Haynes, the young designer of the then-budding CALLA label. The Parsons alum’s eventual permanent move to Paris from N.Y. was something of an unplanned plan. “I wanted to go to Parsons because it is a great school, and because I love New York,” explains the designer. But when the option to study abroad presented itself in third year, Haynes glimpsed the promise of her future. “I always considered Paris the fashion capital of the world, so I knew I had to go.” She has been in the capital city ever since.
When asked about her native country, the designer speaks with the distance of a sentimental ex-pat. “It’s been 8 years in Paris, 10 years away from Toronto, so it’s difficult,” she begins. “While I’m definitely out of the loop [in] Toronto, I will always consider it home.”
Inspiration tracks the souls of artists who land in Paris; for Calla, the sights and smells of Paris are the hearth of her works’ influence. “It was love at first sight,” she says.
As much as the art scene encapsulating the French capital spurs her passion for art, Haynes as a designer is the combination of time spent in the workshops including that of Robert Normand’s and Olivier Theyskens’s — for whom she worked with for nearly five years at Rochas and later Nina Ricci — and partnerships that saw her share custom prints with contemporaries such as Jeremy Laing, Alexander Wang, Thomas Engel Hart and Erin Fetherston.
It was not long before Haynes would take the unique vision she brought to her collaborations and apply them to a solo collection. “The decision to start my collection was made after lots of careful thought,” she shares. “I felt that I had something special to say, and I wanted the experience of doing it on my own.”
The first two seasons were an ode to Mother Earth, as the designer created prints that were “very inspired by textures we find in nature: rock, sand, light on water, etc.” Grounded in nature’s beauty, the collection is designed for a woman whose sense of style gracefully lingers between ethereal and sophisticated. Haynes expands: “She’s someone with an elevated sense of taste, who is looking for unique, chic clothes that are also comfortable and easy to move in.”
In fact, the ideal “she” is someone quite mirrored by the designer herself. “I imagine her on a typical day: working in her studio, walking her dog, going our for dinner, dancing all night.” For Haynes, her collection does not favour either the Parisian intellect or New York “It” girl, nor any other “type” for that matter; hers is a collection open to any women with a “great sense of style and an artistic point of view,” on the street or on the red carpet.
Accustomed to the ever-shifting, fast-paced and, more often than not, fickle fashion industry, the designer focuses her attention on the work on hand and not the distractions and hype crowding the foreground. “It’s important to focus on the work and stay on path,” she affirms. Though of course, every now and then, she allows herself some indulgence. She admits: “It does feel really good to be validated for your work, to be supported.” Held up and down in equal measure by her support network, the designer’s career path adheres to the credo ‘Pass the salt.’ “It’s an inside joke that essentially means share, collaborate, help one another out,” she explains. “The French say: ‘Send back the elevator.’”
Should we take the growing acclaim of the label, including her recent — National Association for the Development of the Fashion Arts (ANDAM) award nomination — as any indication of the designer’s karma, it would seem the Calla universe is as harmonious as it is visually extraordinary.