April 30, 2018
The "rainbow effect" of Vivienne Poy
Fashion Resource Centre exhibition at Newnham Campus
As a fashion designer, the Hon. Dr. Vivienne Poy is known for her unique handmade couture knitwear. But the Fashion Arts alum would be the first to admit she didn’t exactly pick up the knitting needles herself.
“I’m not a good knitter,” she said. “I do the thinking. I come up with a sketch and make paper patterns as if creating a fabric garment.”
Poy’s signature technique involved using yarns, pearls and beads to create her own fabric. The pieces were hand-knitted or crocheted and sewn together — a skill she learned at Seneca. Recently, the School of Fashion’s Fashion Resource Centre celebrated Poy’s collection in an exhibition titled Vivienne Poy: A Legacy of Fashion, Politics and Philanthropy at The Boutique at Newnham Campus.
t the height of her fashion career, Poy employed about 30 knitters. She operated her eponymous high-end designer knitwear boutique in Toronto’s Yorkville for 14 years in the 1980s and wholesaled across Canada, the United States and Japan.
“I’m very exact and calculation is very important in my design,” Poy said. “I had smart knitters because my design concepts were complicated. They used to say to me jokingly that they needed a PhD in knitting to work for me, and we did come up with some interesting textures and techniques that I’ve not seen done anywhere.”
Poy closed her boutique in 1995 to pursue graduate school (a master’s degree followed by a PhD). Throughout her high-profile career — as a member of the Senate of Canada and chancellor of the University of Toronto — she brought her colourful fashion with her wherever she went.
“Fashion, it becomes part of you,” she said. “To this day, people remember how I put myself together at certain events. It becomes part of me and I don’t even have to think about it. When you feel that you dress appropriately, it gives you confidence. It comes naturally.”
Last year, Poy established the Vivienne Poy Fashion Arts Entrance Scholarship and the Vivienne Poy Creative Knitwear Award in support of Fashion Arts students. Thanks also to several donations she has made to Seneca since 1992, the Fashion Resource Centre is home to more than 275 examples of her knitwear designs, complete with original patterns. The collection plays an important role in the history of fashion, said Professor Dale Peers, the centre’s Costume Co-ordinator.
“She used the mediums of knitwear and colour to showcase her iconic way of incorporating embellishments. These pieces of art create an incredible rainbow effect when seen together,” Peers said.
“Her style also reflects the fashionable silhouette of the decade — the affluent ’80s, the shoulder pads and power dressing for women who were breaking the corporate glass ceiling.”
And as Poy would have it, almost all her pieces are machine washable in the hand-wash cycle. “I’m very practical,” she said.
The exhibition at Seneca marked the first time Poy saw many of her designs as they have been kept in storage over the years.
Asked if she still remembered every one she has donated, “Oh yes, I designed all of them, so yes, I remember each piece,” she said.