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Blanche Macdonald

Grad Success


Fashion Design Graduate Jesse Samuels Sews On-Screen Style in Hollywood North

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Jesse Samuels never planned on entering the movie business. But when the aspiring designer was presented with a chance to create clothes for the entire watching world to see, she jumped at the opportunity. In her role as a seamstress in Vancouver’s ever-busy film and TV industry, she’s flexing her fashion muscles on a daily basis.

“You’re making something brand new every day,” she beams. “It’s incredibly creative because you continually run into issues. You need to know how to problem-solve and use your skills to make it work. All I ever wanted to do was sew for a living so this is perfect!”

You’ve seen Jesse’s clothes in Imaginary Mary, Legends of Tomorrow and The 100. You’ll soon spot more on the forthcoming series Lost in Space and Snowpiercer. Sew far, sew good.

“When we’re building costumes the designer will make sketches and bring those to a cutter, who will interpret it into a pattern,” explains Jesse. “I work with the cutter to actually make the toile or the muslin, which are two terms for the first version of the garment. The designer will approve that and pick out fabrics and notions. At that point it also has to be approved by the producer and director. Then I make the finished garment. It can go surprisingly smoothly but if it’s not approved we have to start from scratch. That can happen a day before we have to start shooting.”

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Growing up in Calgary and Montreal, a career in film and TV was the last thing on the mind of the lifelong fashionista.

“I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in clothes. Apparently the first word I ever said was ‘shoe.’ My Mom showed me how to use her sewing machine. I used to destroy pillowcases and my own clothes making outfits for my dolls. I’ve been tearing up my own clothing ever since.”

While completing a degree in journalism Jesse became a fixture on the Montreal style scene, writing about the city’s declining fashion industry, while simultaneously finding inspiration from the brave souls keeping it alive.

“Montreal Fashion Week and the city’s manufacturing were on the way out. Designers were moving to Toronto or Paris but the young people I was meeting were amazing. I realized that I wanted to be making clothing, not just talking to people making clothing.”

The solution was simple. Jesse needed to find a fashion school.

“I visited Vancouver and saw a Blanche Macdonald Fashion Design graduation show. I was so impressed. A lot of the other schools I’d seen seemed geared to ready to wear clothing and that didn’t really interest me. Blanche Macdonald students seemed so creative!

“When I started the program I knew nothing about formal pattern making and had zero illustration skills. I was terrified going into the illustration class. I’d always thought that if you can’t draw, that’s that. Lisa Gellert started explaining that if you practice, you’ll get better. I started practicing and was surprised with how far I came. I fell in love with drawing and started really enjoying it.”

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Jesse’s year at Blanche Macdonald culminated with a collection for men and women inspired, among other things, by French New Wave and Congolese style mavens, Les Sapeurs. A standing ovation and an award for academic excellence were deserved rewards for a designer who had put her heart and soul into her creations.

“When my models came down the runway people started clapping and standing up taking photos. It felt like something I’d been trying to get out of me for my entire life had finally emerged.”

Jesse began working as a client coordinator at men’s custom fashion house Indochino before exchanging tailored suits for leather jackets at motorcycle clothing specialists, Lords of Gastown.

“Mel Watts at Blanche gave me the number of Jill Kacic, who runs the factory for Lords of Gastown. Mel also introduced me to Derek Baskerville. He’s been incredibly helpful. My cousin’s husband works in film and TV. He asked me if I’d ever considered doing costumes. I hadn’t but it didn’t sound like a bad idea. Derek gave me a lot of advice and got me my first job, which was an indy called Scorched Earth. It was set in a post-apocalyptic world where acid rain had torn everyone’s clothes apart. Derek was the assistant designer on this film. He gave us a lot of direction and we would loosely follow that. It was very creative and fun. We could put our own input into it. I thought, ‘This is neat.’

“On that show I met a woman called Cathy Darby. She asked if I could do alterations on a pilot she was working on. That was Imaginary Mary. The designers let me into the fittings so I could make the alterations. I had become a seamstress, which is how I’m listed in the union now.”

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Jesse’s experience with leather at Lords of Gastown led her to a position on action movie The Marine 5. Its plot mostly consists of the eponymous ex-marine hero battling by a (stylishly dressed) biker gang. Perfect for Jesse.

“On Marine 5 I met Julie Edgeley, who was about to start as the assistant designer on Legends of Tomorrow, which became my first full time job. It’s a show with superheroes and time-travelling worlds, so there are always opportunities to build costumes. I helped out on The 100, making clothes look like they were cobbled together by the different tribes in the series. That’s what I love to do.

“Our team had a viewing party when the first episode of my season of Legends of Tomorrow came out. We had painstakingly made lace collars for a group of musketeers and when I saw them on screen I was overwhelmed thinking, ‘I did that!’

“Right now I’m working on the pilot of Snowpiercer with the designer Nglia Dickson. She won an Oscar for Lord of the Rings. She’s lovely and her designs are really fun and interesting.”

Jesse has created a place for herself in Vancouver’s vibrant film and TV industry in the present, but that doesn’t mean she won’t return to her first love at some point in the future. For a seamstress and designer with her skills and work ethic, the opportunities are endless.

“I’m a million times better seamstress and drafter than I was when I left Fashion School. In film you don’t get to stop. The clothing has to be made. NOW! The more I know how to do, the more possibility I can see in garment construction and pattern making. Now I’m so much more creative with how I draw and design. Working in film has helped me become a better designer.”



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