Clad in layers of fabric and a vintage coat, Hannah Eriksson’s pixie-like face greets me with a smile as she fluffs out her half-blue hair from the sticky Vancouver rain. Having recently graduated from the Fashion Design program with top honours, Hannah was chosen by the organizers of Vancouver Fashion Week as one of the breakout designers to sponsor. Though she is relatively new to the design scene, her work has left our Design faculty and the fashion community of Vancouver stunned. Dedicated, artistic, and incredibly hard working, meet one of the most talented and creative artist/designers in Vancouver—who also happens to be the winner of not one, but two awards at 2017’s Annual Fall Fashion Showcase: Hannah Eriksson.
You made quite a splash in your year in the Fashion Design program, winning two awards at your graduate fashion show—Best Portfolio and the coveted Overall Achievement Award. How did that feel?
It was completely overwhelming. I definitely didn’t expect it. Portfolio was conceivable for me because of my art background – but Overall Achievement? That one was such an absolute shock.
Tell us a bit about your graduate collection, Elated Exhaustion. Where did it come from?
It’s really hard to say. . .I’m still trying to figure it out myself! My designs are much harder to understand where they are coming from than my paintings. My paintings are abstract but there’s a direct emotional weight that I’m putting
Honestly, it was just such a rollercoaster. I’ve definitely never worked so hard in my life.
into them. I do that with design too of course, but it’s harder to draw a line between a feeling or thought and 8 leather pockets that are attached by a cord!
What is your design process like?
I get the idea and I sketch it over and over and over until I feel that it’s become what it should be. Then I draft it. It’s not ‘designed’ until it’s finished though. I often add to it or change it until I’m happy with it.
Now, tell us a bit about yourself. You’re an artist and a fashion designer. Have you always been artistic? What came first?
I’ve always been into art. I didn’t plan or want to go into design until I was in it. I always wanted to be a painter. Actually I wanted to be a geologist until I was 11! But after that, it was all about painting though I had the thought of maybe going into sculpting eventually.
So how did that turn into a future you taking Fashion Design?
I travelled all over after high school and I was drawing and painting a lot on the road. Partway through my travels, I kept having dreams and thoughts of this black organza cape dress and no matter what I did, I couldn’t shake it. It was driving me crazy! Obviously I didn’t have a sewing machine or fabric with me so I kept drawing it and changing it until I feel like I knew exactly what it was supposed to be. I lived in Brazil for five months and that whole time, I kept seeing the dress and drawing it. When I got back to Vancouver, I had no money and I was sleeping on my friend’s floor. I only had a few things that I didn’t get rid of before I went travelling and weirdly, one of them was this old sewing machine. I set it up in my friend’s room, got some fabric and just started making things! Soon after that I became roommates with [CurliQue Talent and Blanche Macdonald Makeup grad] Evelyn [Affleck] and we would always talk about us doing an artistic collaboration. It was actually her who made me look at Fashion Design as something to pursue and go to school for.
Were you still hesitant at that point to enroll for Design?
Oh, yeah! I made an appointment to meet with someone at the school and I went to the coffee shop down the street right before and I remember standing, waiting for my coffee thinking “It’s OK that this isn’t going to go well because you’re supposed to be a painter.” But then I walked into the appointment and my Director, Pearl was so great and so kind. She also convinced me that maybe this was something that I needed to do. Three days later I was enrolled.
Was your family surprised?
They were pretty excited. Everyone on my dad’s side is more artistic than anything else. Most people were kind of like “Oh yeah, that makes sense” when I told them. It seemed to make sense to everyone but me!
Wow! So now that you’ve graduated and completed your very own collection—how was your time here?
It was absolutely crazy. Honestly, it was just such a rollercoaster. I’ve definitely never worked so hard in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much stress and so much luck at the same time. It was preceded by a year of me running from fashion and then it felt like being here was a whole year of me finally being in the right place. I have so much gratitude to the mentors that supported me in such a crazy year.
It seems the feeling is mutual! Tyler, the Fashion Director, only has wonderful things to say about you and your work.
Oh gosh. Tyler is a person that you take so seriously in the program. His history [in the fashion industry] is so intimidating. The first three months of the program were really challenging for me, actually. I was spending 24 hours in class, 30 doing homework, and then working. When we first started meeting with Tyler in month four of the program and I was unaware of whether or not I really had a place in the industry, and the idea of showing my first round of collection sketches was certainly unnerving. But Tyler told me it was beautiful and that he was excited I was in the program. That was one of the first times I thought “I should be here.” He was just so, so helpful.
I do work well on deadlines because you’re kind of forced to make and do the best you can in a limited time. Working like that helps me keep connected to my ideas all the way through the process.
You were recently sponsored to show your first collection at Vancouver Fashion Week. How did that feel?
It had only been a month since I’d graduated and been able to breathe again. I’d started in the Fashion Design department as a Teacher’s Assistant, it was literally my first day, and Tyler called me into his office and was basically like “They’re offering you this. Do you want to do it?” I was still so fatigued from the program and the graduation rush, plus I’d never even considered it. I have this incredible capability to never see anything coming! So to shorten the story, my first reaction was terror. I had three days to think about it but by the time I went home that night, I knew I’d kick myself for years if i didn’t do it.
So you added to your graduate collection and showed at VFW.
Yep! It was more so a diversification of my collection. My option to show at VFW was two months before the show so I had to draft and design my new pieces in three weeks, and then I had to actually make them. I ended up showing 8 looks in total. I took one piece that was only a concept in my portfolio but I designed 9 new pieces for my looks that came from absolutely no where. I had no idea what I wanted them to be but—they came out and they’re my collection!
One of my coats had 37 pockets on it and if I didn’t have a deadline, I may have never finished it because it was NUTS.
Is it hard to balance deadlines with creativity and getting everything ‘just so?’
It’s tricky for sure. It involves a lot of not sleeping for me. I do work well on deadlines because you’re kind of forced to make and do the best you can in a limited time. Working like that helps me keep connected to my ideas all the way through the process. It also makes you actually finish things. One of my coats had 37 pockets on it and if I didn’t have a deadline, I may have never finished it because it was NUTS.
Where would you like to see your designs go?
Eventually I’d love to be part of larger scale artistic collaborations. My dream is that these collaborations would be big enough to attract an audience. Maybe part of massive art expos that are multi-media based with photography, dancers, and a whole bunch of artists and their art. Of course I’d love to see people wearing my clothes but I don’t design my clothes for commercial purposes. Right now, and hopefully forever, I can design with art being my only purpose because to me, there’s nothing more rewarding than creating and seeing your work in play and collaboration with other, fellow artists.
Dreams do come true as it seems. Hannah is slated to join in on Vancity Street’s next event, Ascension. Vancity Street brings local street creatives together to create culture, collaborate, and of course, showcase their artistic mediums.