“My mother is an artist, so growing up I was always engaged in some art project. She encouraged me to be creative and to think outside of the box from an early age” explains Toronto Fashion Designer and Blanche Macdonald Fashion Design graduate Hilary MacMillan.
Every designer’s story is a little different; for some, it takes time for the realization to slowly dawn, but for others, it’s an innate sense of purpose. For Hilary, it’s as though every step along the way was kismet, propelling her to where she is today.
Toronto-raised, Hilary came to Vancouver to pursue a Degree in Political Science and Economics at the University of British Columbia. However, she decided to change direction, recognizing that her life-long love affair with fashion could, in fact, become her career.
With a clear artistic vision and a passion to create for the modern urban women she’s surrounded by, Hilary’s namesake label has been turning heads since its inception in 2012. Fast forward to present day, Hilary has established brand stockists in Canada, the United States, and Morocco, been requested by celebrities to pull her garments for Toronto International Film Festival, and has shown both Fall and Spring collections at Toronto Fashion Week. Our conclusion: this was always her calling.
Following her graduation, Hilary moved back to Toronto to help her sister with her independent jewelry store, Elle Hardware, in the chic and artistic neighbourhood of Queen Street West. Toronto, often referred to as Canada’s Fashion epicenter, is fuelled by a collaborative creative energy. This vibrant and rich arts scene is home for Hilary. Using the skill set and training from her time in Vancouver, her strength and aptitude for design were able to take flight. Maybe it was the ever-inspiring climate of her urban neighbourhood, or just a yearning to create, but it was during this time that Hilary designed her first independent capsule collection.
I started to show at Toronto Fashion Week. This propelled my designs further into the industry. People were beginning to recognize my brand and who I was. It was a very exciting time.
“I had designed a capsule collection and I was able to sell it at ELLE Hardware. I was fortunate to have this outlet to see how customers responded to my garments and reacted to each piece. From there, I started wholesaling to other boutiques and attending trade shows to gain contacts within the industry.”
Armed with insider knowledge on her garments’ appeal, Hilary was ready to take the next big leap.
“I did a couple more collections like this and then I started to show at Toronto Fashion Week. This propelled my designs further into the industry. People were beginning to recognize my brand and who I was. It was a very exciting time.”
Hilary pulls inspiration from a myriad of places: her Scottish heritage, her love of realist art, and her passion for travel. The latter can be seen in her Spring/Summer 2019 collection which was inspired by Moroccan tiles she saw while sight-seeing. She also draws from nature, including the Canadian landscape, and the history of fashion itself, with the 1970s being a favourite reference in her recent work. Reflecting back on her time at Blanche Macdonald, it’s evident that her education continues to be a contributing force behind her collections.
“I loved Fashion History and learning about past designers and design history. I’ve always been inspired by past decades and I still think back to that whenever I’m producing a new collection. It’s all in the details: epaulettes, military, corsetry. I carry this knowledge forward as it is still a huge inspiration for me.”
I am constantly growing as an artist and discovering new techniques. Each season I like to see how I have improved from the past seasons. This really drives me to try and discover new ways to be inventive and push myself.
While at Blanche Macdonald Hilary took advantage of a multitude of opportunities, knowing they would be critical for her career.
“During my time at school, I interned with Vancouver-based designer Erin Templeton and volunteered as a dresser as much as I could, gaining the inner workings of behind the scenes of a Fashion Show. Most of the Instructors at Blanche Macdonald are working in the industry and they are there to help set you up for success. A standout instructor for me was Jenny Hedberg. She had her own design company and gave us real insight into the skills we would need to make it.”
Hilary has built a career around creativity and passion, which only becomes more evident with each new collection she designs. Though each season allows Hilary to soar higher, she still has a clear memory of her most momentous collection.
“My most memorable collection to date would be Fall/Winter 2014. This is when I started developing my own prints. My mother is a realist painter and so she designed this beautiful pheasant which we produced as a repeat pattern on fabric. Since then, I have always tried to develop a print that is aesthetically me; keeping a signature pattern each season.”
Designing custom prints each season adds complexity to Hilary’s collections, illustrating just how much her design abilities have grown.
“I am constantly growing as an artist and discovering new techniques. Each season I like to see how I have improved from the past seasons. This really drives me to try and discover new ways to be inventive and push myself.”
After Toronto Fashion Week’s three year hiatus, she is excited to return and show her collection on the Spring/Summer 2019 runway. ”This season we’re doing more of a theatrical presentation. We’re making it a show show. It’s an opportunity to be creative and really show our stuff”.
We submitted some items to Sophie Grégoire Trudeau. We weren't sure if she'd be wearing our garments so seeing her in our outfit was really awesome!
Off the runway, her garments have been spotted on the cover of Glow Magazine and on actors Kim Cattrall, Elisha Phaneuf, and Olympian Tessa Virtue. She has even had the opportunity to dress Mme. Sophie Grégoire Trudeau for a video appearance at the Canadian Art and Fashion Awards. “We submitted some items to Sophie Grégoire Trudeau. We weren’t sure if she’d be wearing our garments so seeing her in our outfit was really awesome!”
For Hilary these are the just some highlights of her career so far, but there is so much to look forward to on the horizon. “We’ll be in 5 Hudson’s Bay stores across Canada and on E-commerce as well with our Autumn/Winter 2018 collection”. Having her garments in a cross-Canada retailer is monumental for Hilary. “Getting into a national retailer is the biggest thing for us. They have such a big reach across Canada so it’s an amazing accomplishment!”
There are exciting developments in-house too. The Hilary MacMillan label will become a fully vegan clothing line by 2019. “My collections used a lot of fur and leather about three to four years ago. I became more aware of what goes on in the industry and I didn’t feel comfortable using those materials anymore”. Hilary continues “It’s been a slow process, one that took a lot of research and time. We’ve already cut out leather, fur, and feathers and in this upcoming collection there will be no silk or wool”. This thoughtfulness that Hilary brings to her brand is what helps win her so many fans; that and the cutting-edge nature of her collections.
Innovation, ambition, and talent: Hilary is the embodiment of these qualities and the prime example of what comes when you pursue what you love.
“I love when I see someone wearing my garments. The fact that they chose that piece to put on that day, that someone actively sought out something you created and wanted to wear it—it’s a big moment.”
We know for Hilary, there will be many more big moments to come.