Cou­turier teaches high fash­ion to new gen­er­a­tion

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - CAREERS - By Theresa Tayler

CAL­GARY — At first glance, the build­ing ap­pears to be just an­other house among the sin­gle-fam­ily dwellings that the street. In­side, how­ever, the founders of Ecole Holt Cou­ture have big dreams about where their small, pri­vate school of sewing and de­sign could end up.

Founded by El­friede Holt-kamp in 2008, EHC’S aim is to bring back the art of haute cou­ture, a process founded in Paris dur­ing the mid-19th cen­tury and im­mor­tal­ized by names such as Chris­tian Dior and Coco Chanel in the early and mid-1900s.

“These skills haven’t been taught for­mally any­where since the 1950s. The ap­pren­tice­ships went out the win­dow. There sim­ply aren’t peo­ple that have the knowl­edge and skills to cre­ate cus­tom haute cou­ture any­more,” says El­friede, 86, who runs the school with the help of her sis­ter, Hannelore Ponto, and daugh­ter Jutta Holtkamp.

El­friede says her hope is to bring Cal­gary a univer­sity of cou­ture that will even­tu­ally of­fer a de­gree pro­gram. The Holtkamps are in talks with the Al­berta govern­ment about be­com­ing a fully ac­cred­ited post-sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tion.

EHC takes a max­i­mum of six new stu­dents per class; the first group will grad­u­ate in 2013 with a four-year diploma in cou­ture stud­ies.

“They learn every­thing from how to sew, to the his­tory of fash­ion, to deal­ing with clients when they be­gin in the work­force,” El­friede says.

Stu­dents grad­u­ate with train­ing in the fields of cou­ture, tai­lor­ing, fash­ion de­sign, dress mak­ing, pat­tern mak­ing and al­ter­ations.

El­friede, who was born in Ro­ma­nia, did her train­ing with a mas­ter cou­turier in Ger­many dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. In 1954, she im­mi­grated to Cal­gary with her hus­band and set up a home-cou­ture busi­ness. It’s her am­bi­tion to help her stu­dents es­tab­lish sim­i­lar small-busi­ness mod­els.

Sev­eral of EHC’S stu­dents are al­ready work­ing in the field.

Third-year stu­dent Chelsea Evans re­cently founded Chelsea Evans Cou­ture. She makes cus­tom cloth­ing for per­sonal clients, and does al­ter­ations to ex­ist­ing cloth­ing.

“I re­ally en­joy be­ing able to work for my­self and work from home,” she says.

How­ever, Evans says per­suad­ing her par­ents to back her post-sec­ondary dream of be­com­ing a cou­turier was, at first, a hard sell. Each three­month term of the diploma pro­gram costs up­wards of $4,000, and there are three terms a year for four years.

“It did take a while to con­vince (my par­ents) that this was a le­git­i­mate school, be­cause it’s so new. I don’t think they re­ally came around un­til they started see­ing the projects I was cre­at­ing and how much pas­sion I have for the in­dus­try,” she says. “Now, they’re com­pletely sup­port­ive.” Third-year stu­dent Laura-beth Chisholm has also started her own cou­ture and al­ter­ations busi­ness, while first-year class­mate Kelsey White says she’s still de­cid­ing which area of the field she wants to go into.

There’s one thing all three stu­dents agree upon: They have no in­ter­est in be­com­ing world-fa­mous fash­ion de­sign­ers.

“I just want to sew,” Chisholm says with a laugh.

“When you in­volve your­self in a big la­bel, you lose so much of your creative free­dom and qual­ity of work. I just want to cre­ate good cloth­ing,” White says.

El­friede says she has sewn and cre­ated oneof-a-kind cloth­ing for many high-pro­file clients, in­clud­ing Lady Patricia Brabourne (Lord Mount­bat­ten’s daugh­ter); the Duchess of Kent; former gov­er­nor gen­eral Daniel Roland Mich­ener’s wife, No­rah Wil­lis; and many pri­vate clients in the Cal­gary area.

De­spite her rich his­tory as a cou­turier, El­friede says she didn’t bother to la­bel her cloth­ing with her name un­til re­cently.

“I just never thought of it. I never el­e­vated my­self to think­ing I’m a fash­ion de­signer. I was just do­ing what I do and what I loved,” she says.

— Postmedia News

Stu­dent Chelsea Evans gets her dress fit­ted by Kelsey White and Laura-beth Chisholm at Ecole Holt Cou­ture.

LOR­RAINE HJALTE / CAL­GARY HER­ALD

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