Couturier teaches high fashion to new generation
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.