From Fly Fishing To Fashion Design: Meet Curtis Oland

From fly fishing to sculpture and now fashion design, Curtis Oland has done it all. The fresh new Canadian designer was barely out of university before he was catapulted into a competition last summer against some of the top emerging menswear designers in Canada. As a young child he tells me he was “colourful, theatrical and ambiguous.”


Winning gave me confidence, replacing the doubt and hesitation that I was feeling throughout school.


Photo: @ChalkBoards

In only a few quick weeks he assembled a collection to present to judges, ultimately winning the 2016 Emerging Menswear Designer Award. I had the pleasure of interviewing this bright, young, thoughtful millennial as he prepared for TOM F/W17 where he will return with his own feature presentation and trust me when I say, what he shares in his interview will inspire, enlighten and intrigue you.


I told a story that was very personal.


Photo: @ChalkBoards

How does Curtis Oland define style? What paradoxical colour palette will he feature in his next collection? Why might this be his last presentation for a while? Find out all this and so much in this edition of #stmINTERVIEWED.

Photo Courtesy of Designer

STM – So you won the EMDA (Emerging Menswear Designer Award) at Toronto Men’s Fashion Week back in August 2016. What were you feeling at the time and what did winning that award actually mean for you? Why do you think you came out on top?

Curtis – I had just finished my graduating collection at Ryerson in April, and was scouted by TOM at the Mass Exodus show. I was still in the midst of completing my degree, so that made me feel like I was already doing something right at least. I was notified that I would be a finalist in the EMDA competition only a month before I had to present my 10 looks to the judges, and I hadn’t even begun producing any garments for the new collection. The competition really tested my capabilities when it comes to all aspects of design, as I had only a few weeks to fabric source, pattern draft, cut, sew, and style 20+ garments. I was filled with a lot of stress (understandably), but also a thrilling rush of creative, intuitive energy.


The many excursions into the wilderness have shaped the person I am today.


Photo: @ChalkBoards

Winning gave me confidence, replacing the doubt and hesitation that I was feeling throughout school. I think I came out on top because I told a story that was very personal, and true to my heritage as a Canadian. This wasn’t a collection you could already find somewhere, and in some ways, it was somewhat unconventional for menswear.


… which I find pretty funny and relevant to my foray into fashion.


Photo: @ChalkBoards

STM – The collection you won with, tell me about your inspiration.

Curtis – I titled the collection “Oyama Lake”, which is named after my grandparent’s favourite fishing spot in the mountains above my hometown of Lake Country in the Okanagan Valley. I grew up surrounded by nature, with untouched mountains, lush forests, and pristine lakes and rivers to discover and explore.


I didn’t see clothing, I saw sculpture.


Photo: @ChalkBoards

I was a bit of a reluctant naturist at times, and would make a fuss about going fishing, or camping, or long road trips. But my family and I always had so much fun, and the many excursions into the wilderness have shaped the person I am today. “Oyama Lake” is an ode to my perspective as a young boy going on fishing trips with my family. We were fly fisherman, and my dad taught me how to make artificial flies, which uses different kinds of animal hair and feathers and thread to lure fish. I always made eccentric, crazy flies that never caught any fish, but my dad would still let me use them.


Design school is WAY different than art school, which I soon discovered.


Photo: @ChalkBoards

Choosing my fishing attire was always such an ordeal, which I find pretty funny and relevant to my foray into fashion. The collection is a depiction of that reluctant yet enthusiastic nature child, and is about both fantasy and utility.

STM – How did you come to find yourself in the world of fashion? What brought you here?

Curtis – I believe I have always been interested in fashion, ever since I could dress myself, but it wasn’t until my first couple of years of art school that I started to pay attention to the big, outside world of fashion. I discovered Alexander McQueen while watching Fashion Television, and I became obsessed. I didn’t see clothing, I saw sculpture. I had to take a lot of art history courses, which fostered an interest in costume, and the history of textiles and fashion. My sculptural work took a lot of inspiration from these avenues, and I graduated with a strong desire to learn more.


I took some time off to go back to BC and heal my mind and soul.


Photo: @Merzetti

I knew I needed to learn how to make anything I wanted to, out of fabric. I wanted to combine the world of fashion and art, so I applied to Ryerson and ended up getting in. Design school is WAY different than art school, which I soon discovered. I found I had to really hone in my creativity, and think more technically, more marketable. In the end, I made it through the four years, and here I am!

STM – Winning awards and getting recognition is great, but at the end of the day you want to sell of course as well. The first time you set out to approach a wholesaler, what happened? What did you learn?


I hear the call of the art world beckoning me once again…


Photo: @Merzetti

Curtis – I will be honest, and tell you I actually haven’t approached a wholesaler yet! I still feel like I have more to learn, about the industry, and about myself. I love the work I have done thus far, but I am waiting until I feel 100% sure of my product and its marketability before I approach wholesalers.

STM – What have you been focusing your energy on the last three or four months? What are you hoping to do next?

Curtis – In the wind-down after TOM, I retreated a bit. I am still quite new to this world, and I needed to self reflect, and rejuvenate my creative energies. I took some time off to go back to BC and heal my mind and soul. I have been doing a lot of research, and soul searching for the next collection, really thinking about what inspires me, and how I want to convey that to the world.


We are in an era where genderless clothing is starting a revolution.


Photo: @Merzetti

I’ve been talking to a lot of people I want to collaborate with, other artists, designers, dancers, models, people that inspire me. In planning the new collection, I have kept in mind that this might be the last conventional presentation I will be doing for the next long while. I hear the call of the art world beckoning me once again, so I may find myself in a kind of fashion/art hybrid of a mind set.


Expect to see a very bright, soft palette, unconventional for fall/winter.


STM – Which Canadian in the fashion industry do you admire and why?

Curtis – Rad Hourani. I love that his creative background isn’t confined to one medium. He’s achieved so much yet he’s still so young. And I mean, he’s the first unisex designer to present a couture collection in Paris, AND the first Canadian! He is literally going to be in the fashion history textbooks that fashion students read 50 years from now. We are in an era where genderless clothing is starting a revolution in fashion, and he is at the forefront of that.


Whether that style is good or bad, well that’s all relative.


Photo Courtesy of Designer

STM – Tell me about the next collection.

Curtis – I will be showing my FW17 collection at TOMFW this coming March. Expect to see a very bright, soft palette, unconventional for fall/winter. You will see some familiar styles but some new silhouettes, and new textural details. There is an ethereal quality to the collection, somewhat alien, yet at the same time entirely down to earth.


I think what matters most is if someone truly embodies their style, their authenticity.


Photo Courtesy of Designer

STM – How do you define fashion vs style?

Curtis – Fashion is just the medium, the tool, the paintbrush. Style is what you create with it. Style is entirely up to the individual, and how they want to express themselves, who they want to be. How are they going to take fashion, in all its forms, the infinite combinations of garments and accessories available to them, and make it their own, and feel like themselves. Whether that style is good or bad, well that’s all relative. I think what matters most is if someone truly embodies their style, their authenticity. I could care less if that authenticity is a stained white t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants, all the power to you!

STM – What’s your one tip to dressing for men? For women?

Curtis – Don’t be afraid of change. Exploration and experimentation is the greatest gift you can give yourself, both with fashion, and with every other aspect of life.

Join Curtis Oland on his journey by following him on instagram at @curtisoland and grab your tickets now to his Toronto Men’s Fashion Week runway presentation, 8pm March 6, 2017 at Waterworks, 505 Richmond Street West, Toronto by clicking here.

Photo credit given where known.

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