Jill Sawatsky is one of those completely magnetic people. Spritelike with contagious enthusiasm, she projects happy vibes. She lives in Winnipeg where she designs *and makes* a collection of clothing which is sold under the moniker Tony Chestnut.
Tony Chestnut was born in Vancouver with its’ first incarnation being a “mini collection” of items presented as a part of Jill’s graduation project from Fashion School. After moving back to Winnipeg in 2006 the collection has grown into season after season of pretty / pretty perfect pieces.
Winnipeg girls are the luckiest (for many reasons) the most of which is that we have first dibs on Tony Chestnut wears (for those who don’t have proximity on their side, Tony Chestnut is online). Many of us take full advantage – Jill has a very loyal following of girls and women that buy out her pieces as fast as she can make them. The best part about Tony Chestnut is that every item just works – works for every shape, every age and every style.
Do you consciously try to present collections of items that can easily fold into any woman’s wardrobe? Or is it an almost meta result of the effortlessness of your aesthetic?
i definitely try to put clothes together that can be folded into an existing wardrobe! it’s no secret that i like layers, and so when i put together the styling for a new collection, i’m always thinking of different ways to wear an item… which jeans to wear underneath, which mens shirt’s collar to have popping out, etc. I think that i always design garments around piling them up with peoples’ classics that they can’t live without. i don’t want to change the way people dress, i think i just want to enhance it and give it some attitude and a silhouette.
Where do you draw your biggest influence?
my biggest influences are drawn from watching people go through life. i love to watch (women, primarily) taking on challenges, orchestrating their priorities, learning, failing, kicking ass, and just expressing themselves. that makes me do what i do. i feel like i want to kind of help women feel a sense of capability in their day-to-day lives, and giving them great clothes to wear is a tangible and exciting way for me to do that.
Are there any fashion designers that you’re currently enamoured with? What about from the past? Anyone who has really influenced your work?
hmmm, fashion designers. here’s my favourites:
-marni for quirky textures/patterns
-anne demeulemeester for interesting shapes and silhouettes
-chloe for modest femininity
-alexander wang for classic androgynous sexy
-stella mccartney for being so damn smart
individual looks that i feel inspired by are the smart cosmopolitan women from the 70s that don’t wear makeup… the women in annie hall, manhattan (i guess most woody allen movies), but also my great aunts from that time. smart women.
i’m also incredibly inspired by old mennonite men and women. the uber modest colours and shapes mixed with the necessity for functionality just GETS me. i feel as though i’m always striving for ways to integrate those looks and the feeling of those people into something more high fashion and evolved. theres a humour in it for me, and i like a good dose of humour and irony in with my beauty :)
I have always been interested in fashion, because I truly believe that clothing has transformative properties. Do you feel this way or do you have a less weighty relationship to garments?
i definitely agree with your opinion of clothing having transformative properties. that is a well-put statement! i also think that i see the notion of fashion as a means of art inside a vehicle of necessity. it’s clothing! you have to wear it anyway, so treating it as a means of expression is just pragmatic. not many other mediums of art are also a basic necessity.
I love that the shapes you work with, for the most part, leave space between the garment and the body – what draws you to this silhouette?
i feel like there are lots of reasons why i make clothing with generous shape/volume. paramount, being that i just like how it looks. as i mentioned before, i love layers, and the look of textile falling off of a frame, creating movement, whether it’s rigid or fluid, equals beauty to me.
i also love the idea of a woman being able to wear a garment in a way that is only her own. it’s thrilling to me to see a garment really WORK on a size 0 woman, and then take on a different shape on a plus sized woman. fabric and volume allow this to happen. i like the idea of malleable clothing, and making a garment work in order to suit your body.
i have also come to terms with the fact that, although it seems brazenly cliche to say so, that i just like being able to prove that a woman can be dead sexy when she is covered up. women’s bodies have the most beautiful shape, and playing with the notion of showing parts of that shape, while hiding other parts underneath something beautiful– well, it goes back to what i said earlier about liking beauty with some irony.
I must make it known that you have some of the cutest kids around. How has being a mother affected your work? Has it? Has your personal style evolved as you’ve grown up, had kids? Has Tony Chestnut evolved alongside?
my kids have changed everything about me! and that definitely includes my work and my personal style. as every mom will admit, when it comes to dressing yourself for a day with kids, functionality is key. pockets, easy fabrics, simple (forgiving) shapes, and easy care. really, these were all things that mattered to me before having children as well, but children have a way of amplifying EVERYTHING, including your daily dressing needs :)
so, as i design clothing, i have that in mind. whether your challenge that you’re considering in dressing for your day is children, or a rigorous commute, or a long and taxing day of work… whatever it is, i want to make clothing for these women. not just moms. women that work their asses off. and that definitely includes moms.
i have always had a very androgynous sense of style, and overall look, and actually think that I’ve veered even more that way since having kids. my body changed to become more feminine, and with that i almost fought harder to hold onto a boyish look.
Although I am sure you love it all, what is one piece from your most recent collection that you love to wear the most?
my favourite garment from the collection is definitely the sheer frock. i just think it’s the perfect marriage of quirky and impractical (a sheer, midi length, shift shaped romper? what?) and gloriously effortless. **EQ3 note – I too have this dress and wear it religiously – it’s fair to say every girl should own one**
the garment i’ve worn the most from this collection, however, would have to be the sweatsuit dress. the name says it all.
Do you prefer dinner, or dessert?
what is dinner without dessert?? you cannot have one without the other! just as i like my beauty with humour, i like my red meat with a healthy side of dark chocolate. xo.
For those living in Winnipeg make sure to check out Jill’s sale tomorrow!
Saturday, dec 13.
In the luckygirl studio at 70 Albert st (above hoopers).