Pittsburgh has come a long way since being named No. 1 on GQ’s Worst Dressed List in 2011. A string of boutiques offering local wares have popped up in neighborhood business districts. There is a cadre of local designers whose social-media followings have launched them onto a national stage. And events celebrating their work and the city’s growing style scene are occurring annually.
Among the local stars whose work is putting Pittsburgh on the map is Elaine Healy. And last week, the Pittsburgh-based fashion designer debuted her new collection at Vancouver Fashion Week F/W 2018 Season.
“The backstage manager actually reached out to me and told me she found me on Instagram,” Healy told City Paper, who spoke to the designer as she was preparing for the big event. “It’s definitely true that in this digital age, a lot of us definitely get caught up on that medium, but there’s something to be said for putting that effort in for your brand. It definitely paid off for me. If you can do it in a smart and constructive way, it can pay off.”
Healy’s brand focuses on luxury womenswear and unisex styles. Known for her signature faux-fur pieces, the designer uses new technologies to create garments that are both intricate and wearable.
“What’s really kept me excited about the medium and the industry is all the technological developments that are coming at us at breakneck speed,” Healy says. “There’s always something new, whether it’s a new process or new evolution with 3-D printing, laser machines for cutting and speeding up the manufacturing process. You’re always learning through keeping up with what’s going on.”
Healy got her start in the fashion industry when she learned how to sew during a home-economics class. She got her first sewing machine when she was 12.
“In home [economics], we had to learn how to sew and I kind of got the bug from there,” Healy says. “I was always sort of playing around with different patterns and learning things on my own. I started to pick apart T-shirts and thrifted garments to learn how garments were constructed. I had a very curious nature.”
Later, Healy went to college at Ohio University and studied print-making. That’s where she found a love for prints and designing her own graphics and patterns. She took what she learned about screenprinting and lithography, and applied that experience to textiles.
“I realized what was next for me was to learn the technical skills of fashion design, all of the construction, pattern drafting, draping and that kind of thing,” Healy says.
Healy went on to study fashion at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. There, she was first exposed to the ways in which technology can influence fashion when she had access to industrial machines like laser cutters. This relationship between technology, machinery and fashion is something Healy explores through her work.
“What I really strive for in my work is this man vs. machine marriage of opposites,” Healy says. “So maybe using a heavy piece of technology to create an end result that looks dainty or handmade.”
It’s the theme behind her latest collection, shown last week in Vancouver. To create the pieces, she combined machine processing with hand-sewing techniques. Made with utility fabrics in a minimal color palette, the pieces are fresh and modern, with a sense of timelessness about them.
“I’m constantly wanting to set myself off from previous collections,” Healy says. “So as I use different fabrics and combine them in different ways, I’m also thinking of how to add onto them, or even manipulate the surface of that fabric to make it different again and make it stand out. There’s always something new to be done.”
To get your hands on a piece from one of Healy’s previous collections, visit her online shop where you’ll find a mix of crop tops and jackets, many made from her staple faux fur in colorful hues ranging from bubblegum pink to lilac. Healy uses a lot of technical fabrics, such as utility mesh, neoprene and scuba jersey. But her staple fabric, faux fur, is where she can best explore the dichotomy of hard versus soft that makes her pieces so versatile.
“The girl or man or woman I’m trying to appeal to wants to stand out, is creative in their own wardrobe and really versatile as well,” Healy says. “I like my customers to create their own look.”