The Canadian suburbs do not spring to mind when you think of fashion forward environments, but designer Ryan Mercer used his creativity and drive, in spite of his surroundings, to become an innovative up-and-coming designer.
Creating a collection of geometric mustards, crimson rouges and laser-etched creams, the Royal College of Art Master’s graduate uses his obsessive attention to detail to create pieces that are intricately stitched or lashed together using leather cording and metal eyelets. The result is feminine pieces with a sort of carnal foundation that are sure to warm the fashionable hearts of women all over the world – even to face a Canadian winter.
How did you get into fashion?
I developed an interest in fashion while working at the grocery store when I was in high school. Whenever there was downtime, I would flip through the limited selection of fashion magazines for sale at the end of the checkout counter. It was my introduction to an industry far removed from the suburbs of Toronto, Canada.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Oshawa. A city known for little else besides it's General Motor's car and truck plant and hockey. Not a terribly creative environment but it motivated me to search for more and to leave as quickly as I could.
How do you define your particular style or approach to fashion?
I think it took a long time to develop what I would now consider my style. The school I attended for my BA was obsessed with industry standards and spent little time focusing on the creative or personal side of fashion. It was a great foundation but it wasn’t until I arrived at the Royal College of Art that I truly indulged in my own influences and creative potential.
What has influenced your approach?
I think movies from the 80’s like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off had an impact. The leather jackets and simple T-shirt American style dressing is something I can relate to. I’m still on the search for the perfect leopard cardigan; similar to the one Matthew Broderick wears in the film.
What is the problem with fashion today?
I think the problem is that most consumers want everything cheap and quickly. There no longer seems to be a sense of anticipation and everything new seems old within seconds and quickly forgotten in the never-ending thirst for the next. I wish designers could concentrate on two collections a year and really perfect those offerings, rather than rushing to create both pre-fall, resort and any other project or collaboration they need to make money.
What problems have you faced as an up & coming designer?
I think the problem is always money and financing, not to mention working visas for over seas students. Unfortunately I was unable to stay in the UK after graduating with an MA, but I now have the opportunity to work with a Canadian based brand looking to expand their outerwear and tailoring categories. I’m actually tired of overanalyzing how difficult this industry can be and have instead invested my energy into gaining experience and fighting for my ideas.
Do you think it would be easier being a designer in another country?
I think every country has their challenges and strength. I believe it’s a matter of discovering where you fit in and then digging in and working hard.
What are you most proud of in your work?
I think that I’m most proud of the attention to detail I give each and every garment I design and construct. I hate rushing and relish the development process of researching and then creating a product piece by piece.
What is sustainable luxury for you?
Sustainable luxury to me, is purchasing and surrounding yourself with meaningful things that warrant a lifetime of being cherished. I want my investments go grow old with me and to age gracefully.
Do you think there is a problem with fashion today?
I hate dwelling on problems. I wish people would buy less and invest in quality.
What does the future of fashion look like?
Anything is possible…Probably something holographic.
Do you have any other creative pursuits?
I just moved into a flat built in the 1930’s, which I need to furnish and have been scouring vintage shops around Toronto to recreate a semi-authentic aesthetic while maintaining a contemporary edge. If I were not designing clothes I would probably pursue industrial design, with a focus on small heavy brass objects with function.
What makes the high-street/fast fashion brands so powerful?
They’re able to sustain people’s ravenous appetites with inexpensive mass produced goods. Boring!
What is the style of the city you live in?
This is a tricky one. Toronto has an odd style as it seems most of the residents wish to blend into the crowd and rarely show much in the way of creativity or bravery. Shops tend to offer the most basic and safe options, as seen in the near absence of colour in retail spaces, especially for menswear. Vintage seems to be a very popular choice, lots of tattoos and piercings and anything comfortable. In two words, ‘casual and conservative’.
It’s almost expected that designers sell online these days, is this the way forward for new designers?
It could be. If I ever decide to pursue my own label I would try to have my own retail space where you could display the product mix as it was intended and create an environment that connects the customer to your aesthetic in a more personal way. I understand the value of connecting with people online, I just prefer the tangible.
If you could change one thing about fashion what would it be?
I would slow it down a bit.
If you had to move to an up-and-coming fashion capital, what would it be and why?
I would probably move somewhere south like Brazil or Argentina. I appreciate the experience of exploring new cultures, plus the climate seems appealing.
Do you feel that the school you study at dictates your style?
Definitely. I think every school promotes a certain way of approaching design, be it technical or creative. The faculty and style of tutorials creates certain patterns that influence your work.
How does fashion affect your view of the world?
Sometimes I wish I lived in a time when cultures remained separate and the visual and cultural identity was stronger within regions. Today globalisation has created a sense of freedom and choice, but has probably weakened cultural identity compared to what it once was. Now photographs are what we have to connect with cultures that have been overrun by Western standards and ideals.
What do you value more, process or outcome, concept or quality of craftsmanship?
I think all are equally important. But I will say that without a beautiful and desirable end product, concept and process are almost irrelevant.