Heather Menzies Designs Turns One

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Heather Menzies has always known she wanted to make clothes. She got her start at eight, sewing in her 4H club, and moved to New York after college with little more than a suitcase. She worked as a pattern and sample maker for various New York companies, including Ellen Tracy, where she had celebrity clients and saw her designs in runway shows. Later in life, she worked with dressmakers in Great Neck and Port Washington. This year marks the first anniversary of her solo business crafting bespoke garments out of her unique 1930s home studio. Recently, I embarked on the journey of making a custom piece with Heather.

Consultation

(Amanda Olsen)

The process for creating a one-of-a-kind piece with Menzies starts with a consultation to determine if she is a good fit for the design. It’s important to work with someone who has a similar aesthetic. Menzies’ designs tend to be feminine, with soft details and sparkle. At our initial meeting, we discussed silhouettes and fabrics and went over a few examples of my dream outfit.

Sketch Design

(Amanda Olsen)

Next, since I am a tiny bit artistic, I went home and drew up some sketches. I did a couple of the structured, multi-layer outfits we had discussed and a few elaborate evening wear ideas. For people who aren’t inclined to draw, photos of garments with the elements you are looking for will get the ball rolling. We chose a statement jacket with a simple shift style dress underneath.

Take Measurements

This step, while necessary, can certainly be unpleasant. It’s important to remember that you are commissioning a custom dress; you want it to fit exactly right. So let the designer take your measurements as your body truly is.

Buy Fabric

(Amanda Olsen)

This was an experience I will never forget. I have seen Mood on TV but never had the opportunity to go there before. I met Menzies inside the store and was immediately overwhelmed with the sheer volume of fabric available. Because we had already talked about my preferences, she took us over to wool first. I was considering a light wool for the jacket and linen for the dress. Nothing really jumped out in the wool section, although there were some lovely tweeds. Next we looked at knits, but it was the same. In the boucles we found several interesting choices, but it wasn’t until we were moving on that I saw a gorgeous purple plaid. There were so many subtle colors in the pattern; I was in love. The linens we bought for the dress were woven in two different colors, shifting between the two tones as it moved. A plain wool for the cummerbund completed the choices.

Draft Pattern

(Amanda Olsen)

This step could come after taking the measurements. It is fairly straightforward; a paper pattern of each piece of the dress is made.
Sew mock up, fit and make changes

These connected steps are essential to getting the piece perfect. The mock up gets sewn in an inexpensive fabric to test how the pattern fits on the body. You come to the studio and put on the mock up, and Menzies makes adjustments. My fitting went very smoothly. We decided on the length of the coat, the sleeves, and where the neckline should fall. Menzies was attentive and helpful throughout, offering ideas and alternatives until we were both satisfied.

Final Fitting

Amanda Olsen models the final masterpiece. (Olsen)

Over the course of several weeks, we tweaked the fit of the pieces until they were exactly right. The dress is able to do double duty; I can dress it up with a sparkly topper and heels or down with jeans and cowboy boots. The jacket is to die for- the pattern and silhouette are exactly my style. I can wear it with anything, from slim jeans and a punk tee shirt to the custom dress we designed.

Looking to the future, Menzies has a series of one-off jackets she is creating from deadstock upholstery fabrics. These items will be for sale on her Etsy shop at HeatherMenziesNY. Visit her at heathermenzies.com to reach out for custom clothing.

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