Haley Elsaesser’s clothes are like pop art come to life. The colourful, celeb-favourite designer has an equally colourful back story: growing up in Cambridge, Ontario, Elsaesser spent much of her youth sifting through Value Village racks, learning how to sew and repurposing vintage clothes. Over the years, she continued sewing her own garments and then sold them on eBay.
After graduating from Australia’s Queensland University of Technology in 2013 (with a degree in Fine Arts Fashion), Elsaesser was selected as one of the top graduates (from all over Australia) and got to show her work in the graduate showcase at Melbourne Fashion Week. It was there that she conceived the idea for her brand. “I never planned to start a label,” says the now Toronto-based Elsaesser. “I had heard the horror stories about starting your own brand. I planned to work for a designer or a company, but after the fashion show, I got a lot of attention and thought ‘if I’m going to do it I should do it now’ so I went for it and started a capsule collection from there.”
While her experiences in Australia helped her get the footing she needed, Elsaesser had her sights on North America. So shortly after the Melbourne and Sydney Fashion Week shows, she landed a spot in the 2014 Toronto Fashion Week lineup.
“I decided to break out of Australia; it was kind of isolating and I figured since it was early in my career it was the time–that way I didn’t have to start over twice,” she says. The decision proved to be a turning point in the young designer’s career. It also didn’t hurt having already designed a look for pop star Katy Perry, who wore Elsaesser’s ‘heavenly’ top and skirt plus her bomber jacket in Madonna’s “Bitch I’m Madonna” music video. Miley Cyrus then caught on to Elsaesser’s designs and requested a custom look for her stint on The Voice. Kesha, Lily Singh and Kat Von D have also worn her designs, and Joe Jonas rocked a pair of Elsaesser’s pants during his recent MMVA’s hosting gig, too.
“The looks are graphic and bold so it lends well to those type of people–the musicians and creative people that want to look different and unique. It fits what they do,” Elsaesser notes. Her looks are inspired by Andy Warhol and ooze a pop-art aesthetic, and Elsaesser’s thirst for contextualizing culture into her prints is what makes the looks cheeky and relevant. They’re simply fun to wear and talk about. “I like to take the inspiration, like my recent ‘Romeo & Juliet‘ collection for example, and then dissect and do something unexpected with it,” she says. “I like to tell a story with each print.”
Prior to the ’90s-inspired collection, Elsaesser’s most standout fabric reference is arguably the looks inspired by ‘The Dude’ from the wondrous film, The Big Lebowski. “It’s not like, ‘Here’s a carton of milk,’ but more like ‘Here’s a carton of milk with Lebowski’s signature white Russian drink on it,'” she explains.
Hayley’s work was recently seen in Tegan and Sara’s music video “U-Turn,” a video all about “girl power, being yourself and being unique in who you are,” which matches Elsaesser’s own spirited mantra. She has also collaborated with Toronto’s MYNC, and will be announcing a lipstick collaboration with one of Canada’s premium makeup brands very soon.
Elsaesser’s collections range from funky sportswear to swimwear to flow-y dresses and jumpsuits, and many of the looks are genderless. “In general we skew more with women customers, but we have a ton of guy customers and we do a lot of unisex on purpose because I want to have something for everyone,” she says. “Personally, I wear a lot of menswear or unisex looks because I have a more masculine style, so I don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t wear my clothes.”
See more of Elsaesser’s collections at her retail store in Toronto (695 Queen St. W) or online.