MICHI's Sassy Fashion Studio

MICHI's Sassy Fashion Studio

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Justice Darragh
Sep 16, 2014
(Image credit: Justice Darragh)

Name: MICHI Atelier
Location: Liberty Village, Toronto
Size: 825 square feet
Years occupied: 1 year

Cutting-edge fashion designer Michelle Watson’s MICHI athletic wear is probably the most fashionable fitness apparel you’ve ever laid eyes on. Her provocative cut-out leggings & bra tops are about as far from a typical omega-stamped yoga pant as a girl can get (think bad-ass urban warrior meets Vogue-era Madonna), and have been picked up by Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Holt Renfrew, ShopBop, and Revolve Clothing. A graduate of the prestigious Parsons School of Design, Michelle cut her teeth working for Donna Karan, Kate Spade & Ralph Lauren’s athletic line, RLX Ralph Lauren before launching her MICHI brand in the city that never sleeps. Originally hailing from Canada, Michelle decided to return north of the border, and now runs her business from this converted warehouse studio in Toronto’s Liberty Village.

(Image credit: Justice Darragh)

MICHI’s atelier loft still has the original sliding barn door-style windows & exposed brick walls from its 1890s start as a carpet factory. Rolls of fabric pepper an otherwise neutral beam & hardwood backdrop with bursts of tropical color, not unlike one of MICHI’s collections (each season features edgy black or grey mix-and-match layering pieces with the occasional splash of color). South American textiles, plants and flowers soften the overall aesthetic of the industrial sewing machines and design tools.

Creativity spills from wardrobe rack to mannequin, showcasing striking, strappy, mesh-laden sport and dance apparel as appropriate for fighting fashion crimes as they are for high-performance endurance. This surprising contrast of sexy superhero against the classic, weathered architecture is as seductive as the MICHI brand’s mission to combine boudoir lingerie sass with strong, functional, active-lifestyle wear. For a look this fashion-forward, it's no surprise that celebrities such as Sofia Vergara, Emmy Rossum, Fergie, supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whitley, and Olympic Hurdler Queen Harrison, among others, have been spotted wearing the high-profile brand.

(Image credit: Justice Darragh)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Retro Jungle! Our atelier is in a historic Carpet Factory, which was established in 1891 and recently restored. We have combined the historic building features with Art Deco elements, Central/ South American textiles and various tropical plants to boost the green space and add a bit of nature to our surroundings

Inspiration: Local and global influences: the building itself is a protected Heritage building and there are many items around the atelier from my travels that add vibrancy and color to the space. These include the colorful throw blanket and pillows from Peru on the entranceway couch and the hammock from Nicaragua. The studio is full of mirrors, which I bought for a photo shoot last year. They help make the space seem larger and add an Art Deco flair.

Favorite Element: There are so many beautiful features in this space. The giant and gracefully arched windows let a lot of natural light into the studio and make it feel really spacious. The original cargo bay door is still functional, too. You can slide it along the exposed brick wall to access the Juliet balcony overlooking the street and gardens. The exposed brick is a pastel terra cotta pink color which creates a relaxed ambiance.

Biggest Challenge: Trying to fit all of my raw materials and equipment into the space! It may look spacious and beautiful, but it can start to feel a little cramped once you start trying to arrange 3 sewing machines, a huge cutting table, a giant fabric collection, boxes of inventory, and a 1930s iron… you get the idea!

What Friends Say: They love it! Usually they comment on all the features that draw my eye as well: the light, the exposed brick, the high ceilings, and the bias-cut (diagonal) hardwood floors. If they had seen my last studio (a dark basement factory dungeon), I feel like they would praise this space even more…

Biggest Embarrassment: All of my inventory boxes and fabric clutter! The space itself is beautiful… really the only embarrassing aspect of it is the raw material and inventory clutter that I impose on it…

Proudest DIY: The space was already outfitted with almost everything I needed such as desks and administrative storage. I didn’t have to add or change anything around to accommodate my administrative or design needs. I’m pretty proud that we were able to squeeze a great deal of shelving into the tiny back room plus 2 rolling racks. In my business, good shelving is the core of a successful business, among other things! One fun thing I added to the space was a beautiful hammock I brought back from my travels to Nicaragua. I installed the hooks into the giant wooden support columns, between the administrative/office space and the design/cutting table. As much as I dream of midday siestas, the hammock has only been used a handful of times.

Biggest Indulgence: The vintage crystal chandelier, which I purchased from the previous owners of the space.

Best Advice: Make it a green space. Although I often get my clothes stuck on the thorns of my lemon tree, adding lots of plants and flowers to the studio keeps thing looking fresh and feeling vibrant. Other design advice I can give for a busy studio like mine is incorporating a lot of smart storage options to keep things organized and easily accessible. Also, give away or throw out anything you don’t need to avoid clutter.

Dream Sources: Since most of the furniture and design elements in the studio are utilitarian and have already filled the space (such as the sewing machines, the cutting table, the steam iron), I haven’t focused on adding too much more. I still need to add artwork, more plants and upgrade some fixtures though! I’d love to travel the world to buy from different countries to upgrade the décor in the space: perhaps finding some vintage furniture from flea markets in Paris, the latest modern design in Scandinavia, carpets and lanterns in souks in Morocco, and some artwork from local Jamaican artists such as my Aunt, Margaret Chen, who is an incredible talent in Kingston, JA.

(Image credit: Justice Darragh)

Resources of Note:

PAINT & COLORS

  • Benjamin Moore: “Simply White”

ENTRY

• Chandelier: vintage
• Couch: Gift from my wonderful Mom
• Throw Blankets, Pillows: Markets in Cusco, Peru
• A-Frame table: IKEA

OFFICE

• Wraparound Office Table: IKEA
• Shelving: IKEA

DINING ROOM

Sewing Machines: Juki, Kansai Special
• Iron: Vintage, Taddington
• Dress form: Wolf Form Co., (1981 vintage, from NYC)
• Plants: Money tree, Lemon tree, Spider plant, Corn Plant, Yucca plant
• Flowers: Birds of Paradise, Red Ginger flowers, Gerber daisies
• Hammock: Local Market in Masaya, Nicaragua

(Image credit: Justice Darragh)

Thanks, Michelle!

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