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Vivien Ramsay

The designer on inspiration and her natural dye process, inspired by a child in an old T-shirt

by David Graver in Style on 13 February 2014

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Seven years of development—from inception to execution—contribute to Melissa Ramsay's namesake label. With her first-ever New York Fashion Week show, her Vivien Ramsay A/W 2014 line came to life in stunning form. Not only has Ramsay created her own Pantone-like color system, her palette is dictated by the season. This is due entirely to the fact that Ramsay harvests all her own dyes. It's that want for sheer originality that lends itself so beautifully to her latest pieces.

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After 20 years in the fashion industry, with two of those years as a global design director at Levi's, Ramsay left it all and ventured back home to the Philippines. "I packed up everything, took one t-shirt and a pair of shorts and two surf boards. I just wanted to surf and be in the water," she tells CH. "I never wanted to be in fashion again. I wanted to be in something holistic." While recalibrating, Ramsay was met with an epiphany. Just after a surf session, where she had been fixating on a very tall hill in the distance that was spouting smoking, Ramsay began a hike on the island of Mindoro to find the fire's origin.

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"I have a memory, a memory of a girl," Ramsay continues. She found a tiny village atop the hill, with very small, low-ceilinged houses. All of it was surrounded by fields of indigo. There, a girl stood. "She was wearing an AC/DC concert shirt from '70s and a machete tied around her waist. She was barefoot." The once-white T-shirt carried a strange, new color and Ramsay fixated on it. Through observation, she learned that the villagers were carting water up to their homesteads once a day. After cleaning their dishes and cookware, they would clean their clothes. Each article was accepting a stain and it added new character. "This is how color used to be. I was always obsessed with color," she says.

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"Your true passions always lead you back. This is what's so magical," the designer observes. She now works 18 hours a day on her line and has developed a unique Pantone system from all natural dyes. Indian almond leaves lend color, as does ginger. She gathers bark and roots, extracting pure pigment. Aside from being thrilled with the colors that come of her process, she is wary of chemical dyes and the potential migration into human skin. "I'm not a naturalist. I just like the idea of things being pure."

While the flora and fauna of the Philippines determine the base colors Ramsay plays with, the form of her designs are the product of an uninhibited imagination. She often invokes lingerie-inspired silhouettes or, in opposition, fuller flowing pieces. Each evening wear piece embraces the body, but with a beautiful delicacy. The outerwear is as functional as it is striking. Wools, cashmeres, silks, hand-woven silk lace and cotton jersey form the pieces, with these seasons colors varying from coal, onyx and steel to bright, glowing indigo.

Vivien Ramsay items are available at select retailers across the US, with prices starting at $80.

Images by Gene Lemuel. Modeled and styled by Fay for Vivien Ramsay

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