Nicole Campre clutches a Victorian teacup at the back of her own boutique, Workhall, which is full of early samples of her ultra-feminine spring line. It’s hard for her to believe that it was just over a year ago when she had her first showing. She didn’t even have a label then, but she was invited to Mercedes-Benz Start Up in Toronto anyway, based on the promise of her early designs with brands Loft 82 and Oak + Fort. There were already hundreds of women walking around in Campre’s creations.
Now, with her operations director and partner Kari Haddad, also from Oak + Fort, she’s building a brand of her own. “It’s kind of a dream come true,” says the 23-year-old.
It was only 10 years ago that Campre, who is Vietnamese and First Nations, often escaped her troubled youth by hovering over the pages of Vogue with her little sister. The teenager told classmates, who knew her better for schoolyard scrapping, that she was going to be a fashion designer. They didn’t believe she could do it. Today, she wears a draped, monochromatic blouse and trousers that she designed in her very own boutique.
Though the blouse’s tag reads “Campre,” the designer didn’t want to name her business after the houseline. Instead, she christened it Workhall, representing the sweat of her counterparts. It’s a befitting name for the 104th Street store inside the Great West Saddlery building, below the studios of other clothiers. She rents space in the boutique to designers, who get 100 per cent of their sales. “For a Canadian label to compete internationally, it’s a struggle,” she says. “In a few years, I want Workhall to house different labels and to inspire a new generation of designers.”
It’s off to a good start, having formed a partnership with locals Amor Carandang and Chris Provins, whose handcrafted Amor Jewellery metals echo the geometric designs of Campre. Her clothing is also handmade, by a third-generation tailor and family friend in Vietnam, and is defined by Asian-inspired silhouettes, layering and versatility. “I like making clothes you can wear two or three different ways.”
Recently, her versatile garments found their way into the pages of Vogue Italia and British Vogue, another dream come true, but she’s not letting that distract her from her core community in Edmonton. “Canadian designers have this mentality that they have to show and get press to build the brand,” she says, “but I’m just focusing on my customers and listening to what they want.”