Fashion / Style

Vancouver Designer With Staying Power Loves the Wilderness — and She’s Embracing a Rare Trip to Texas

Catherine Regehr Knows Nature is Good for Creativity

BY // 10.14.21

This time of year Catherine Regehr is usually meeting with clients at Paris Fashion Week. But the lingering pandemic has kept Regehr and her team at the designer’s Vancouver headquarters instead of overseas this season. Yet she has never been busier.

“Business has just exploded,” Regehr says over the phone. “People have never bought as strongly as they have right now.”

“It’s definitely gone from zero to 100,” adds Regehr’s daughter Eva Regehr, co-designer and sales director.

Known for attention to detail and the use of sumptuous fabrics, the Regehrs create unique gowns that are popular right now with the pent-up demand for such special event dressing. Catherine Regehr, who has delegated most travel duties to her daughter, will make a rare personal appearance in Houston to present her spring and resort ’22 collections at a runway show to benefit the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women initiative on October 27 and trunk show at Elizabeth Anthony October 28-30.

Although she is known for creating elegant party gowns, Catherine Regehr grew up in the Yukon territory near Alaska, and she continues to spend summers in the remote region of Canada. She’s already planning a long rafting trip to the Arctic Ocean next summer in an area so off the beaten track that she will have to fly in a small plane to get there.

“My friends up there look at me and say, ‘You do what in the city?’ And the people in the city say, ‘Where do you go and you’ve been charged by grizzly bears?’ ” Catherine Regehr relates. “It’s kind of a strange dynamic but to me it works very well. I do like a life of contrasts and my kids do too.”

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The new collections reflect Regehr’s back-to-nature spirit in the textures of the fabrics she uses, the varying shades of green that predominate, the way the designs move on the body, and the use of hand-cut floral patterns.

“It’s beautiful outdoors, and whether it’s the shale under the lake, or trees lined up, or ripples on the water, I find it really inspiring,” the designer says. “It just gives us enough space to be way more creative.”

“The nice thing about the pandemic is we had a lot of time to spend in nature,” Eva Regehr says. “Both my mom and I, that’s where we get our inspiration from and just the clarity of mind to design. Coming out of it, we felt well equipped to be able to create new pieces that are true to our aesthetic and what we do.

“We felt the last couple of collections have actually been a lot more concise because we are a lot more clear about what we want to design.”

Eva Regehr
Eva Regehr joined her mother, Catherine Regehr, as co-designer and sales director five years ago. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Regehr)

Eva joined the company full-time five years ago and since then Catherine believes the brand has appealed to a younger clientele. While “mother-of-the-bride” gowns remain an important part of the business, those clients “want something a little more unconventional,” Eva notes. “They don’t want to look like a mother of the bride.”

The Regehrs say they were more fortunate than many designers because business was strong before the pandemic hit and they had enough cash flow to help tide them through the worst times. “We didn’t do well during the pandemic, but we did better than most. We actually got a reorder from one of our stores. I don’t know who they were selling to, but we got a reorder,” Catherine marvels.

“We’ve very diversified. We sell to Asia, we sell to Europe. We have Middle East clients. We have a client that just buys kaftans from us, like 1,000 at a time. We have trunk show specials, stock orders. I feel like we have always been careful to be well diversified and I think that has protected us as well as the fact that we were strong going in and were able to have enough cash flow to carry us through.”

“Thankfully throughout the pandemic, we were able  to hang onto our staff. We have a very small, family-like team,” Eva says. “They really are artists in what they do. We do everything here in Vancouver. We don’t outsource anything.”

Catherine Regehr and the Enduring Power Of Dressing Up

Now, the design duo, who met with boutique owners from across the country at the end of New York Fashion Week last month, are finding that people seem excited about dressing up again.

“They are not exactly changing what they want to buy but they want to be able to express themselves and reengage with their social group,” Eva says.

“There is a bit more, ‘If not now when?’ ” Catherine notes. “Because what the hell, this could happen again. Who knows where we are going? If we’re in (another) train wreck, we’re going to make sure we are well dressed.”

The pandemic has also taught them that the fashion industry must move to a more sustainable model.

“One of the things that’s quite satisfying for us is having clients come back 20 years later with the same dress worn out,” Catherine says. “They say, ‘I’m going to get the same style again in a different color.’ That is a really important thing for us that clients can keep these garments in their wardrobe.

“We’re not fast fashion.”

Catherine Regehr spring 22 collection
Close up detail of Catherine Regehr blue gown with hand-cut flowers. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Regehr)

“I think, too, for environmental reasons, we’ve found that the way our business works with cut-to-order we really have no waste and our pieces last forever,” Eva adds. “That’s a really important element to us as well, given that we are so inspired to keep a business model that is good for the environment, limiting waste and creating pieces that people will have forever.

“And maintaining the quality over quantity. We always have a minimalist aesthetic, but it’s something that can stay in people’s closets forever.”

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