Ellie Mae Waters’ mother had a “whatever you feel, you wear,” philosophy. If that meant Waters was living in Ninja Turtle pyjamas, so be it. She imparted the importance of self-expression through fashion.
“I had this really nice relationship with clothing,” the 32-year-old designer explains. When she was 19, Waters moved from Toronto to Los Angeles to work with a stylist. “I loved the idea of dressing people in a way that I couldn’t put myself together,“ she says. “I loved thinking like a different person and putting them in an outfit that I could imagine them in.” As it turned out, the “shark world” of LA fashion wasn’t for her, but the passion for dressing people and experimenting with clothing was still alive and well.
From there, she began developing a brand that would eventually turn into Ellie Mae, as it appears today. The through line of her sartorial journey is an abiding love for colour, pop culture, and nostalgia. Those tenets materialized as a jewellery line, a leather jacket dreams are made of, and a wholesale clothing collection. Now Ellie Mae is an independent retailer with several collections inspired by different eras—the spring-summer collection Retired in Palm Springs is an ode to the 1950s—and a vintage closet made up of classic rock, Harley Davidson, and university alumni T-shirts.
The vintage closet is a branch of Ellie Mae that, like most of her work, comes from a personal connection to the subject matter. “I’ve always collected them—I’ve always worn them,” Waters says of the T-shirts. “[They make] me feel like I’m holding a piece of history that I wasn’t necessarily a part of but it made me feel like I was.” She and her team make pilgrimages to Los Angeles to go vintage hunting for the collection.
Waters declares that “nostalgia is a pillar of our brand, down to the fabric that we pick.” And it’s easy to see that in the latest collection, which walks the line between youthfully vibrant and a grandmother’s closet. Ellie Mae has cornered the market for an irony of millennial style that can make old look contemporary again and deliberately plays with the distinction.
All of the Ellie Mae garments are made in the brand’s Toronto studio, and there are only a few of each piece. “We didn’t want to contribute to mass production,” Waters confirms. As they grow, so will the collections, but as that happens, consumers can watch in real time because each garment is numbered. The pieces would be at home on Margot Robbie’s character in Wolf of Wall Street, and if that weren’t special enough, people with an Ellie Mae piece can know it is very unlikely someone walking down the street will be wearing something as rare. At least, for now.
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