Backstage

  • Photographed by Rob Woodcox.
  • Photographed by Rob Woodcox.
  • Photographed by Rob Woodcox.
  • Photographed by Rob Woodcox.
  • Photographed by Rob Woodcox.
  • Photographed by Rob Woodcox.
  • Photographed by Rob Woodcox.
  • Photographed by Rob Woodcox.
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Ella Swenson

Fashion stylist and designer Ella Swenson has always loved vintage. Since she was a little girl, she marveled at the designs of Victorian wedding gowns and vintage jewelry she would find in antique stores that she visited with her mother. After curating an impressive collection of antique clothing and accessories in her wardrobe, Ella realized she wasn’t wearing any of her beautiful vintage finds. It was at this point that Ella decided she was going to make something of her growing vintage collection: She would reconstruct the pieces herself into wearable modern designs. From this creative adventure, she launched Ella Sven, a sustainable clothing line dedicated to using salvaged goods, reclaimed textiles and vintage clothing to make one-of-a-kind modern and whimsical designs. We talked with Ella about her start in fashion and what to expect from her growing business.

How did you get into styling?


When I worked at Neiman Marcus, my clients and other people were always asking me about my style and if I could dress them, do an event or style a shoot. It all just spiraled. Neimans was a great place to build my styling skills, with the most high-end and elegant clothes and accessories at my disposal.

What’s your personal signature style?


My style is bohemian chic mixed with an ultra mod grandma. I have a weakness for accessories; I’m usually dripping in them. The accessories are mostly from my grandmother’s gold and diamond collection, along with stone and quartz bracelets and things I pick up on the streets when I travel. It’s a mish-mosh of eclectic accessories. I love to wear flowery tops tucked into high-waisted bottoms, mix odd southwestern belts with a polka-dot blouse and, basically, just redefine the limits of fashion. My motto is: “There are no limits…Fashion rules are meant to be broken!”

How does hair and makeup factor into how you style someone?


It will make or break the whole look depending on the style of the garment. If you’re wearing a dress with a detailed back that you want everyone to see, a high bun or side-swept hair is a must. Your hair can either hide the accents on a garment or accentuate the accents on a garment. We have all heard the saying that “shoes can make or break an outfit.” It’s the same with hair! Makeup always factors in as well. A red lip can make your little black dress hot and sultry, while a nude lip will give more power to the dress and let the garment speak for itself.

What would be the ultimate hairstyle to wear with one of your designs?


Easy, messy, long, wavy curls. Our onset go-to products are Dry and Après Beach. These two products give us the perfect combo of messiness, volume and romantic waves, and all the Oribe products smell like heaven, which is just another reason we love them!

How did you decide to make the transition from stylist to designer?


I was in the design field prior to styling. I believe my passion for design, styling and entrepreneurship was just a marriage of creative outlets.


What is the story behind the name of your line?


Ella is my name and it’s also an old family name, most notably my great grandmother’s who came from Sweden. When my family came over from Sweden, our last name was just Swen. But, on Ellis Island they added the “son” to our last name, as in “Son of Swen.” I really liked the original last name and in Sweden W’s are pronounced as V’s…thus the birth of Sven. The name possesses an old world aesthetic and a sense of craftsmanship and heritage.

How would you describe your designs in three words?


I’m cheating a bit, but here it is: modern polish, vintage charm and classic pedigree.

How does sustainability play a role in your design process?


We really focus on using a product that is recycled or has been salvaged. We also are bringing in other designers who focus on old world craftsmanship and providing products that do not have their production outsourced.

What are your plans moving forward with your collection?


Our collection is currently taking the next big leap to the online shopping world. We look forward to having you shop us this fall. We are also working on a fragrance with the help of Goest Perfume. My dream for the company is to eventually introduce a fair trade aspect and continue to break through and introduce an entire world of sustainable, high fashion merchandise to a modern day consumer.

Who is the typical Ella Sven girl?


I think the best part about my line is that it’s not typical at all. It’s vibrant and magical. It can be suited for the girl who wants to make a statement or the one who wants to go under the radar but look and feel fantastic.

How do you take a selection of vintage items and turn them into modern designs?


Most of the time vintage is gorgeous but unwearable because of high necklines or strange cuts. We will transform a long dress with sleeves and a high neckline into a great fitting short cocktail dress.

What has been the most challenging aspect about designing a line?


The most challenging aspect is developing a team that understands your company’s vision, aesthetic and ethics. Once you have a great team behind you, the sky is the limit.

Is there a particular decade of fashion that you find most of your vintage pieces come from?


We use all eras, even some materials that are not so vintage but are still salvaged. I do, however, have a deep love for the fifties. Those dresses with the hoop-like skirts and the high waist lines make me want to twirl and fall in love all at the same time.

What are some tips you can give us when scouring antique shops for vintage finds?


Be patient. When you find something you love, check it for damages. Nobody wants to go home with something to find later out that it has a huge stain! Also, ask around to find out what type of thrift and antique shops you have in your area.

You recently styled the Oribe Atelier event in Chicago, which featured looks from several decades. What was the inspiration behind the clothing you chose?


Old Hollywood glamour. The inspiration behind the hair was Rita Hayworth, Sharon Tate and Mia Farrow.

Which was your favorite look from the Atelier?


How could I possibly pick? All those women were such starlets, with such coveted style!

- JACKIE HYMAN
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