Shop Talk is written by OM senior editor Dayanti Karunaratne and Sarah Fischer, OM account executive and fashion maven.
At the NAC gala this Saturday, all eyes will be on pianist Lang Lang and maestro Pinchas Zukerman. Unbeknownst to most, both musicians will be wearing clothing by the same designer, one who doesn’t have a standout style so much as a very special target market.
Rosemarie Umetsu has designed gowns for internationally-renowned performers like Sarah Slean, Karen Kain, and Deepa Mehta. It’s work that brings together her two passions: music and fashion. So how does someone get a sweet gig like that?
At a young age, Rosemarie learned how to draft patterns and other tailoring techniques from her grandmother, but she never saw fashion as a career path (though she admits that her peers at the the Royal Conservatory of Music will likely remember her as one who reliably doled out sartorial advice). Then, a chance opportunity to study interior design at Toronto’s Academy of Design had her mixing with fashion students.
Some of their energy must have rubbed off, Rosemarie reflects, and though she did work as an interior designer, she quickly transitioned into fashion, buying for Holt Renfrew and Club Monaco, designing products for a Paris-based client, and eventually starting her own label, which sold in high-end specialty stores and in her own boutique.
While this in itself might sound like a dream come true, Rosemarie was restless.
“I needed to do different things. In 2007 we had the Yorkville store, and we decided to look at the client base: we realized 50 percent of the customers were in performance arts!” It was then that she changed tack and began marketing to artists. This meant pulling out of stores and spreading the word through the industry about her niche business.
“I think what’s really unique is that I come to the job as a performer, or at least educated in the arts. So I know what it is to create an outfit that is functional — and fabulous.”
Speaking of fabulous, Rosemarie dressed soprano (and new Ottawan) Measha Brueggergosman for her performance with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 2008 — an event that took place in Central Park. A special venue like that required a special dress.
“All the audience was going to see was a little pinhead,” Rosemarie explained. Plus, Measha has a huge personality. “Lots of fabulous things can go with her.” In the end, Rosemarie created a spectacular purple dress with a fitted bodice and an opulent skirt.
Though Rosemarie always becomes familliar with the musician before sketching a design, she explains that “it’s a creative process, so it’s never the same. I feel colours with certain composers and certain pieces.” Plus, a soloist will require a different kind of wardrobe than for someone who is accompanying.”
So while all ears will be on Lang Lang and the NAC orchestra this weekend, feel free to let your eyes wander to their tailor-made outfits. When it comes to couture for top-notch musicians, there’s often more than meets the eye.
NAC Gala with Lang Lang. Saturday, Sept. 22. 6:30 p.m. NAC Southam Hall.