Fashion

Beef, Banff and oil may be the first things that come to mind when one thinks of Alberta, but Rachel Mielke and Caitlin Power have successfully added fashion and jewelry to that list, and just in time for the fall season.

Mielke is the designing visionary behind the Regina-based jewelry brand Hillberg & Berk. For this 29-year-old designer and business speaker, jewelry isn’t only about fashion. Mielke’s mandate is to create pieces of jewelry as individual opportunities for women to achieve personal refinement and empowerment, all while maintaining a fashionable presence.

Even Hillberg & Berk’s philosophy as displayed on the company website reads more like an inspirational saying, at first glance, than a company motto: “Every woman should possess three things: self-confidence, an optimistic outlook on life, and several pieces of investment-worthy jewelry she truly loves.”

By incorporating such positivity into her designs, the result is timeless yet trendy accessories that serve as an elegant extension of the woman who wears them.

Self-confidence and optimism remained in the forefront of Mielke’s mind when she designed the pieces for Hillberg & Berk’s Autumn/Winter 2010 collection. When asked what the source of this season’s inspiration is, Mielke enthusiastically responded by stating, “My biggest inspiration comes from the women that wear my jewelry. There is nothing more satisfying at the end of a launch of a collection than to see women absolutely embrace the designs and wear them, and then see [them] out on the streets wearing [the pieces] and adding their own personal flair to my designs.” As she states, it is truly “the consumer that drives the inspiration behind the designs.”

This theme of reciprocity extends beyond her design process. Mielke elaborates on Hillberg & Berk’s involvement with non-profit organizations, as well as the company’s priority on always giving back to the community, by linking every fashion event to a particular charity. Close to the designer’s heart is Dress for Success Regina, which provides low-income women with interview-appropriate apparel and career development training. A large fundraiser held this past spring raised $15,000, in addition to another $5,000 raised just this fall. Another one of Mielke’s most cherished charities is Wings of Hope, a foundation geared toward helping women with breast cancer manage the many costs involved with treating the disease. Together with Wings of Hope, Hillberg & Berk sold specifically designed items at a Calgary event last year, raising close to $40,000.

Mielke’s goal to design jewellery that encourages women to improve their feelings of self-worth, while simultaneously becoming empowered, is perhaps why this season’s collection is largely inspired by Lalita Deva, a “beautiful woman [and] goddess of power.” Displayed on the Hillberg & Berk website is somewhat of a mantra for how to present oneself this fall. Lalita is quoted: “Stand up and stand out. Build up, don’t tear down. Acceptance builds confidence, and confidence builds leaders. Let, love, empower.” Arguably creating the visual expression of this spoken mantra, Mielke chose to work with rich Indian rubies, sapphires and emeralds, juxtaposed with sterling silver and gold, to create the allure and prestige that is royal Indian apparel.

In addition to such stones and gems, Mielke advises that women wear larger “chunky” pieces of jewelry this fall. With autumn fashion gearing more towards heavy fabrics, larger pieces are a must as they are less likely to become lost in an outfit. Hillberg & Berk’s cluster necklaces are one of their many pieces that fit the bill, as you can add or remove clusters from the chain as you choose, making the accessory heavier to accommodate fall fashion trends.

Owning practical, wearable and convertible pieces are not just necessities for fall jewelry; these are the exact traits that allow Hillberg & Berk to stand out amongst the rest in the jewelry industry. By using high-quality stones, sterling silver and gold, and maintaining a versatility not seen with other designers, Mielke presents pieces that her consumer not only wears, but wholly engages with as well.

And speaking of engagement, with Thanksgiving just around the corner, Mielke notes that being able to engage with loved ones this holiday season is definitely on her priority list, along with continuing to create fashion-forward jewelry. Just as Mielke knows what is important from a designing and business perspective — being chic and charitable — she also grasps what is important from a lifestyle standpoint, especially during the holidays: “Cooking a turkey and having the smell of turkey wafting through the house… Having lots of people around, and just being able to spend time with people you love, and really reflecting on things that are really important in life… friends and family.”

Fashion as Self-Expression and Experimentation

Although a designer of fashion, not jewelry, 21-year-old Caitlin Power also suggests that bigger is better when it comes to fall fashion, or more specifically, fall footwear.

“I think every woman should own an over-the-knee boot,” Power shares with Lifestyle. “They can be dressed down with jeans, or dressed up with a short dress; they are a necessity.” Along with boots, scarves and toques, another must-have for fall according to Power is a ¾ length coat, as — in her own words — “Calgary gets so cold!”

Inspired mainly by the culture of big cities like New York, Power looked especially to the architecture of the Art Deco period occurring between 1925 to 1939, specifically the iconic Chrysler Building, for her eponymous label’s Fall/Winter 2010 collection. Such influence is seen in the collection’s androgynous cuts, which appear to juxtapose masculine edge with feminine grace, created with an elegant yet modern twist.

Catering her designs to “a powerful, sophisticated, independent woman who is from the age, but not limited to, 25 to 40,” Power describes her clothing as “bold,” and designed to “complement what my woman already has.”

As an advocate for fashion serving as a tool for self-expression, Power’s advice to women is to “wear clothes that make you feel confident and powerful.” It isn’t so much about following trends for Miss Power, but more about experimenting with new styles. And although not opposed to the idea of eco-fashion, Power personally believes “there will always be the client who is not so involved with being eco-friendly… and I cater to that woman.”

Although an Alberta native, Power’s ideal holiday location mirrors that of her artistic inspiration: New York City. “If I wasn’t in Canada this Thanksgiving,” says Power, “I would love to be in New York. I draw so much inspiration from that city that I would never turn down a trip.” Regardless of the alluring pull New York has on the young fashion visionary, it is ultimately being surrounded by family, “great conversations and great food” that serves as her ideal way to spend Thanksgiving this year. There is one family member in particular that rivals the majestic metropolis as the designer’s main source of inspiration: her mother. “I derive inspiration from my mom,” Power concludes. “She is very independent and has taught me [to be the same].”

Perhaps then, alongside jewelry and fashion as additions to Alberta’s known-for list, it’s safe to say independent women also have a place. •