We’re not gonna lie… Vancouver-based artist and longtime Turnabout client Leah MacFarlane wows us with both her creative hutzpah and canine volunteerism. And whether she’s in her art studio or the dog park, this mama does not disappoint with her quirky, inimitable style.
Turnabout Style Talks with Leah MacFarlane
Ok Leah first of all THANK YOU for sitting down with me! I love an excuse to catch up but I also wanted to share your awesomeness with our Turnabout family.
Totally my pleasure! I love getting time with you.
Let’s start with sustainability… you and I were just talking about #SustainableSeptember. Would you consider yourself to fly the flag for smart consumerism?
Absolutely!! I love fashion, I love the creativity, the inspiration, the expression people find through fashion. What many people don’t know, though, and what is becoming more a part of many designers’ thinking is that fashion (particularly ‘fast fashion’) has been an incredibly polluting industry. Just to make one pair of jeans and a t-shirt it takes the amount of water that one person would drink for 13 years! Thirteen! Isn’t that insane? Those of us who love fashion can start to be more responsible about our impact by choosing how to spend our dollars: getting really high quality, well-made items is one way. They are vastly more expensive, but when you get down to $$ per wear, they end up being WAY less costly, because they last so much longer. Another way is to shop stores like Turnabout, that have tons of these beautiful, high quality, well-made pieces that will last, because they are well-made. You can find such treasures, and the best part is you won’t see someone else walking around in your outfit!
Do you remember your first Turnabout purchase? Mine was a pair of Earl jeans soooo long ago. I thought I was the coolest.
A pair of Paige denim jeans back when low rise flares were the thing, I’m afraid to say like 16 years ago? Gaaah, makes me sound so old!
I have always thought of you as an incredibly independent thinker, and very practical and often quirky in the expression of your style. Would you call that accurate?!
I hope that’s true! I love looking at the style trends and shows from New York, London, Paris fashion weeks, and picking up ideas, and I always think that if you are really sporting a ‘lewk’ (as Simon Doonan says) you can’t go wrong. I love bonkers platform shoes, or a weird short sleeved adidas sweatshirt that has a wipe-clean front (true story, I own it) layered over a spandex turtleneck…nobody else will be wearing it! I don’t really mind too much if people think I look terrible or silly; as long as I’m feeling it, I feel great!
I couldn’t agree more. OK so who are some of your style inspos, friends or otherwise?
I love YOUR style, because you always look effortless, but also individual. You take pieces that are off-beat (like embroidered mechanics coveralls!) and they look so cool and easy, off-duty rock chick.
I love the look of my dear friend Issy who is a gilder and artist and lives in the Scottish Borders. She has incredible pieces, lots of cashmere sweaters (because it’s Scotland, of course) and last time I saw her she was wearing a men’s fitted blouse under a short sleeved lacy cashmere cardigan with a pair of loose wool trousers that looked like something by Stella McCartney but were bought at the menswear shop on her local high street for 30 pounds, and a pair of gold trainers. She’ll wear that with a bug-shaped diamond broach from her granny to go to the foundry to talk about a piece she’s having made, and then the same thing to take the dogs for a hike. I love that lack of preciousness and mixing things. Another woman whose style I love is Leandra Medine, AKA Man Repeller. She has a hilarious website and has utterly bonkers style that is uniquely her own. Her crazy pack do things like a feature on styling an outfit with shoelaces…. weird and nuts, but an aesthetic that is playful and fun and completely hers.
But back at the ranch, your day to day is super casual, right? Tell us about your amazing volunteer work training BC Guide Dogs… and the impact on your wardrobe!!! And we love that you brought Nacho with you today.
Well, the daily outfit is definitely on the casual side. I don’t like anything too special, because let’s face it, it’s going to get really dirty. My daily ‘uniform’ would be jeans and a t-shirt, with a cashmere hoody or sweater, and I usually have a scarf of some kind because I’m always cold. I like to carry a big tote with all the various supplies. I told my kids my motto is “semper paratus”: always prepared. I have everything in that bag: Advil, phone chargers, power supplies, granola bars, lip balm, dog treats, Tide 2 Go pen, BandAids. I am a puppy trainer for B.C. Guide Dogs, which means that we get Labrador retriever puppies when they are 8 weeks old and spend the next 18 months or so exposing them to everything in the world (busses, trains, hospitals, public traffic, stores, malls, planes). They have a little jacket which means they are allowed to go anywhere, which means Nacho comes with me to yoga at Yyoga, out to dinner, goes to work with my husband, everywhere. It’s really fun…. until the last week when you find out they are going to advanced training, and you have to say goodbye. Then it’s lots of tears until they go, and then you get another puppy! And you get to help change someone’s life for the better, which is a really good feeling.
But I also know firsthand that you can dress up fancy better than the best of them. Favourite evening outfit right now?
Anything by the amazing Alice Temperley of Temperley London! Her designs are SO incredible, amazing colours and fabrics and covered with embroidery. Deeply eccentric and beautiful. I have a dress from them that is black off the shoulder with flounces trimmed in electric blue edged perforated lace and covered with embroidered pairs of hot fuschia-red lips, with a velvet neck bow. Amazing.
As a painter, a costumer and an overall creative, do you have an ‘I’m in my studio’ look? I always romanticize in this Georgia O’Keeffe kind of way about cultivating that type of persona - and baking the same soda bread at Ghost Ranch every day for decades… (laughing)
My in-studio look is the absolutely oldest and dirtiest ripped pair of jeans that I own, and an awful old sweatshirt. I have a big old white men’s dress shirt of Brian’s that I put on over everything, because I’m so messy, and I like to wipe my hands on my clothes. I once spilled an entire can of gesso on my studio floor and got it all over my Ugg boots. I had to just get a roller and “repaint” the floor with the spilled gesso. The Ugg boots dried out eventually.
Top three wardrobe items you can’t live without.
Jeans, as ripped and torn and repaired as possible. I love the Sashiko mending way of fixing your jeans…. patch them from the back and stitch them in straight lines to make patterns. That way the history of the clothing is visible and beautiful. I have a great black wool moto jacket with leather sleeves that works with everything: your grungiest grunge or your fanciest dress. And as boring as it is, a really good white t-shirt. I buy them in multiples when I find one I like and I wear them forever. When they get really old I use them to paint in or turn them into rags.
Tell me about your bold move to go completely silver/grey. Which I am obsessed with, btw.
I started going grey before I was 40, and when I was young I had very dark brown hair. I have been colouring my hair forever (blue was my first foray, back in the ‘80s), for fun, and then this grey started coming in, and I was already dying my hair, and doing highlights, etc. Then I started to notice these silver roots at the front getting more and more prominent, and I really didn’t like how it looked, and I felt like the dark colour of my hair was starting to look really harsh against my skin. And I was chasing those grey hairs, having to touch up my roots every FIVE days! It was nuts. So I started to think about going blonde, which would make the greys less noticeable, and I did that and liked it, but the ashier it was the better it looked. Then that whole grey hair moment in fashion started, and I thought “I could totally rock that hair”. Rio (from Suki’s downtown, a genius) and I kept going ashier, and then doing a kind of ombré from front to back, and then I just said to him “just do what you think is good, you’re the expert”, and he started to do the back a bit darker, and stop bleaching it, and by then I was just going in for toner, and at one appointment he said “you don’t need to see me anymore”! And that was that. I still condition it with Overtone extreme silver conditioner which keeps the yellow out. I love how easy it is, and my hair grew a TON after I stopped colouring it, and it’s way healthier. Not to mention easier on the wallet!!
Your husband Brian, is one of my favourite Men of Style ever. Because he gives zero F*&KS about what people think. To me, that’s style. That’s cool.
Exactly!! I mean, nobody has as few f*&$s to give as Brian re: what people think - but it’s that effortless, easy look that I like. It’s still totally put-together and intentional, not careless or sloppy. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about what you wear, as long as you love it and you feel great. If you’re feeling yourself, other people will feel you too, that’s my experience.
Most important thing about style you learned from you mama?
My mom ALWAYS has her signature bright lip (usually fuschia) on, and doesn’t leave the house without it no matter what. I love the idea that style can be an essential part of who you are, and that you can carry a look with you your entire life. Even if she’s just sitting in the house having a coffee, she still has her lip on. I like the idea that when I’m 84 I’ll still be enjoying fashion, makeup, the whole thing. I find it a fun outlet for expression.
Well I’ve been learning from you for twenty years my friend, and I can’t wait for the next twenty. Thank you for being part of our Turnabout community…