|written by Linda Gaylard
As a toddler, a fascinated Rosemary sat under the cutting table of her grandmother’s couture studio playing with rich silks and brocades. In the 50’s, when Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon and ruled by the British, her ‘umma’ designed and constructed dazzling gowns and suits for the socialites of Columbo.
It has taken Rosemarie Umetsu several decades, but she has found her way back to the allure of fine fabrics and while she does not practise the same couture methods - draping and cutting of cloth on the client - she has fashioned a business that caters to her customers every fashion need. The journey was an evolving one that took her to England in the early 80’s to study piano and then to Toronto to qualify as a piano teacher. With stints in interior design, product development at Club Monaco and as a buyer at Holt Renfrew, she decided in the 1990’s to enrol in the fashion program at the International Academy of Design.
It had been several years since I first attended the r.u. Spring 2005 presentation at an art gallery in downtown Toronto - the designs were whimsical, candy-bright and well constructed. When I recently visited her new studio on the main floor of a gorgeous Victorian brick house on Avenue Rd., I was sorry that I had lost touch with her work. Intending to pop in quickly for some colourful Spring pieces for a photo shoot with Wendy Crewson, I stayed to fondle the Fall collection and soak up the ambience. In the entranceway, my eyes were held by a large hand-painted calligraphic mural, which read “The difference between the sexes is, happily, one of great profundity. Clothes are but a symbol of something hid deep beneath. ..." from Virginia Woolf ‘s Orlando. I speculated that Rosemarie’s approach to fashion was drawn from the convergence of art and culture. She told me, “The quote symbolizes a sensibility I strive to express with r.u. through a witty dialogue that is both independently and characteristically masculine & feminine. My fabulously talented friend Louise Souch painted the mural with a glass of wine in one hand and a paint brush in the other!!!”
Rosemarie lives to collaborate with other artists and musicians. With her musical background it was not a stretch for her to collaborate, metaphorically, with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on her Fall 2006 collection. Throughout 2006 the airwaves and concert halls have been ringing with Mozart’s music in celebration of his 250th anniversary. It was while listening to a l969 recording of The Magic Flute, conducted by Sir Georg Solti that she composed the finery and frocks of Fall. The heart of the r.u. Fall collection has been influenced by the late baroque music of this opera and the enlightened European lifestyle of the time. r.u.’s crisp white shirt with jabot, black velvet knee britches and matching military style jacket replete with a double row of brass buttons, suggest the foppish persona of Mozart himself.
Umetsu introduces us to her flight of fancy with her ‘piano pieces’. Fronting an ivory wool/cashmere coat is an appliquéd six octave ebony keyboard. Peek inside and behold – the lining has been custom screened with the score of the opera! To which, one might wear her black velvet bustier gown with its sequinned peach paisley front panel. For cool Paris evenings, this of course would be accompanied by her mohair cape or her flocked velvet coat of baroque floral swirls.
The opera’s influence can also be seen in inventions that have been plucked from the plot and characters directly. The ‘Queen of the Night’ gown and coat are constructed of dazzling white wool strewn with burn-out impressions of chrysanthemums. A white shirt with feathered ornamentation suggests the plumed character of Papageno. There is a sombre full-skirted black gown in Japanese distressed wool that must have been invented while contemplating the opera’s most serious character, Sarastro and his “temple of ordeal”.
The ‘intermezzo’ within r.u.’s fall line appears to be an homage to Hubert de Givenchy.
Cropped jackets with stiff wide banded collars in muted taupes recall the strength of his sixtie’s pieces. The icons of those days – Audrey, Jackie and Grace may seem a little removed from Mozart, but the lifestyle of concert-going Europe is conjured up in these pretty pieces. It is all becoming clear to me… Rosemarie Umetsu is embracing a lifestyle of grace and good manners – cultivating a sensibility for the “occasion”.
She is the maestro of this, her sixth season and thankfully she is no prima donna.
There are six seamstresses working with her. Husband Wayne runs the business. She is happiest when working directly with her private clientele – one of her patrons recently needed something special for an intimate concert with Michael Bublé. Rosemarie fashioned a custom gown in a week! How soignée! ‘Umma’ would be proud.