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Volume 91, Issue 14

Friday, September 19, 1997



The elegantly simple lines on MacDonnell

©Geoff Robins/Gazette
I'M A MODEL, YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN. Designer David MacDonnell's latest designs are modelled by some able Gazette staffers. From left to right are Sandra Dimitrakopoulos, Victoria Barclay, Sara Marett and Natalie Henry.

By Tina Chiu

Gazette Writer

To many people, the name David MacDonnell is unfamiliar. However, the Kettle Creek Canvas Company, a national clothing company, is well-known. There was a period during the '80s when everyone who was fashion-conscious had to have Kettle Creek drawstring pants or wallets. MacDonnell, part of the original company's design team, has ventured out on his own and launched his own successful label.

MacDonnell's passion for clothes started when he was young. He remembers having an awareness, around age 10 or 12, while he was growing up in Sudbury. A turning point in his life occurred when he entered Fanshawe College's school of fashion design. The college's co-op program placed MacDonnell at Kettle Creek, without knowing what his future impact on the company would be. Kettle Creek hired him in 1980, thus beginning his career in clothing design.

The success of the company was phenomenal. With millions of dollars in sales and approximately 50 stores across the nation, Kettle Creek became a household name. MacDonnell also became a name recognized among the fashion elite and he contributed to this success by expanding the line to include different fabrics. Their trademark included only using cotton canvas for their designs but MacDonnell initiated the usage of sheer cottons from Japan and Egypt.

However, a decade after its inception, Kettle Creek Canvas Company went bankrupt in 1991 due to management over-structure. An entrepreneur by the name of Doug Hamilton, owner of Columbia Sportswear, bought the Kettle Creek Canvas trade name.

To avoid the negative connotations associated with this trade name, Hamilton modified the name to Kettle Creek Clothing Co. He hired MacDonnell as head designer and within two months they created the Hamilton Findlay label (Findlay is MacDonnell's mother's maiden name). The new line resulted from Hamilton's desire to diversify the company's products. The clothing was considered 'downtown apparel', by the fashion media and included items such as suits and coats. MacDonnell has continued with this idea as many of his designs are reminiscent of the early label.

Even though he spent over 10 years with Kettle Creek, MacDonnell is reserved about discussing his experiences. He coyly describes life at Kettle Creek as "checkered", but is quick to add that it was, "overall quite a satisfying time."

MacDonnell left the new company to strike out on his own, a transition he now wishes he had done earlier in his career. "Full of optimism and some apprehension," he says, characterizing how he felt when he opened his own boutique. There are now three David Findlay locations and in London, his boutique can be found nestled on Richmond St. "where all the boutiques are." Interestingly enough, the Kettle Creek Clothing Co. store lies three blocks down the street.

Presently, MacDonnell is purchasing fabric for next year's spring/summer line. Customers, he believes, are looking for natural fibres, so he prefers to use wool and linen blends. He then decides what the style of the clothing will be by determining how the fabric works best, he says. For the line, he plans to emphasize dresses, an item which is becoming one of his more sought-after products.

His clothes target the career women and his most popular item is the suit. Calvin Klein and Armani are his influences as their simplicity of design inspires him. He notes that Calvin Klein is a "clean designer" and not surprisingly, he describes his own creations as being "simple, with clean lines and classic influence." His belief that both "practicality and aesthetics are important, guides him to design clothes which are simple yet elegant."

But there is a price to pay for simplicity. Like Armani and Calvin Klein, MacDonnell designs for a select group who can afford the costly clothing. A customer usually pays $150 for a skirt, $200 for pants, $300 for a dress, $350 for a jacket and $700 for a coat.

MacDonnell is more than satisfied with the growth of his business. He says his accomplishment was "better and easier than I thought it would be because people, especially Londoners, have had a positive reaction to my clothing." His future plans include possible expansion through the opening of more stores.

Many designers believe that fashion is produced through the continual regurgitation of past trends. MacDonnell acknowledges this, saying fashion is "generally reinvented." In spite of the somewhat lack of freshness in fashion, he is positive about the economic benefits such as the increasing demand for fashion.

"You have to realize that you truly love something and then your chances of success are greater," he says. MacDonnell's advice for budding designers is a common adage that can be applied to all aspects of life.

Another common adage is that you must follow your own advice. MacDonnell certainly adheres to this.

To Contact The Features Department: gazfeat@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1997