If there were a made-for-TV movie about a small-town fashion designer, scoring work in Milan would be the story’s grand conclusion. But for our Fashion Designer of the Year Irene Rasetti, something about the glamorous world of style in Italy just didn’t feel right. After a decade of schooling and working with top designers in Milan (including Gianfranco Ferré and Versace), she decided to start over in her hometown—Calgary.

xDesigner Irene Rasetti creates her own floral dyes. For plants that aren’t native to Alberta, she sources imperfect flowers from local florists. Photo by Britta Kokemor.

She took  natural dye classes at the Alberta University of the Arts, and there found a more honest fit. “I started understanding that I could have a more authentic engagement to textile work through natural dyes,” says Rasetti. The age-old practice of natural dying felt magical, even witchy, to her. The women she met through her classes didn’t care about creating something avant garde or trendy. “We would just play around with florals, leaves and all things nature related,” she says, “and for me, that was super grounding—and, in many ways, healing.”

xHollyhock, delphinium, peony, cosmos, yarrow and marigold are a few of Rasetti’s favourite dyes, used to create her Kaelen and Garden Blooms collection. Photo by Britta Kokemor.

Rasetti’s fabrics are dyed almost completely from plants she grows in her home garden, and she also carefully forages while on urban and forest walks. For plants that aren’t native to Alberta (like eucalyptus, for example) she sources expired or imperfect “rejects” from local florists. “It’s a really sustainable practice,” she says. Judge Nicole Bischofer, head of design for women’s wear at COS, praises Rasetti for taking her practical experience and using it to execute an ethical business, and says the designer’s focus on sustainability and small batch production is very important. The garments themselves are proof that fabric dying is a thoughtful art: her collections range from crisp, clean prints (like Natural Conclusions, her 2017 line) to the abstract and deliberately messy (her 2019 collection, Kaelen and Garden Blooms, is less controlled).

xPhoto by Britta Kokemor.

Flowy silhouettes that move with the body go hand-in-hand with Rasetti’s organically pigmented fabrics. Though always done with intention, there’s something about the uncertainty of the craft—the beauty in decay and imperfection, how every dye session provides a different outcome—that keeps Rasetti interested in a way high Italian fashion didn’t. “You just have to trust the process,” she says. “Nature’s going to do what it wants.” Roll credits.