Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Do, re, me, fa, sew

Abigail Mickelthwate makes her own kind of music with vintage-style clothing designs

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Paris Hilton can heave a big sigh of relief. Abigail Mickelthwate, the effervescent vintage-style clothing designer, is making a design career comeback -- out of Winnipeg.

Hilton was once photographed by paparazzi in Los Angeles wearing a Mickelthwate blue-and-white anchor blouse -- causing a riot of demand for it. Ah, the power of one little photograph of a star!

Before the designer decided to put her Vintage Betty business on hold to move from L.A. to Winnipeg with her husband, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra music director Alexander Mickelthwate, she also designed lines of elegant clothing. She says she was channeling "Grace Kelly on the French Riviera, Audrey Hepburn, beautiful timeless pieces you can keep forever."

Family life has a tendency to change in the Mickelthwate family. Moving to Winnipeg five years ago and taking care of sons Jack, now 8, and Jacob, 3, kept the overly busy woman out of the design scene for a few years.

"Alexander had been at the L.A. Philharmonic," she said. "When I realized we weren't going to be in L.A. or back in New York, I just thought it should be Alexander's turn for awhile. We have always been very supportive of each other's different careers."

But kismet came looking for Abigail in 2011.

At her child's daycare, she met another mom, Cheryl Scott, a Bettie Page look-alike who also designed vintage-style clothes and owned the Rockabetty online store (

Scott has an affordable, rock-star take on new vintage-style clothing at around the $49 mark. The friendship turned into a business partnership and Abigail recently agreed to offer her high-end Vintage Betty line, at around $149, to be sold exclusively alongside Scott's funky Rockabetty clothing.

Scott was happy to take care of the business and supervisory end since she was already doing that for her own line. All Abigail has to do now is design and supply her exquisite clothing in bulk, with the help of a factory.

"Sherri Koske is doing the accessories portion and selling her wonderful jewellery. She hand-makes it," says Scott.

"I just love these clothes," says Mickelthwate, holding up the skirt of one of a vintage-style dresses in a sensual fabric, created to flow in the breeze. "Oh, oh wait, I just had the best idea in the world," she says for the third time in the interview. "Do you write these ideas down?" I ask. She laughs. There are lots more ideas where that came from.

Vintage Betty used to get $50,000 orders when Abigail was in L.A., and her clothes appeared in Women's Wear Daily, OK magazine and the cover for the famous Magic trade-show mag. She was selling to boutiques internationally. Her business was skyrocketing. The hitch? "I'm a kick-ass designer but I had to run the business end too and I only had 10 per cent of my time left for the designing."

Though Vintage Betty's line is done in feminine fabrics, she's also playful -- with leopard print capes and her famous tulip sun dress with two giant flowers marching up the skirt.

"Who wouldn't want to wear this?" asks Michelthwate, flipping the skirt.

Aside from red tulips on navy she used the old-fashioned technique of tea-dipping to make an off-white colour. "I loved the fabric but it was in white so I filled the whole bathtub with tea and just dipped them like they did in the old days."

See? Her mind really is always brewing up something.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 12, 2012 A8

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