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Handcrafting a Dream

Saratoga designer Kim Vanyo dedicated her life’s work to her passion for clothing design—and it’s finally paying off

by Molly Eadie on September 25, 2013

 

Photo by Molly Eadie

Kim Vanyo just moved into her new studio space on Beekman Street in Saratoga Springs earlier this month, and she’s busy crafting custom orders for clients who are looking to make their dreams come true.

Vanyo was called a “fairy godmother in disguise” by The Saratogian in 1989, when she was featured designing a prom gown. Now, she’s working on an unconventional gray wedding gown for the same customer. In between, she’s designed headpieces and hats, ballet costumes and now her line of ready-to-wear skirts.

Bored of dressing up dolls as a young girl, Vanyo decided she wanted to make her own clothes. She’d save up her babysitting money to buy commercial patterns, then spend all weekend freezing in her basement with her mother’s sewing machine.

Now 50, confident, and colorful, Vanyo still wears her own creations.

“You’re branding yourself as soon as you get up in the morning,” she says. “Part of my test market is when I have my own things on.”

Designing as a career didn’t occur to Vanyo until she was 18, when she had to decide if she would continue ballet dancing or not.

“I knew I had physical limitations,” she says. Her mother suggested she go into fashion. “In 1981, when I was a senior, we didn’t hear about designer this and designer that, and the kids certainly didn’t have designer this and designer that like they do now. So I didn’t even really know about fashion designers, in a way.”

She looked into it, and took a year off to dance, just to be sure she was making the right choice. Her father, then the art department chair at Niskayuna High School, helped her prepare a portfolio, and she was accepted into the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

Originally from the Syracuse area, Vanyo’s family moved to the Capital Region when her father began working in Niskayuna. After FIT, she got married and moved to Saratoga, where the couple had four children.

“I’ve always loved Saratoga,” she says, recalling her year of high school, when she stayed in this area to dance. “My heart’s always kind of been in Saratoga.”

Vanyo didn’t totally remove herself from the ballet stage—she still dances for fitness and fun—and her art can be seen on the dancers themselves. She’s designed costumes for the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company, Northeast Ballet Company, Skidmore College Dance Department, and the Saratoga City Ballet Company, to name a few. She also has organized costume workshops at the Ballet Regent Summer Institute and the National Museum of Dance School of the Arts.

 

Photo by Molly Eadie.

After watching dancers perform their routines and imagining what role their outfits should play in the performance—flowing or structured, blending in or standing out—Vanyo will create something for the specific work. “It’s about both form and function—unforunately,” Vanyo says. She may go through several alterations on one costume if the outfit doesn’t work well with the dance’s movements.

Vanyo has relocated her workshop several times—moving her patterns, fabric, machines and magic out of her mother’s basement into commercial studio spaces, and sometimes working out of her home.

“I wander the earth with my sewing machine looking for an outlet,” she says, laughing.

Her place on Beekman Street in Saratoga can’t be missed: Its bright purple door is unmistakably a mark of Vanyo’s bold style. She hopes to turn her studio into a place where local designers can meet and greet, have happy hours, and bring some energy back into the local fashion scene.

“People that happen to be in the area and are trained in design—a lot of them have day jobs that aren’t related to design because it’s difficult up here,” Vanyo says, adding that she’s been diverse in her design work, because she had to be.

“Maybe we’ll make this Beekman Street into the new New York,” she says.

Vanyo’s ready-to-wear collection, Kimism, focuses on fitted, eccentric skirts.

“I think women look really good in skirts,” says Vanyo. “[They’re] easy to wear. It’s easy to make yourself look really professional and good when you put on a skirt. But if they’re different, unusual and artistic, but still sophisticated and professional, it can give a professional woman who has the typical blank suits, something on that can be sort of a conversation piece.”

Vanyo started the ready-to-wear collection when she “didn’t have a big bunch of money, but had a big bunch of fabric.” And while for most of her career, she’s kept busy, either dressing dancers, sketching headpieces or creating custom treasures—she wanted something regular.

Focusing on one aspect and doing it well is important to Vanyo. She’s designed tops to compliment the mainstays of her collection, the skirts. While in the studio, she pairs skirts with simple sleeveless turtlenecks, cinched with a belt. The tops in her line can be fitted, with dramatic and sexy sculpted collars and sleeves, and some have a fun “Gift Box Bustier,” named for big, winding ribbons at the bust. With several different fabric options, the skirts can be customized, and some incorporate leather, wispy eyelash trim, and funky prints. Some have a back zipper for a customized slit reveal, some are wraps with unique metal hardware.

“I’d like, down the road, to manufacture this, maybe in New York [City], not overseas,” she says. “If I could set up a nice cottage industry of women who want to sew in their homes, that would also be an ideal thing—they’d be helping me, and I’d be helping them.”

Vanyo had a spring collection in stores last year, and currently has a fall collection—her third—in stores now. But it wasn’t long ago, in May 2012, when her dream really started to take shape. Encouraged by friend and colleague Corey Aldrich, who started the Electric City Couture fashion show at Proctors, Vanyo showed a mini collection of three skirts. Her vision of selling her ready-to-wear line came true when she got a phone call afterwards from the Albany retail store Circles.

“They said, ‘We want your collection,’” she recalls. “This was the call I had always wanted.”