Halifax: Louanna Murphy wins Off the Cuff

Photography by Shaun Simpson

When the first outfit of Louanna Murphy’s four-look collection—a pair of high-waisted drainpipe trousers in a warm, leafy print paired with a dusty blue cami and a camel vest with a flawless circle hem and prim epaulettes—appeared on the runway at the Off the Cuff finale on September 13, the design competition was practically already won. Though her two opponents stepped up as her creative and conceptual competition, her technical talent and flawless execution remained unmatched. After the three presented their eight looks (including looks from previous rounds) Murphy took home the winning title, a prize that comes with such benefits as mentoring and instruction sessions, studio and runway time, and gift certificates and fabric.

Much like her last mini-collection (the series of birdlike pieces she presented at April’s Wearable Art Show that found its inspiration in the fascinating wildlife she observed last fall in Australia), the NSCAD alum says she chose something “close to her heart” to serve as her muse for her latest designs. The Island girl used colours that make up the palette of fall on Prince Edward Island, a place that truly feels like home for Murphy.

“Every time I go over the bridge, this calm comes over me,” she says.

Adding polish to the earthy hues, the designer, who also graduated from Dalhousie’s costume studies programe, incorporated cuts based on men’s tailoring from the 18th and early 19th centuries. After the slim trousers, we were treated to regal dress wrapped in gold leaf and cozied with a pretty blue cardigan, again with that streamlined circle hem. She executed menswear again, this time with a pair of sleek pinstripe trousers and a flawless herringbone fall jacket that had a judge to my right whispering “My heart is pounding out of my chest. I’m so impressed!” The last of Murphy’s four new looks was a rich forest green coat with a dropped waist and full skirt that, although never my favourite style for my own tiny frame, was admittedly stunning in its winter fairy tale charm.

Akshay Tyagi presented the most cohesive collection of the bunch, a series of monochrome dresses that, inspired by frozen water, fused soft draping with architectural folds and cuts. Again, Tyagi proved he has boundless creativity that extends past fashion, brushes elbows with couture, and lands in art. When it comes to finalist Heather Rappard’s designs, Turbine’s Lisa Drader-Murphy put it perfectly: “She must have very vivid, colourful dreams.” The young designer, only at the beginning of her education at NSCAD, brought folly and fun into her pieces, especially her final dress, a V-neck mini made up of candy-coloured polka dots sewn on like bubble-gum fringe.

Finally, Off the Cuff organizer Brandt Eisner also took the opportunity to prove he knew a thing or two about design, presenting a vivid line of kaleidoscopic proportions that opened my eyes to the possibilities of woven textiles and sliced up knitwear.

Wrapping up the event, judge Gary Markle of NSCAD’s fashion department congratulated the finalists, assuring the designers that, if they made it this far, they’re undoubtedly doing the right thing with their lives.

“I’ve been inspired by you all,” he said. “I’m really excited for the future of fashion here.”

Check out the Off the Cuff Facebook group for more photos from the finale, as well as from events throughout the competition. Halifax’s Argyle Fine Art (1869 Upper Water St. 902-425-9456), the gallery behind Off the Cuff, will have photos from the competition on display until Sunday, September 20.

Click the images below to see more outfits from past rounds of Off the Cuff.

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