The womenswear designer on her unlikely sources of inspiration, dream dinner party and alternative career options.
Sonia Moffa joined Canadian womenswear brand Joseph Ribkoff in 2001. She now leads its design team in creating the label’s collections, which are sold by 4,000 stockists globally. Here she discusses how the fashion industry has changed in the two decades since her first job and how this has affected the way she designs, as well as the highs and lows of her role.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Seeing a woman smiling with confidence as she’s wearing her Joseph Ribkoff outfit is the most rewarding feeling I can get.
And the worst?
Having to work with very tight deadlines.
If you could design for any brand what would it be?
This is a very difficult question to answer because I love to design for Joseph Ribkoff. If I were forced it would be for the wrap dress diva, Diane von Furstenberg.
What in your opinion makes a good designer?
It’s their ability to understand the needs of their ultimate customer.
What is your design process?
Every aspect of a garment is based on research of fabrics, colours, silhouettes. And to be honest, inspiration can come from anywhere at any moment.
What are some of the oddest things that have inspired your designs?
You can find amazing ideas by looking at some bathing suit collections.
If you could pick one Ribkoff design that sticks out in your mind as a favourite, what would it be?
It’s a fitted flared dress that I designed a few seasons ago using very basic fabrics – a mix of lightweight knit with mesh inserts. The dress is very simple yet sexy without revealing too much. It was actually a very successful style for us.
What are your favourite fabrics to work with?
I enjoy working with lightweight and stretchy fabrics that allow me to design styles with shirring and draping.
Do you prefer bright or muted colours?
I like both. What describes my style best is using bright-coloured accents to bring muted colours to life.
You’ve worked in the industry for 20 years. What’s been the biggest change?
The fashion industry has changed significantly over the last 20 years, so adjusting to the new lifestyle in our society in which everything goes fast. We’re constantly running after time and being exposed to so much technology, which has changed our way of shopping. This reality created what we call fast fashion.
How has that changed the way you design?
In this new century, time slowly became our enemy. We have less time. We want to see and travel the world. We want to be noticed in our clothing and feel great. So when it comes to designing a collection, I’m very selective in the choice of fabrics, offering our clients wrinkle-free materials that require very low maintenance. When I design, I also take into consideration the comfort our consumer is looking for within the fabrics and the fit. Finally, I’m making sure that I can sell the styles at a reasonable price.
What’s been a career highlight so far?
The day I saw one of my creations decorating the facade of our company’s head office (see below).
Joseph Ribkoff headquarters
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?
One of Mr Ribkoff’s quotes: “Never give up on a style or a fabric unless it gives up on you.”
You’re surrounded by clothes all day; do you still enjoy shopping?
I always did and always will.
Do you prefer online or instore shopping?
I’m definitely the type of customer that enjoys in store shopping. Feeling the fabric of a piece of clothing and trying it before I buy is essential to me.
What’s the last fashion item you bought – and from where?
A suede A-line skirt in a deep cognac colour, from Zara.
What’s the most treasured item in your wardrobe?
It’s a long black dress with a very high side slit. I named it “the Oscars dress” because it brings out the elegance in me.
What’s the most ridiculous purchase you’ve ever made for yourself?
A lace bustier I bought at Guess many years ago that I have yet to wear.
Do you prefer winter or summer dressing?
Summer dressing is always more pleasant for me as I enjoy the heat, the sun, the lightweight fabrics, and the exotic prints and colours.
If you weren’t working in fashion what would you be doing?
The first thing that comes to mind is interior designer.
Whom do you admire most in the industry?
Without any doubt, Joseph Ribkoff. I admire the fact that the company’s been around for almost 60 years and continues to grow, keeping over 95% of their production still in Canada.
If you had a fashion dinner party, who would you invite?
Mr. Joseph Ribkoff would probably be on my VIP list and I would add [designers] Diane von Furstenberg and Jean-Paul Gaultier and the one and only [businesswoman and famous fashion supporter] Iris Apfel.
Tell us something about you not many people know.
When I was a little girl, I was dreaming of becoming a fashion designer but also an astronaut.