Cheryl Straby — Doing What Comes Naturally - theHumm November 2018

Cheryl Straby — Doing What Comes Naturally - theHumm November 2018

By Sally Hansen

Art… and Soul

For Perth fashion designer Cheryl Straby, designing and making original top-quality garments has become second nature. For over thirty years Straby has been perfecting her talent for creating fashions that bring out the best in her delighted clients. “Buy Less / Buy Better!” is her credo. She specializes in custom designed and made-to-measure garments, and her ever-growing success indicates she has found a niche with her eye-catching fashions that combine comfort, quality and superb style.

On August 16, Straby celebrated the grand reopening of her Strévé Design Studio & Boutique at its new location at 64 Gore Street East in Perth. Housed in a former feed and seed store, the new shop is a great addition to the area’s amenities. Straby and her partner Bill St. John worked with the owner of the former industrial space to create another reason to spend time browsing the banquet of shops and galleries that makes Perth a tourist magnet.

Strévé features ready-to-wear fashions and made-to-measure original designs with the modifications and variations you choose. It’s hard to decide whether to emphasize Straby’s timeless designs, the superb leathers, suedes, silks and laces she uses, her flair for creating stunning art pieces, her dedication to painstaking workmanship, or the sheer volume of her output. Yes — she’s a self-admitted workaholic (spontaneously confirmed by Bill). She has occasional help with sewing, but she does all the design, pattern making and cutting herself. She also sources and buys all the fabulous materials that make her fashions so alluring to the eye and a comfort to the body.

The website describes Cheryl’s classic “Spanish Lamb Shearling Bomber Jacket” in a way that made me eager to see it and, especially, touch it. “This handcrafted coat is made from the Shearling of Spanish Merino lambs, one of the world’s rarest and original breeds that could only be found in Spain up until the 18th century. Once jealously guarded by Spanish royalty, exporting the breed without the king’s permission was punishable by death.” The softness and warmth of these voluptuous jackets result from a tanning process that creates a uniform depth of the wool fibres. The style and comfort are the result of Cheryl’s expertise. Walking into November in one of these stunning unisex jackets would make the prospect of winter in Canada much more palatable.

From a design perspective, Straby’s goal is to combine art with space and flow in a visually interesting way. She embellishes many of her garments with beautiful designs achieved through a variety of techniques such as screen and block painting. A striking effect on some of her garments results from a technique using appliqué and reverse appliqué. It involves the meticulous addition and removal of multiple layers of suede and leather to showcase the patterns she creates. Leaves flow asymmetrically across the front of a stunning cape, swirls in contrasting colours spiral around a hooded cape, and bees fly down a suede coat dress. Strévé garments are fashioned to bring you many years of distinctive style and enduring comfort.

Straby also makes and selects accessories to complement her fashions. While I was interviewing her, a neighbouring shop owner rushed in and purchased a gorgeous, vivid silk scarf/shawl to accessorize the outfit she was wearing to an event. Draped modishly around her shoulders, it transformed her appearance from well-dressed to artistically chic.

Renovation Transformation

After much consultation with authorities regarding building codes and safety issues, the second-storey mezzanine of Strévé Design Studio & Boutique has become an art gallery, and Straby is booking a variety of area artists for solo and small joint exhibitions. Her only major disappointment in the multi-year renovation project is that stringent building codes prevented her from creating a smaller version of Coco Chanel’s iconic mirrored staircase to showcase her fashions. Instead, the safe, double-railed wooden stairway provides even more wall space for hanging works of art.

Hanging Out

Cheryl’s passion for fashion began back in Home-Ec. class in Ottawa’s brand new J. S. Woodsworth Secondary School. The newly appointed sewing room was irresistible, and by the age of sixteen she had made herself a three-piece suit. That led to a three-year Fashion Design Diploma from Ryerson University followed by additional courses at OCADU. That was followed by a stint in a not-very-creative position in the fashion industry where she discovered her endless fascination with leather and suede. Noticing all the one-of-a-kind leather scraps left on the cutting room floor, she asked her employer if she could have some of them, and designed and made her very first colourful collaged leather coat. She values it still and is wearing it in her photo on her Artist Trading Card at the top of this page!

Stepping Out

In the 1980s leather was very popular, and in 1987 Straby struck out on her own with a line of leather art coats, navigating the competitive world of craft shows. She learned on the job, figuring out how to provide different price points for different venues, how to talk to people, how to display wares in extremely small and costly booths. Eventually she bought a home in Smiths Falls with large rooms that accommodated her business, and began selling “wearable art” to shops, reaching markets in NYC, Philadelphia and Santa Fe.

Opening Strévé Design Studio & Boutique in Perth in 2009 was the logical and exciting culmination of her many years of both perfecting her artistic talents and acquiring business acumen. She is quick to note the important role her partner Bill St. John plays as supporter, visionary and helper. In addition to being extremely handy, he contributes a valuable aesthetic viewpoint as a videographer and filmmaker. Drop in to tempt yourself to splurge on feeling great about yourself. Cheryl likes nothing better than when a customer returns to tell her, “I have never felt so beautiful or comfortable.” And check out the upstairs art gallery — the stairwell is very safe.

(Please note the boutique will be closed on November 14 and 18 due to Cheryl’s participation in the Signatures Show in Ottawa.)


Cheryl Straby — Doing What Comes Naturally - theHumm November 2018

By Sally Hansen

Art… and Soul

For Perth fashion designer Cheryl Straby, designing and making original top-quality garments has become second nature. For over thirty years Straby has been perfecting her talent for creating fashions that bring out the best in her delighted clients. “Buy Less / Buy Better!” is her credo. She specializes in custom designed and made-to-measure garments, and her ever-growing success indicates she has found a niche with her eye-catching fashions that combine comfort,......


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