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Ottawa couturier redesigning her career

Farah Asnaashari has been designing and making bespoke clothes for women in Ottawa for nearly 30 years, but COVID pandemic lockdowns nearly put an end to that.
Ottawa fashion designer Farah Asnaashari.

With the COVID-19 pandemic came a funny meme about not wearing pants on those work-from-home Zoom meetings.

Most thought it was hilarious, but not Ottawa fashion designer Farah Asnaashari.

To one of Ottawa's genuine couturiers, wearing beautiful clothes is her business and her joy.

The owner of the fashionable Farah's Studio, Asnaashari's been outfitting professional woman in the capital since 1997.

However, when a series of COVID lockdowns closed offices and outlawed public events, Asnaashari 's clientele, many of them politicians, lawyers, performing artists and other professional women, suddenly had no weddings, proms, galas at the NAC and special dinners to go to.

Overnight, business at Farah's Studio ground to a halt.

So, after nearly 30 years as a store owner in Ottawa, Asnaashari decided to close the store and work from her home studio, where she can focus on custom tailoring suits, dresses, bridal and prom gowns, until things get back to normal.

“I don't need the shop because there's no one downtown anymore,” she explains. “There are no events to go to, no one is working in the offices. People don't need nice clothing the way we used to.”

“The business isn't the same as it was five years ago,” the designer adds. “The business keeps changing every five years, and you have to change with the times, but I don't think it will rebound after this. The effect of COVID on the economy has been significant. It changed the world.”

In the meantime, her business is holding its own because Asnaashari is one of only a few clothing designers making tailored haute couture, exclusively for women in the capital.

With help from her son Keyvan, she's marketing her ready-made and custom pieces on her website

Asnaashari's designs are clean and deceptively simple. She only uses natural fabrics that hang well and feel nice against the skin. She also has a line of off-the-rack tops, dresses, coats and accessories that wouldn't look out of place in a high-end designer's boutique.

“We're less about following fashion trends,” she concludes. “We make clothes for people who know what they like, know what looks good on them, classic style. They're tired of struggling to find something at the mall that isn't stretchy or baggy or cheaply made. One size fits all. People are not one size. Women come in many shapes and sizes.”

“I have clients who've been coming to me since we opened,” she adds. “They still wears pieces I made them 15 years ago.”

Originally from Iran, Asnaashari learned how to cut fabric and sew from her mother, and learned European couture in Rome before moving to Ottawa. She opened her original Farah's Studio store in Westboro in 1997 before opening the Sussex Street store in 2016.

“I enjoy making nice clothes, I enjoy sewing because I know what I'm doing and I enjoy the effect nice clothing has on clients.”

Three things Asnaashari tells clients do when building a wardrobe:  

  1. Look for well-made pieces and outfits that never go out of style and work well together as a curated wardrobe, so you can have your own go-to outfit formula that works for a variety of occasions. 

  2. Avoid trends. There’s a reason each season’s hottest trends go on sale for 50 to 70 per cent off regular prices soon after they arrive in stores. They start to look dated almost as quickly as you take them home.

  3. Invest in outerwear. Especially in Canada, it’s the item you wear the most and it’s the first thing everyone sees. A nice coat that fits you well can elevate any outfit, and can also be easier to pair with a classic style of shoes or boots, and will usually require fewer accessories. 

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