Manitoba author Miriam Toews will walk the red carpet at Oscars in clothes by a Winnipeg designer

Like other fans of award-winning author Miriam Toews, Winnipeg designer Jill Sawatzky had become engrossed in conversations surrounding Women Talking, the film adaptation of Toews’s novel of the same name 

So when her phone lit up with a message asking her to design an outfit for the Manitoba author to wear on the red carpet at Sunday night’s 95th Academy Awards, Sawatzky thought it was a glitch. 

“I actually thought that my phone was generating an AI message to mess with me.” Sawatzky told CBC in late February. 

“I didn’t even believe it to be real. I thought that, ‘Oh weird, my phone has literally taken my primary interest and talking points in this moment and created a message.'”

Women Talking follows a group of women dealing with a traumatic event in their Mennonite community in Bolivia. The film re-imagines the events that happened there. 

Information Radio – MB7:08Local Mennonite clothing designer crafts the outfit author Miriam Toews will be wearing at the Oscars Red Carpet.

Mennonite women supporting Mennonite women. CBC’s Chloe Friesen takes you into the studio of a local designer, Jill Sawatzky of Tony Chestnut, who’s dressing award-winning author Miriam Toews for her Oscars Red Carpet debut.

The women’s shared Mennonite heritage has played a major role in their art. 

Over the course of her career Toews has often focused her writing on the experiences of Mennonite women, something Sawatzky says drew her to the author’s work.

“I don’t think I’d ever read and engaged with specifically a woman telling a Mennonite story, and so that was very interesting,” she said.

Traces of Sawatzky’s heritage can be seen in Tony Chestnut, her clothing brand. There, she says, she experiments with fabrics and silhouettes that remind her of her upbringing.

Shared heritage

Their shared heritage has also played an important role in their partnership. 

Toews told her it was important to her that the clothing she will wear to the Oscars is designed by another Mennonite woman. 

“Everything about it felt very natural and sort of like meant to be in an interesting way,” Sawatzky says, recalling the day they met. “We chatted for like two hours. I cried at one point because I’m a big emoter.”

Woman with long auburn hair stands on red carpet in front of white backdrop. She wears a monochrome tan suit with black shoes.
The creative process was collaborative, Sawatzky says. As well as creating a red-carpet look, she designed clothing for Toews to wear to events leading up to the 95th Academy Awards, including the suit Toews wore to the 35th annual USC Scripter Awards, above. (Michael Tullberg/Getty Images)

The two women settled on a menswear-inspired look: The outfit incorporates cashmere into the suit’s construction as a nod to Mennonite fashion, Sawatzky says, adding elements from Toews’s personal wardrobe were incorporated into the look to ensure comfort. 

Sawatzky wants people who wear her clothing to feel like “they’re presenting themselves to the world in the way that they want to.”

Despite the initial excitement, Sawatzky says, she is still coming to terms with everything that might happen in the coming days. 

“It’s kind of a vulnerable place to be because I recognize that everyone has something to say about what people wear on the red carpet,” she said.

The idea, she said, is “to create art that’s connecting people and communities. In mine and Miriam’s specific experience, it’s our culture, and that feels like a really, really wonderful validation.”

WATCH | CBC’s Chloe Friesen chats with Jill Sawatzky: 

Winnipeg designer excited to see Miriam Toews wear her clothes on red carpet at Oscars

3 hours ago

Duration 4:46

Author Miriam Toews will be wearing the creation of Winnipeg fashion designer Jill Sawatzky on Oscar night Sunday.