Canadian Fashion Connection – Ms. Emma Designs

Label from green silk dress, c. 1993

Label from green silk dress, c. 1993

Ms. Emma Designs originated in 1973 when Sofia Verna and two business partners opened a small shop on Queen Street West in Toronto – a trendy area today that was a down-market mix of used bookstores, pawn brokers and greasy spoon restaurants in the early 1970s. The first shop was open concept, with sewing machines and a cutting table visible to clients who had come in for custom work and alterations.

Interior of Ms. Emma, 2007

Interior of Ms. Emma, 2007

By 1975 when Ms. Emma was incorporated, Sofia’s partners had left for other ventures. The boutique soon became known for its distinct look of hand dyed, painted and quilted clothing made from Belgian tapestries, Indian tussahs and Italian silks and wools. At its height, there were nine Ms. Emma locations in Toronto.¬†Although times are leaner now, Sofia Verna’s handmade fashions continue to have appeal for a loyal following of clients.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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3 Responses to Canadian Fashion Connection – Ms. Emma Designs

  1. liz says:

    Ms. Emma staff always told you to bring your suit or dress back if you wanted it altered – they maintained that having made the garment, they knew best how to put it together and take it apart. I had a blue silk suit that I got at Ms. Emma to wear when I was maid of honour at a friend’s wedding, somewhere between 1987-89. It was … poofy, as things were in the ’80s. A good 10 or 12 years later it was still in my closet, having served faithfully at many other occasions, and I went back to Ms. Emma to have it brought up to date for yet another wedding (and also to have the waistband sized up a bit, because it was 10 or 12 years after purchase, after all). I toddled out of the dressing room and the seamstress said “Well … it IS a little ’80s, isn’t it?” I swear they reduced the volume of the skirt by half. They took the poof out of the sleeves and the peplum off the jacket, and I wore it a few more times before it finally went to Goodwill. Money well spent.

  2. liz says:

    Yes, I recognized it! When I bought the dress (for yet another command performance as maid-of-honour), the staff at Ms. Emma said I could bring it back after the wedding and they’d shorten it to cocktail-length so I could wear it to parties. Alas, I never go to the kind of parties that require that kind of dress, which is why you have it now.

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