“When I come home, I love to be naked,” says Sylvie Scherzer. It’s an unexpected revelation from the founder of a clothing company, but Scherzer isn’t a typical designer. Her goal is to create elegantly simple but comfortable garments that last. A German immigrant and mother of three with an education in psychotherapy and homeopathy, she wasn’t afraid to dream big when it came to photographing her first clothing collection.
Scherzer reached out to local photographer Brendan Meadows about a photoshoot involving dancers and horses, which to her represent power and spirit. Her son, who is a dancer, enlisted his colleagues as models. A ranch in Ashcroft provided the horses. And Meadows was so impressed with the vision for the shoot that he signed on, despite the miniscule budget. “He never took one penny,” Scherzer says, awed by this generosity.
The day of the photoshoot was unexpectedly cold. Not all of the samples from Europe had shown up in time, so the already-freezing dancers had to swap the few garments around. But the moment that 100 horses first galloped through the fields was unforgettable. Scherzer says, “I still have goosebumps.”
It’s a chilly winter’s afternoon when I stop by the State of Underdress design studio to check out the spring collection, which launches April 21. The small SOU team recently relocated from Gastown to this larger space in downtown Vancouver. Flooded with natural light from two walls of windows, the open-concept space is the perfect backdrop for the company’s creations.
Scherzer is dressed from head to toe in black, her cascades of blond curls corralled in two loose buns. “I’m not so good with languages,” she says apologetically. Communication was especially difficult after she moved here from Germany in 2009 for her husband’s career. “I watched 100 times You’ve Got Mail to learn English.”
Two events eventually spurred her to reinvent herself: her three kids grew up and started moving out, and her beloved father died. “I lost my foundation,” she says. Before his death in 2018, Scherzer’s father encouraged her not to repeat his mistakes, advising, “You should live your dreams.”
After spending more than a decade focused solely on her family, she had to remind herself what her own childhood aspirations and passions actually were. “I always had this dream of having an artistic workspace,” she recalls. “And fashion, I was always into fashion since I was little.” She signed up for classes at The Cut Design Academy in Kitsilano and quickly fell in love with designing clothing.
Scherzer launched State of Underdress in 2020. “We had, in the beginning, so many troubles: getting the right fabric, getting the right pattern-making, getting everything,” she says. Despite the challenges, she felt excited to wake up and go to work each day: “This is what makes me happy.” Being busy and learning new skills kept her from missing her children and her father as much.
Each piece that Scherzer designs has to be simple and minimalist, feel good on the body, and suit her own personal style. “I’m designing for myself,” she says. She chooses natural and eco-friendly materials as much as possible, but to her the true key to sustainability is for each person to own just a few garments—pieces that can last, thanks to timeless design and good construction. Though she’s unlikely to get rich by encouraging consumers to buy less clothing, the thought doesn’t bother her: “I’m not a money saver. Money comes, money goes.”
She credits collaborators like Meadows and her tight-knit team for the success of her fledgling business. “Without my team, I would not be here,” she says. “I would still be dreaming in my bath, ‘Oh, yeah, I should be a fashion designer.’” Also crucial has been her husband and children’s belief in her: “My whole family are my biggest supporters.”
At this point in our conversation, Scherzer’s husband enters the design studio with their dachshund, who is dressed in a tiny grey hooded sweater and races around, clamouring for attention. Scherzer scoops him up.
Standing in her new studio, her dog in her arms, her husband by her side, and her team around her, she exudes happiness about where the twists and turns of her life and her career have taken her. Her hope is for other aspiring entrepreneurs to follow their dreams, too.
“Don’t let other people hold you back,” she says. “It’s your life.”
All photos courtesy of State of Underdress. Read more style stories.