It’s mid-afternoon in downtown Regina. Despite being the dead of January, people stroll down the sidewalks with their jackets open, their breath translucent in the warm winter air. As they pass the corner of 12th Avenue and Rose Street, most take a curious glance through the giant windows at men and women in lab-like coats carefully cutting and measuring fabrics. These onlookers may not realize it, but they have a front-row seat to the Queen City’s fashion industry, and they might even catch a glimpse of the man at the centre of it all—Dean Renwick.
If they go inside, they’ll see the silver ball-shaped fixtures hanging in rows along the 20-foot ceiling, which add warmth to the crisp white walls and zigzagged marble floors that wrap around the boutique. Shawn Mendes’ top 40 hit “Stitches” is playing, appropriately, on the radio, while shoppers page through the racks of pastel dresses, charcoal blazers and wool coats that create a maze of couture that is the Dean Renwick Design Studio.
In the middle of the room sits 52-year-old clothing designer Dean Renwick, wearing a Wal-Mart brand black button-up shirt, a silver costume vest leftover from a local movie set and a pair of self-designed black pants—an ensemble he calls his “designer uniform.” As he hugs a pillow, he tells me he’s “in between sizes right now,” but the way his outfit is tailored, you’d never know.
I ask how long he takes to get ready in the morning and he answers, “Forty-five minutes,” but his mother, Pat, who’s doing bookwork across the room, corrects him yelling “Forever!”
Pat says she always knew her son would become a clothing designer. When Renwick was about four, he and his sister sewed Barbie doll clothes in their Glen Elm home for girls at school. At 12, he made his first full-sized dress—a cotton halter-top and skirt for a friend. By Grade 10, when most kids his age were wearing skin-tight jeans and Pink Floyd t-shirts, Renwick went to school in a three-piece suit and his grandmother’s racoon fur coat.
“They’d call you ‘fag’,” Renwick remembers, chuckling uncomfortably. “Once or twice they beat me up, but not badly—a couple times they punched me.”
But not even bullies could stop him from following his dreams.
In September 1982, Renwick moved to Los Angeles to attend the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. He stayed in L.A. for 15 years, working in the garment industry and styling stars like Bette Midler and Keifer Sutherland. But he also got caught up in the drugs and party lifestyle, which ultimately brought him home to Regina to “clean up cold turkey” in 1997.
Renwick laughs as he remembers returning to Regina—where there was no fashion scene—and thinking, “Get me out of here!” But the Queen City ended up being a place of opportunity; in 2003, he opened his first studio in the Scarth Street Mall and started building a local industry.
He began to focus on producing new clothing lines for Saskatchewan Fashion Week—an event he has headlined—and creating his own annual fashion show fundraiser, the Moustache Bash, which raises money for the province’s prostate assessment centre.
Renwick also became well known for his mentoring. Since many aspiring designers leave Regina to study at fashion schools around the globe, eventually, they come back looking for work. That's when Renwick steps in as a mentor, doing what he can to help refine their skills at home.
After years of working day and night, putting fashion and philanthropy before himself, Renwick answered a phone call that pushed his life and career in a new direction.
In early 2016, long-time client Roberta McKay called Renwick about a space for sale in downtown Regina—one she thought would be perfect for a new studio. From there, Renwick and his mother, along with McKay and her husband, became business partners. They signed a 10-year lease, hired staff and arranged to sell the designs of both local and international designers at the boutique.
Today, Renwick works from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., but admits there are nights when he still stays late to get things done. He’s trying to delegate more, but says he feels guilty for leaving because of his “one-on-one relationships” with his clients—something Matthew Donnelly, Renwick’s studio manager and long-time mentee, says makes him a household name. But Regina’s “grandfather of fashion” is modest when I ask him if he’s aware of his impact on local designers.
“There’s people better than me and there’s people worse than me—but I’m good at what I do,” he admits. “That’s the only thing I can control.”
He says he loves doing something he’s passionate about everyday, but confesses he goes through low periods. “It’s kind of like being manic,” he explains. “You go hard to get stuff done—then you sink.”
Sometimes, Renwick questions his dedication to fashion. However, he says it’s his clients who make his vocation worthwhile.
“When I have a bride or a grad girl that ends up standing in front of the mirror crying because she just feels beautiful in a dress I’ve made—that’s why I’m here,” Renwick smiles. “It makes me feel good.”