Caroline Hayden’s runway debut was not exactly a definitive moment for the designer.

“There were a lot of sequins,” she said, laughing.

It was at the fall 2011 edition of the Minneapolis fashion show Envision. Hayden had been commissioned to create a sequined bodysuit for the event’s promotional image, and she made the mistake of patterning her entire Envision collection off that look — resulting in a line that was more glam-rock stagewear than haute couture.

Glitz is out of character for the 34-year-old designer from Crookston, Minn., who has since become known for her polished tailoring and sophisticated fabrics. Hayden’s strength lies in pairing the structured with the soft: Crisp jackets, high-waisted pants and pencil skirts are tempered with flowing, silk georgette gowns and ruffled blouses.

Hayden credits members of the Minnesota fashion community, such as power stylist Hollie Mae Schultz, for giving her the confidence to move forward in her career. Schultz stumbled across Hayden’s designs online and was the first to reach out to ask if she could feature some of Hayden’s designs in a photo shoot.

“It was a total shot in the dark,” said Hayden. “After she sent the pieces back, she called me and we talked for an hour on the phone,” she recalled. “She asked me, ‘What are you doing? Why aren’t you trying harder? Why aren’t you doing more?’ It really pushed me.”

’90s inspiration

Hayden’s love of fabric and tailoring was instilled in her from a young age. Her mother, Sarah Hayden, has owned Bay Window Quilt Shop in tiny Perham, Minn., since Caroline was a child. Accordingly, Caroline first learned to sew using quilting cottons, where she was drawn to the angular patterns — something that is reflected in the right angles and subtle geometric shapes of her current designs.

“I’m Type A that way,” she admitted. “Everything has to be at a right angle, especially if it’s a pocket or a collar. It has to be perfect.”

For her fall collection, which debuts on the Envision runway Saturday at Orchestra Hall as part of Fashion Week Minnesota, she’s mining the styles of the 1990s — such as turtlenecks and V-neck vests — for inspiration. With its rich palette, English tweeds and tailored silhouettes, the look also references the swinging ’60s with a dash of Alicia Silverstone’s character in the hit ’90s film “Clueless.”

After beginning with fabrics and basic shapes, “I usually end up getting inspired halfway through designing a collection,” Hayden explained. “I figure out what’s working, what’s not, and then the patterns start to emerge.”

That’s when she starts thinking music. For this collection, Hayden has been listening to the soundtrack to the Baz Luhrmann-directed 1996 film “Romeo + Juliet,” which is full of tracks from alt-rock favorites such as Garbage, Radiohead and the Cardigans.

Her Envision collection marks the designer’s return to the runway after a two-year hiatus prompted by the birth of her son, Oliver.

“I’ve always been very sensitive, so I ran through the emotional gamut when I was pregnant,” she recalled of her spring 2014 collection, which was full of romanticfloral prints and flowing fabrics. “My inspiration was very much the mind-set of the ’70s — everything needed to be free, and I wanted it to move really well.”

Hayden has no plans to slow down again. She is in the early steps of expanding on the business side of her label — and she’s hiring a seamstress to sew her collection.

“I loved hand-work and beading, but I quickly realized my strength was in the business side of fashion,” she said. “So I can grow faster and more efficiently, because I’m not behind a sewing machine all day.”


Twin Cities writer and stylist Jahna Peloquin is style editor for Minnesota Monthly.