Nova Scotia

Fashion designer with Down syndrome heading to Hollywood gift lounge

Coming off a tough health battle this winter, Nova Scotia's Marie Webb is ready to travel to see the stars in the City of Angels.

Nova Scotia's Marie Webb received invitation to pre-Emmy gift lounge after serious illness this past winter

Marie Webb is the driving force behind Halifax's Lemonade Stand Designs. At her Halifax studio, she plans, colours and felts different fashions. (David Irish/CBC)

Following a difficult health battle this winter, a young Nova Scotia fashion designer with Down syndrome can look forward to the rest of her year knowing it'll be sweetened with the kind of exposure any artist might dream of. 

Marie Webb's Halifax studio is draped with her eye-popping, colourful dresses, scarves and shawls. They're a sample of what Hollywood will see this September, when Webb will be a part of a pre-Emmy Awards gifting lounge in Los Angeles. 

Webb, 27, will appear at the lounge in advance of the award show, wearing her trademark vibrant fashions, offering up pocket squares she's created to the nominated actors and actresses. 

"Backstreet Boys!" Webb exclaimed when asked whom she'd love to rub shoulders with. "They're really nice boys." 

A 'colourful' personality

At her sunny north-end Halifax space at Wonder'neath Open Studio, where Webb is one of eight artists in residence, she plans, draws, colours and felts templates for her Lemonade Stand Designs brand. Her fashion designs are sold on online sites like Etsy and Shopify.

Webb's mother, Renee Forrestall, a well-known painter and art instructor, sits across from her. She scans designs and prepares them in Photoshop. She then sends them to a manufacturer in Montreal where the templates are applied to silks and satins. 

Renee Forrestall holds up one of many dress designs created by her daughter. (David Irish/CBC)

"Marie is very optimistic and very positive and always look at the positive side. It's just the way she is. I think that comes out in her work that's colourful, joyful, playful," Forrestall said.

"And cuteful," Marie chimed in. "[The designs are] in my mind. Angels are in my dreams." 

'Blissfully unaware' of illness

A marketing company organizing a pre-Emmy gift suite noticed Webb's work online and invited her to bring her designs to a suite where companies give away their products to celebrities and the press.

It won't be Webb's first celebrity-studded event. She went to the Toronto International Film Festival last year. But other invitations to the Golden Globes and Cannes Film Festival were sidelined by the diagnosis of a serious illness. Forrestall disclosed the details of the illness, but CBC News has agreed to keep them private. 

Webb was hospitalized for a month this winter.

"We'd been cruising along fairly happily, blissfully unaware that Marie was actually quite ill. It did hit us like a tonne a bricks and we weren't sure, when we were in there, whether we were coming out," Forrestall said. 

During her stay, Webb maintained that determination and smile, designing dresses from her hospital bed. 

Webb worked away in her hospital bed during her month-long stay. (Submitted by Renee Forrestall)

"She was drawing things and I was putting them up on the walls and all the nurses were coming in," said Forrestall. "She made it a party room." 

Her diagnosis is something the family is still grappling with, administering medication daily. The gift suite invitation came after Webb's return home. Knowing she was stable, the family knew the trip was possible. 

"I'm feeling pretty good now," said Webb. "I'm feeling pretty happy and thankful."

From pastime to career

The road to the City of Angels has had its unexpected twists and turns, said Forrestall. What began as a way to allow Webb to channel her creative side now takes up most hours of the day. 

Forrestall, who never thought she'd be working in textiles, knows there's great value in what they do.

"This is so Marie has a real sense of the power of her work. The impact," she said. "Where your work can go when you design something on paper, this can become a real thing and flourish and thrive."

The Emmy Awards are on Sept. 17.

Webb not only draws and colours, she felts her designs. (Submitted by Renee Forrestall)


David Irish


David Irish is a visual storytelling producer for CBC Nova Scotia.