Montreal Fashion Week

Despite the cursed cold, made better only by a steaming plate of poutine (look it up—it’s gross yet delicious), Montreal is a charming place, a European-inflected city full of vitality, creativity, and fashionable young things everywhere. The latter formed its epicenter at the Marché Bonsecours, the venue for Montreal Fashion Week, now in its 20th edition for fall 2011. If Montreal designers, many of whom are already local stars, cross over into the international fashion elite, the proof may just be in the poutine.

Perhaps no designer better exemplifies the city’s underground spirit more than Denis Gagnon, the Québécois with jumbo glasses who is, strangely, unknown internationally. His show started in shades of black. Fur outerwear contrasted with smooth synthetic textures in skirts and latex gloves. Gagnon shifted to day-glo in his second act, which resembled a mash-up of Prada and Rodarte—i.e. Olive Oyl hair and bright colors with mummy-like wrapping and webbing. Whether these were influences or not, Gagnon’s attention to technical and sculptural detail made the looks unmistakably his own.

Fur is fundamental to Montreal, which was established as a fur trading post in 1611. With today’s ethical concerns in mind, Mariouche Gagné of Harricana is a contemporary extension of this tradition by designing her fur pieces from handpicked recycled coats, this season inspired by old black-and-white photos of Inuit people. These coats are carefully screened, cleaned and reincarnated into moccasins, gloves, and accessories you never knew existed. It’s so guilt-free that it’s like eating fat-free brownies, non?

Post-Vernissage is the cerebral collaboration between Karl Latraverse and Ying Gao, who moonlights as a professor at Montreal’s UQAM fashion school. Perhaps more performance art than runway show, the key component of the all-black collection was an open weave rectangle of fabric reshaped into a myriad of accessories incorporated into all the looks. What would start as a shawl over a sweater, for example, would turn into an apron over a skirt or a shoulder bag over a dress. The conceptual ideas of the show could fill an art history thesis, but the clothes themselves were surprisingly simple and clean.

Three promising voices were featured in a show presented by the boutique creative agency Trusst. Natasha Thomas of Thomas may still work out of her living room, but you’d never guess it from the polished, modern looks of her show. A stretchy, muddled-gold jumpsuit was a highlight. Samuel Mercure‘s menswear was an all-black, goth-punk collection of oversized tops layered over slim leather trousers, with some drop-crotch mixed in. Christian L’enfant Roi also featured menswear, but of a boxier, baggier variety. The program notes said the collection’s old-world feel was inspired by writers of the Aesthetic movement, but it felt more like a re-imagined Turkish souk, with long tunic robes, fez hats, and ethnic motifs.

Marie St-Pierre’s collection closed the week. Each of her models, topped with a tilted fedora, wore minimalist black and white clothes in long, loose shapes and punctuated by a single block of color, red or orange. A final flourish of more feminine, pleated evening dresses rounded out the show. The overall look and pacing reminded me of Alain Delon in the film Le Samourai, the story of a rakish assassin who navigates the criminal underworld of Paris as if it were a silent movie.

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