Fashion Mission: Bienvenue a Montreal

Montreal was the first city I ever visited in Canada, and like most people, I instantly fell in love. With a Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit as a good excuse to squeeze in an end-of-summer visit, I grabbed a pal and took a morning Via Rail train from Toronto for a weekend fashion excursion. I highly recommend staying Old Montreal, particularly the Place d’Armes Hotel & Suites. Owned and operated by the Antonopoulos Group, the same family behind Le Petit Hotel, Hotel Nelligan and a string of other impressively-run properties. Expect old world charm with all the modern luxuries, from the rooms to the rooftop patio’s legendary mojitos.

Trekking through Old Montreal
Plus you cannot beat the Place d’Armes Hotel’s proximity to everything. Designer Denis Gagnon opened his new boutique just down the street last May, so I popped in for a visit. Tucked downstairs in an old heritage building, the space showcases Gagnon’s personality and his spring 2011 collection – you remember, the one with the stripes and the fringe? (The dressing rooms sport full length ombré fringe curtains.) There are also shoes from his ALDO collaboration and a few pieces from other designers like Montrealer Travis Taddeo.
Just down the street is one of my top shopping stops in Old Montreal – Espace Pepin. The large boutique serves as a workshop and showroom for multidisciplinary artist Lysanne Pepin, but also features apparel, accessories and home decor items by other designers that suit Pepin’s aesthetic. 
Espace Pepin
Espace Pepin
Having worked up an appetite shopping, I stop into Marché de La Villette for a bite. Situated across the street from Espace Pepin, the old world charm extends from the décor to the staff. And unlike the heavily touted Olive & Gourmando (also across the street), you don’t have to queue up for this deliciousness.
With a full belly it’s off to the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the Musee des Beaux Arts. 
Wearing a Jean Paul Gaultier dress to see Jean Paul Gaultier. C’est bon, no?

Denis Gagnon Interprets Alice in Wonderland

“You used to be much more…”muchier.” 
You’ve lost your muchness.”
~ The Mad Hatter (2010)
One thing that’s almost certain with a Denis Gagnon dress: it’s never too much. His latest concoction is a dress inspired by Alice in Wonderland for the Luminato Festival.
This is not something we recommend wearing if you’re planning to fall down a rabbit hole, of course. It is, however, a stunning work of art.
The dress is a hand-beaded confection of white and silver that will be on display throughout the Festival at the Wintergarden Lobby, 225 King Street West until Sunday, June 19th.
On opening night guests of Luminato were treated to a cocktail reception for the official unveiling of the dress.
Denis & Me
Denis & his muses wearing, what else?
P.S. Pardon the washed out look of the photos. I’m in-between cameras right now, and the poor lighting in the venue didn’t help either. The dress is stunning in person. Go see!

Are We Just Not That Into Him?

After more than ten years of hard work Denis Gagnon is enjoying some well-deserved moments – a FashionTelevision special, a line for BEDO, an exhibit at the Musée des Beaux Arts in Montreal and the opening of his own boutique in Old Montreal. The press uses the words “icon” and “Denis Gagnon” together often.

So it was hard to ignore the audible concern over a less-than-stellar turnout at his LG Fashion Week runway show. When will the world properly take note of Denis Gagnon, we all wondered. It doesn’t seem fair (to him) to be kept a secret any longer. This June his genius will be on display at Toronto’s Luminato Festival. Lancôme and Luminato have commissioned Gagnon to create a one-of-a-kind dress installation inspired by Alice in Wonderland. This event will position Denis squarely within the international arts community. And let’s face it, the man is an artist.

Gagnon’s fall 2011 collection was described as a “fusion of colors, textures and materials, the feminine silhouette, endowed with a new profile, enhanced by this exuberant sensuality found in the sculptural work of Denis Gagnon.” Our inveterate creator could have been channeling Michael Alig’s Club Kids of the 90’s in his exploration of a new feminine silhouette.

Photos by Peter Lytwyniuk / Studiolit.com
If you wonder how some of these things would look on a store hanger, you needn’t wonder long. Denis opened his new boutique last week in Old Montreal (170B rue Saint-Paul Ouest) where, in addition to apparel, you will find the gorgeous accessories from his runway show. Could a fragrance and line of eyewear be far behind? Who knows? One thing we have learned in ten years of watching Denis Gagnon – expect to be wowed.

Love U, Love Your Heart

Valentine’s Day gets a tough rap, with many declaring it a “commercial holiday.” Yes, to a large degree it’s true. We are inundated with so much tacky, heart-shaped stuff the day has lost any connection to true, undying love or St. Valentine, the patron saint of lovers. 
At Style & Conscience, a locally produced and socially responsible clothing line run by Montréal Couture, Valentine’s Day is about a different kind of heart. Last week Style & Conscience presented an exclusive accessory collaboration with Denis Gagnon that benefits the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Québec.
Gagnon has designed the “I Love U” mini-collection that includes a signature leather handbag (named Stéphanie), a silk scarf (named Alexandra) and a keychain (Amélie). Each item was named after 8-year-old triplets of Dr. Nicolas Noisieux, an important volunteer for the Foundation. 
Sold separately or as a trio, the production is locally manufactured on demand only, with 20% of the sales going to finance Heart and Stroke Foundation’s research projects. And that is something we can totally love.

Ready for Ready-to-Wear

photo by Peter Lytwyniuk
The Superbowl may be over, but as far as I’m concerned the real games are just beginning. It’s the start of Ready-to-Wear season when designers will be fiercely competing on runways around the world for international attention and investment. Of course, runway shows are a different kind of spectator sport than football or hockey.  Let’s be honest, they’re usually viewed while the boss is out to lunch or late at night, just you and your laptop. But in the vein of “more is better” I encourage you to do your hair, don a great pair of shoes and pour yourself a glass of bubbly while indulging in a live stream (where available) or a photo slideshow.
February 7 – 10, Montreal
Montreal’s calendar includes many of the usual suspects – Barila, Bodybag by Jude, Nadya Toto – plus a peak at Rudsak’s new label RUD. Denis Gagnon, along with Marie Saint Pierre, tops this list of must-see shows. As well, the young Montreal-raised, London-based Thomas Tait will debut with Christian l’Enfant Roi and Samule Mercure in a group show presented by Trusst. Live streaming available.
Montreal Fashion Week
 
February 10 – 17, New York
Plenty to heart about New York’s calendar. The pro set of Michael Kors, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Betsy Johnson ground the week. Mix in the glamour of Badgley Mischka, hipster chic of Charlotte Ronson and celebrity shows like L.A.M.B and you have something uniquely New York. Live streaming available for some shows.
Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week

February 13 – 15, London
With an eye on emerging talent and international designers (including Mackage) Scoop appears to be modeled after New York’s Coterie or Copenhagen’s Gallery.  This new show is based at London’s Saatchi Gallery. Check back for live streaming details.
Scoop International Fashion Show 
February 18 – 23, London
London jam packs their week with designer shows…too many to count. Some highlights will no doubt include Christopher Kane, Erdem, Matthew Williamson, Vivienne Westwood Red Label and Mark Fast. Check back for live streaming details.
London Fashion Week

February 23 – March 1, Milan
Gucci, Pucci, Prada and Jil Sander are just the tip of the Milano iceberg. For insider reports from the Milan shows, follow Flare Magazine’s @LisaTant on Twitter. Check back for live streaming details.
Milan Fashion Week
 
March 1 – 9, Paris
There is no other city who can compete with Paris on fashion: Dior, Balmain, Lanvin, Balenciaga, Comme des Garcons, YSL, Jean Paul Gaultier, Galliano, McQueen and of course Chanel. (In case you missed it, check out Jeanne Beker’s interview with Jean Paul Gaultier in the Globe and Mail here.) Check back for live streaming details.
Paris Fashion Week (Mode à Paris)
And let’s not forget our Canadian shows. Check back for designers and live streaming information. More to come!
 
March 24 – 31, Edmonton
March 28 – April 1, Toronto
LG Fashion Week
April 12 – 15, Vancouver

Dear Donna….

I’ve got a lot on the go right now so, admittedly, I didn’t give much thought before heading over to Holt Renfrew for Donna Karan’s personal appearance.  To be clear we are talking the DK of DKNY.  I was recently reminded of Karan’s iconic stature in Flare‘s September issue, that it’s been 25 years since she launched her 7 Easy Pieces collection during her reign at Anne Klein.  Since then Karan’s designs have become synonymous with ease and versatility.  She even brought us the first diffusion line when she launched DKNY, a less expensive line for the younger shopper.

Aside from being an incomparable designer for the modern woman, one whose work I always loved, I knew she is a yoga afficionado and a philanthropist supporting AIDS and cancer charities.  I’ve always appreciated the upbeat, no-fuss approach she appears to have in life.  The CFDA has honoured her an astonishing seven times.  And lately this queen of American fashion is sharing more of her spiritual side and influence through her Urban Zen Foundation.
Even knowing all that, I thought I’d just pop over to Holt’s with a pal for a quick photo opp of Donna hanging with her latest collection and that’s it.  But there is something so…compelling…about this woman’s presence.  Within minutes of being in the same room I knew that I had to introduce myself.
 “Hi Donna, I’m Leesa and I’m a big fan.” (gush)

“Thank you.” Her eyes lock on mine and her smile is infectious.

“I have huge respect for you as a businesswoman and designer. You’re quite an inspiration.” (gush, gush)

“Thank you so much. Are you a designer?” she asks, still smiling.

“Fashion media. I have a web site about Canadian fashion called the F-list.”

“The what?” I realize I have a fleeting moment here.  I quickly pull a F-list promo card from my purse and hand it to her.

“The F-list,” I repeat. “It’s a web site devoted to supporting and promoting Canadian designers and retailers.” 

“Oh, fantastic,” she murmurs, pondering over my F-list bookmark.  “Do you have good designers here in Canada?”

“Yes, quite a few. Some of whom are carried here.” (#1 – yes, I said “some of whom” like a nerd and #2 – Holt Renfrew, you’re welcome.)

We chat a bit more about designers and fashion weeks (she thinks mid-October is “NOT too late!” for ours), have a quick photo together and then she’s devoured by another fan, hungry for some DK conversation.

Like a schoolgirl with a crush, I’m smitten.  I want so badly to link my arm in hers and gab over lunch.  She IS an inspiration. And so, Ms. Karan…in light of keeping it simple, modern and very Canadian, I offer seven top  designers I think you would like:

Denis Gagnon – (right) a minimalist from Montreal with a tendency for the monochromatic.  He’s also absolutely brilliant and far too special to keep to ourselves here in Canada.

Jeremy Laing – this serious, young lad apprenticed with Alexander McQueen and often draws from the Canadian landscape for inspiration.  His work shows signs of Japanese influence yet somehow he maintains an organic, natural quality.

Pink Tartan – designer Kimberley Newport-Mimran reminds me a bit of Donna in that everything under the label speaks precisely to what Kim herself will wear.  Her collections are for the practical woman who knows how to balance girlish charm with a clean, modern edge.
Greta Constantine – (left) Stephen Wong and Kirk Pickersgill may be known as the “jersey boys” for their expertise with the fabric, but their talent in creating edgy, feminine designs with all sorts of textiles is well-known.  Dare we forget their seat belt couture?

Rad Hourani – think urban warrior when considering Rad’s work.  He calls it asexual, aseasonal and anti-conformist.  I just call it awesome.

Joeffer Caoc – one of the first designers I discovered after moving to Canada and one of the nicest people on the planet.  Joeffer’s work is intricate yet subtle, classic yet unconventional and built for the sensible, modern woman.

Thieves – Sonja den Elzen’s fledgling line brings sustainability and style together for good.  Through uncomplicated (but expert) draping and detailing she works wonders with eco-fabrics for both men and women.

Dear readers, I encourage you to check out the article on Donna in last month’s Town & Country magazine.  You can download it at Urban Zen Foundation website.  It’s an unbelievable insight into her world and the power that one individual has to motivate a movement.
“What you have been given, it’s to give back.” – Donna Karan