After the discontinuation of Montreal Fashion Week, one of Montreal’s leading designers, Denis Gagnon, presented his new collection in early October 2014, around the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. No longer restricted by the bi-annual production schedule, Gagnon reflects in this interview on the role the city plays in his work, the challenges of being a designer in Montreal, and the advantages of not having a Fashion Week.
K.S.: I’m writing about cities and fashion, and I’m interested in the role fashion plays in Montreal. What do you think it is about Montreal that brings so many innovative designers and creators together? Is there something particular about the city, its diversity, its multiculturalism that allows for certain kinds of innovation and creativity?
Denis Gagnon: Because it is a mixed city, our culture is both influenced by Europe and the USA, so we tend to have mixed feelings and mixed creativity.
How do you define talent?
We can’t define it, it’s like style, beauty or taste, either you have it or you don’t, you don’t learn it.
What was it like training as a fashion designer in Montreal?
It was really hard, because there is not much financial help and money, so it was a constant struggle.
Several innovative MTL designers (like Rad Hourani and Ying Gao) work in Europe now. Would you say that is a common trend? What are the advantages and challenges of staying in Montreal?
I think it’s a good idea. They were right to move as they are still young. The difficulties in staying in Montreal is mostly that you AND your creations stay in Montreal, you are local and stay local, there is no expansion. The advantage must be in the cost of living (rents for example).
Who are your regular clients? Montrealers or visitors? Francophone or anglophone?
My clients are all very different. I have some Montreal women in their 40s-50s mostly, anglophone, francophone, the language does not make a difference. I also have a lot of international customers: coming from the USA, Europe or the Middle East.
Now that there is no longer a Montreal Fashion Week, has the fashion scene been fragmented? Is it more challenging to put on independent collection shows? Are there also advantages to not having Fashion week? What role does Toronto Fashion Week now play for Montreal designers?
I think it is a good thing in a way, it allows designers to have a show when they feel ready for it. A fashion week is a good thing, but it should also have high standards and support, if not, there is no point in putting one on.
Who are some of Montreal designers and innovators who inspire you?
I tend to be influenced by creators from abroad such as Philip Stark, Andy Warhol, Yayoi Kusama, Ai Weiwei.
Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?
Mattel! To have a runway show with Barbies only.
Does Montreal play a role in your work? Does its cultural scene inspire your work?
It does even if I don’t realize it. The mixed culture and language influence my work.
When creating a new collection, how do you conceptualize it? What comes first? Fabrics? Shapes? What inspired you? How is the current collection different from your previous ones?
Materials definitely come first. It is not necessarily a choice, more a reality. When you are a Montreal-based designer, you have to work around what is available, and we don’t have a huge choice in materials. So I choose a fabric hoping I will still be able to find it when in production, and then I work around it.
You always include interesting gender dynamics in your shows. What are your gender politics?
I love oppositions, I work with duality and obligations, so I guess it influences me in my work and in my approach of genders. I find oppositions very interesting and challenging.
All photos by Sébastien Roy.