In an obscure part of town, away from the trendy bars on St. Laurent Blvd and the upscale boutiques on Peel St., a congregation of Dolce & Gabbana wearing, Louis Vuitton carrying, Jimmy Choo strutting beautiful people emerge like clockwork from the half-dozen or so silver Mercedes Benz’s parked outside an unidentifiable warehouse.
Inside, the energy from the awaiting crowd of photographers, international journalists, buyers, young fashionistas and sponsors for the week long event in Montreal is high while the atmosphere in the large room echoes with pulsating beats.
From the dark abyss, the first figure appears barely recognizable without the spotlight shining from above. More follow suit in single file, rhythmically swinging their hips in tight leather and delicate paisley wrap-skirts, on strategically scattered white powder.
The look is retro-vintage, the colours are simple and earthy, and the silhouettes are long and lean.
These are creations from local artists Elisa Dahan and Eran Elfassy of Mackage who represent just a sample of the many influential individuals who have been thrust into the limelight as the next generation of Montreal fashion designers.
During the fourth semi-annual Montreal Fashion Week, local designers like Mackage, Cole B, Luc Laroche, Marissa Minicucci, Nadya Toto, and Danier Leather among others have presented their fall 2003/winter 2004 collections to the viewing public.
Fresh new talent will continue to emerge, like the four introduced in the Designer Debut runway on March 6 at the Spectrum, and although many have studied abroad or closer to home in technical institutions, sometimes the most creative of the bunch rises from a conceptual understanding of the basics in design.
Concordia’s fine arts department encourages their students to explore their field by learning and using different mediums as a means of expression. “It’s a theoretical perspective,” says Joanna Berzowska, assistant professor for the design arts program.
“Concordia’s design teaches you about the flaws in commercialism and it doesn’t teach you as much in technical skill as it does conceptual,” says Krista Bursey, a third year student in design arts. Sometimes textbook knowledge will open more doors to experimentation and self expression.
Bursey and her classmate Jason Wasserman are a couple of students who have ventured that extra mile and organized an exhibition which touches on a variety of artistic mediums; they call it Ecclesia.
“The space that we’re working out of is an old cathedral and ecclesia appropriately means a religious assembly,” says Bursey.
Incorporating the iconic image of a heart, the creators focused on a relationship of nature and technology. “It’s a commercialization of biology and of the heart itself, which is so heavily symbolic with spirituality and nature.
“We wanted to create a show that is multi-disciplinary while having a variety of mediums therefore affecting all your senses,” says Wasserman. “We decided to use painting, design work and fashion; we designed outfits and prints for the band, the DJ and ourselves using the same imagery as the themes.”
So what allows them to stand apart from others within their field? “We’re very interested in creating a final product that is not just conceptually valid and understandable to people within the arts community, but one that everyone can understand and appreciate; finding a balanced between the conceptual side and the commercial side,” says Wasserman.
Whether fashion related events are publicized or not, the general consensus is that Montreal has tremendously contributed to the trade.
“Montreal is a natural centre for the fashion industry because of its vitality and the lifestyle,” says Patrick Thomas, president of the Montreal Fashion Network. “The majority of the businesses are based here.”
Whereas Paris, New York, Milan and London remain the recognized fashion capitals of the world, the garment industry in Quebec has made its mark on the world scene with its historical involvement in the fur industry and its association with various commercial markets.
Moreover, according to Statistics Canada, the top employing industry in Montreal is fashion and the rate of production within the trade has generated 50 per cent of the country’s annual output.
Lastly, Quebec designers have exuded an attractive and powerful vibe towards buyers and the international media and the Montreal Fashion Week has fortified its status within the trade by being included on the calendar of fashion events along with others across the continent.
Nonetheless, with all the opportunities presenting themselves, newcomers can also face disappointment and negative criticism. Oral Cole, designer for Cole B Co., has been classified and stereotyped within the industry as unconventional.
His runway show on March 6 at Time Supper Club displayed his unique and diverse image by accentuating the straight cuts of the garments with leather, fur and zipper detailing and some shockingly low waistlines; Cole awed the crowd and managed to raise a few eyebrows in the process. “I was influenced by a good friend of mine also known as Mackage,” says Cole.
Today, by participating in his own catwalk, Cole is a leading example of a local success that is passionate about his work. “No matter how hard it gets and you want to walk away; don’t,” he adds.
Whether the chosen space is a church or a nightclub, artistic expression has no boundaries and those interested in being part of the budding industry will only help contribute to its growing popularity and economic prosperity.
Fashion is influenced by trends, current events and the artistic inspirations of each individual designer. There is a fine line between what is in vogue and what is art and those who can differentiate and successfully utilize these juxtapositions may someday get the opportunity to join others in Montreal who have set out to publicly display their creations.
Ecclesia will be held on March 16 at 1234 de la Montagne at 8 p.m. and admission is free.