The work of celebrated Quebec fashion designer Denis Gagnon is the subject of the latest exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibit, which opened on Oct. 19, is the first of its kind to celebrate a designer from Quebec.
“Not everyone gets the opportunity to go to runway shows,” said StÃ©phane Aquin, the curator of the exhibit being held in the Contemporary Art Square of the museum. “This is a rare opportunity for people to see couture up close.”
The exhibit covers every step of the design process, from the raw materials, to the garments themselves, to the finished products on the catwalk. On the walls are oversized closeups of the materials Gagnon uses in his designs, including zippers, chains and fringe. Also on the wall is an intricately drawn blueprint of the designer’s basement atelier. The subdued lighting and haunting music combined with mannequins suspended from the ceiling give the entire exhibit an eerie feel.
Gagnon partnered with architect Gilles Saucier to put the display together, using a large inverted pyramid to project videos of his runway shows and backstage footage of the designer prepping models in the final moments before they walk out.
The exhibit is not a retrospective of Gagnon’s career but rather a display of his current works arranged into four themes; stripes, chains, zippers and fringe. The pieces being displayed are more works of couture than garments you would see on the street.
Gagnon’s unconventional designs are simultaneously elegant and futuristic. There are several dresses made entirely of bronze zippers and others constructed with a combination of lace and chains. The stripes are both graphically nautical and zebra print, sometimes even within the same outfit. The garments are all very sensual, simultaneously revealing and concealing. According to Aquin, they are made to look best on real women with natural curves rather than emaciated models.
The showcase of Gagnon’s work is appropriately placed between two other fashion exhibitions at the MMFA: the 2008 Yves Saint Laurent show and the upcoming display of couturier Jean Paul Gaultier’s work next summer. Aquin stated that Gagnon occupies the space between the extreme refinement of Saint Laurent and the punk aesthetic of Gaultier.
Aquin insists that there is no reason why fashion shouldn’t be considered one of the fine arts. “When I look at these pieces, I see art,” he said. “Some of them just take your breath away.”
Aquin asserted that Gagnon’s “approach to form, colour, shape and material is no different that that of a traditional artist.”
It is in fact surprising that it took so long for modern fashion to be recognized in the fine arts scene, said Aquin. He maintains that just because something has a known function, that doesn’t mean it is not art. Aquin, who claims he is no fashionista, stated, “institutions change, our understanding of what art is changes.”
“I find [Gagnon’s] work so moving, it’s amazingly expressive and evocative.”
Gagnon has been instrumental in Canadian fashion for the past decade, but has somehow never managed to break out into the international scene. A major museum exhibit like this one might help give his brand the recognition it deserves.
Denis Gagnon Shows All is running until Feb. 13 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, 1380 Sherbrooke St. W. Admission is free.