New exhibition at the McCord Museum guides the viewer through a designer’s creative process
“Behind each and every item there is a story to tell,” said Jean-Claude Poitras as he entered the Jean-Claude Poitras: Fashion and Inspiration exhibition at the McCord Museum, on Oct. 22.
The exhibition, a product of Poitras’ life and work, brings the viewer inside the mind of the Montreal-born fashion designer and tells the story of his life through his creations.
It features over 140 pieces, accompanied by the designer’s sketches. Rather than being displayed in the chronological order of their concept, the garments are displayed in three sections; Childhood Memories, Muses and the Cinema, and Around the World – each marking a significant source of inspiration in Poitras’ life.
Each of the three rooms features a cubicle, the walls lined with screens wherein the viewer can enter and sit to enjoy a variety of video clips so as to put themselves inside the mind of the designer. This idea is meant to allow the viewer to experience the full fruition of the garments, from a plan to sketches, fabric samples, the photographic process and ultimately, the piece itself.
The simple silhouettes of the clothing contrast against vibrant prints, textures and fabrics; demonstrative of how garments that are reminiscent of the period in which they were created can still have their own personality.
[Through the exhibition] I discovered things that I did not suspect in my fashion,” said Poitras, speaking of inspiration drawn from cinema and attending church as a child; his silhouettes were greatly evocative of old Hollywood glamour and outfits traditionally worn to Sunday mass.
Rich and opulent tones fill this part of the show; every mannequin features items made of sheepskin, deep jewel tones and long coats constructed of heavy fabrics.
A collection of delicate, sheer blouses hang within a transparent box at the center of the room. Their wispiness makes them appear as though they are floating in the wind. Poitras described the garments as resembling kites or mobiles.
La mode, c’est du cinema,” said Poitras, who later described fashion as a passageway; falling hand-in-hand with love, cinema and humour – his main sources of inspiration.
Images of models wearing the clothes accompany the collection. In one series of photos, numerous models are featured wearing the same item in a different way.
“Show me the possibilities that clothes can have,” said Poitras. He added that his aim was to create items that were personalizable, a desire that originated from his boredom of the monotonous repetition of outfits from the 70s.
Orange is the colour of life, we bite into an orange,” said Poitras.
A bright tangerine colour was chosen for the walls of the Around the World section of the exhibition, which displays numerous designs inspired by his travels in Europe, North Africa and Southeast Asia, where he sourced the majority of his fabrics.
Poitras noted the significance of Japanese culture in his work, where he drew inspiration from the search of the essential and purity, as well as a passion for material and texture.
One wall is lined with wide silhouettes featuring interesting details such as asymmetrical sashes. He noted how they share similar qualities to garments produced by renowned designers Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons, and Yohji Yamamoto, all of which are known for their attention to detail, use of organic lines and suppleness.
Another wall, inspired by his travels in Italy, features structured dresses in pastel tones or the colour of sorbet, as Poitras described them.
While this portion of Jean-Claude Poitras: Fashion and Inspiration is dedicated to Poitras’ travels, it is impossible to neglect the intermingling of inspiration stemming from retro cinema and the silhouettes reminiscent of those from his childhood.
Thanks to you, I am remembered while I live,” said Poitras.
The show, which guides the viewer through Poitras’ life and work through his depiction of a personal and collective history, marks the importance of the designer as a key figure in Montreal’s creative industry.
“Today, I am completely reassured,” said Poitras, speaking of his work as a designer. “This is not my job, it is my life.”
Jean-Claude Poitras: Fashion and Inspiration is on display at the McCord Museum, at 690 Sherbrooke St. W., until Apr. 26. The museum is open Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.