Features  Do a little turn on the catwalk

Kortney Shapiro takes in Montreal’s Fashion week, and considers what makes our city a hub of urban style – both on and off the runway

The sea of patent leather, horn-rimmed glasses, and sky-high heels at Montreal’s recent Fashion Week, made it easy to understand why so many people associate the city with a unique, urban-chic style. The fashion poured off the runway; many of the show’s attendees were strikingly fashionable young hipsters, burgeoning fashionistas, and of course friends of friends of friends who knew people in high places. All were decked out in eclectic combinations of couture and cutting-edge street style.

Fashion Week is an international event open almost exclusively to the fashion industry’s elite. Buyers, business owners, journalists, photographers, and socialites join those who are simply content to marvel at costumes and models. In Montreal, the magic occurred amid the Old Port’s cobblestones in Marché Bonsecours from October 13 to 17, and coincided with similar happenings in New York, Toronto, Paris, Milan, and London. For Montreal, the event is vital in promoting the city’s fashion to an international audience, and to defining Montreal as an important industry hub.

One of the highlights of Fashion Week’s third evening was Montreal designer Katrin Leblond’s show. Models in Leblond’s crafty, vibrantly patterned work stalked the runway to French circus music. A delighted model quickly captured the audience’s attention by manipulating a hula-hoop amid exaggerated smiles. The other models, keeping with the Parisian circus theme, captivated spectators with their dramatic couture. One model was dressed in a red and black burlesque corset, and another wore a blue headdress, resembling a bride on acid. The music melted into a syrupy Spanish rhythm, and more voluptuous models in patterned spring dresses mounted the runway. Leblond brought a dinner terrace in Madrid right home to Montreal.

The second show of the evening was from Calgary native Travis Taddeo, now an independent avant-garde designer based in Montreal. Models of otherworldly proportions balancing atop five-inch heels owned his runway. Taddeo’s structured frocks were made from various lacquered materials, in blacks, hot pinks, and blues. The sylphlike female models worked their “fierce bitch” expressions while orchestrating perfect balance in their stilettos, and male counterparts strutted in inky Nike high-tops and enough hair gel to supply a John Frieda salon for a year. Taddeo’s black-on-black cocktail dress – evocative of a strapless shift à la Audrey Hepburn – featured a sheer neckline and sleeves, a fresh twist on the classic little black dress.

The males’ underground-club wear – leather leggings paired with an onyx v-tank – made the show even sleeker. Taddeo took his cues from Montreal nightlife and urbanite style. “Nightlife always plays a part, because it gives me a platform to create for the outrageous,” Taddeo says. “It will always be apparent in my collections although there are other major aspects and influences to my designs.” But Taddeo’s female models were more reminiscent of Jane Fonda circa Barbarella than Mile End or Crescent on a Saturday – sophisticated belles ready to fight off intergalactic robots in style.

One piece that tugged at my heartstrings the moment I saw it, was Taddeo’s “pink cupcake dress.” “[It was] a sculpture I had inside my head,” Taddeo says of his creation. “I wanted to make something alienesque for the campaign shoot, [and] when I finished I was like…this looks like a cupcake!”

When asked what his goals are for the next year, Taddeo responds, “To keep a steady growth in Canada [Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver] and maybe branch out into the states.” For now though, having just participated in his first show at Montreal Fashion Week, he prefers to be modest: “It feels like I’m getting somewhere. I feel proud to be a part of something so big,” he says.

As I chatted with Fashion Television’s Glen Baxter after Taddeo’s show, we surveyed the electrically-charged scene before us. “It was nice to see bright, new, original talent,” Baxter remarked, and in a sense he summed up the value of Fashion Week. As students in Montreal, we are constantly confronted with an array of colours, styles, and tastes so diverse that the aspiring individualist can find him or herself overwhelmed. It is always refreshing to see something stand out on a canvas of clones.

“Montreal is a fashionable city,” notes McGill student and fashionista Taryn Hoffman. “When you look around, just walking around campus you see so many of the students that have their own different unique styles. At McGill…everyone seems unique in how they choose to project themselves, and I respect that very much.”

Other students would sooner disagree. As one student, preferring to remain anonymous, puts it, “What is Montreal fashion? It tends to be perpetuated in this ‘hipster genre,’ and even though these fashion-forward individuals attempt to project themselves as different, they are within themselves, still dressed the same as one another, and not unique in the least.” During the conversation, I smiled to myself as I sat cross-legged in my leather leggings and sky-high fetish boots; regardless of contemporary critiques of Montreal urban style, if you’re happy in your second skins, whether haute couture or thrift store finds, that’s all that matters to your fashion decisions.

Other Fashion Week designers included French designer Christian Chenail, Lucian Matis, Rush Couture, Balbec Collection, Yves Jean Lacasse, Simon Chang, and Evan Biddell, previously of Project Runway Canada. But it wasn’t only designers stepping up their game on the runways; industry insiders and partygoers schmoozed at glamourous VIP events. After presenting designer Marie Saint Pierre at the W Hotel in Old Montreal, Baxter noted, “Marie Saint Pierre had a cool funky formal presentation. There were 20 models posing along side one another at the event, so people would get a better visual representation of the experience.”

All in all, fall Fashion Week was covered in a whole lot of glitter, powder, and eclecticism. But if you missed the glitz at Marché Bonsecours, don’t fret: you’ll be certain to find much of the kitschy style emulated daily on the Arts steps.