Renaissance man: Jean-Claude Poitras honoured by Fondation de la Mode
Eva Friede, Montreal Gazette
More from Eva Friede, Montreal Gazette
Published on: April 29, 2015
Last Updated: April 29, 2015 9:16 AM EDT
He is Quebec’s Renaissance man, a multi-discipline artist known for his fashion who also draws and creates everything from teacups to towels, kitchens to stained glass.
He started as a fashion designer in 1972 with a studio called Parenthèse in Old Montreal, but is perhaps best known for his line BOF!, created with partners including manufacturers Beverini, Auckie Sanft and Irving Samuel.
Today, he writes about fashion and design for Le Devoir, is researching the history of fashion for a course at LaSalle College and has just completed a four-year project designing uniforms for 6,000 employees of the Société de Transport de Montréal — in addition to creating special editions in design and fashion.
He has won multiple honours and competitions, including the Fil d’Or in Monte Carlo in 1989 and Elle’s designer of the year award in 1991. He was named to Order of Canada in 1995 and the Ordre national du Québec in 1996
On Monday, Jean-Claude Poitras will be the 26th fashion industry figure to be honoured by the Fondation de la Mode de Montréal, an organization that hands out more than $100,000 in scholarships to promising design students every year.
The Gazette sat down with Poitras in his impeccable loft, perfectly outfitted with art and artifacts — and not a teacup out of place — to hear his reflections on his career, and the state of fashion today and for the future.
Q. What creations are you most proud of?
JCP: My first collection for Beverini and Auckie Sanft that I called BOF! It was my tribute to Annie Hall.
I remember Arthur Sanft, asking me why I wanted to call the line BOF! I didn’t know how to explain it in English, because BOF! is like “Who cares?” in a way. It was a funny thing, that was not snobbish, but with humour.
I told Arthur it stood for “Best of Fashion” and he loved it.
I sold that collection to my idol, Lily Simon, where I used to go with my mother and grandmothers when there was a special occasion.
Q. What is the most disappointing thing that ever happened to you?
JCP: Montréal Mode. It was supposed to support Quebec designers, the LVMH of Quebec in a way. On paper, it was just great. They felt that I had to be the first designer to join.
They announced to me six months later that they did not know how to produce coats, dresses and suits, so they had to stop producing my line.
(Montréal Mode was a $30-million investment by the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec that ended on a sour note and with the loss of all the money two years after its inception in 1999.)
Q. Have you recovered?
JCP: They couldn’t kill me so I came back stronger.
Q. You made a lot of waves in 2013 with comments that the fashion scene in Quebec was far from the glory of the catwalks. Is the situation still the same, and what can be done to help?
JCP: I honestly feel there are a lot of positive things happening, coming from young people, emerging designers who are doing things in a different way.
The well-known, talented and creative designers who are trying to do things the way we used to in the 1980s or ’70s — it simply doesn’t work any more, having your little retail operation with the studio in the back. We have to think differently, do things differently.
The young designers are not comparing Montreal to Paris or Milan or London.
What I love about the emerging designers is that they’re working together.
Fashion Preview (a young designer showcase this season) — there was something real, not flashy at all, it was simply full of emotion, and doing things their way.
Q. Are you saying fashion is local, not global?
First, we have to look at ourselves as being local, and then expand to the rest of the world. But it has to come from our roots. We are deeply different, and we have to stop comparing ourselves (to others).
Because Montreal has something to offer that is unique. In terms of cinematography, music we are there. In fashion, we have to position ourselves.
A lot of things are starting to happen, Ying Gao, Valérie Lamontagne — these people are showing all over the world. (Both are avant-garde designers whose creations are art as well as fashion.)
There are a lot of interesting underground things happening in Montreal. Look at the success of Frank & Oak, Beyond the Rack, SSense. With these websites, the fashion scene is changing.
Q. What would you do differently if you could do it all over again?
JCP: So many things! Honestly, I would have tried at the international level. I am very proud that from Canada I was able to sell to the United States, to Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. Showing my line in Paris at Salon Atmosphère was a big thing for me.
What I love in our day is that a Belgian designer (Raf Simons) is behind a big label like Dior. There’s this mix that was not really possible in my time.
Q. What advice do you offer young designers?
JCP: Follow your instinct. Don’t try to repeat what made other designers successful. Do your own thing your way. There is no recipe to success in fashion.
I would turn to the Japanese. Between Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo, I wouldn’t know which one to choose, but they made a big difference for me. When they stormed the world at the beginning of the ’80s, it was definitely my cup of tea.
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