In June, WORN took a road trip to Montreal to launch Issue 16 and take part in a summery shoot for former wornette Emily Raine’s amazing CultMTL. What better way to spend the perfect summer day than with flowers, food, and fashion?
Looking at Montreal designer Marie-Eve Emond’s line, Betina Lou, you’d never guess she spent her formative years working with sequins and prom dresses. Simple, sophisticated and easy-to-wear, her work marries classic styles with whimsical detailing—a shift dress with plaid Peter Pan collar, a polka dot camisole with button detailing.
Originally from Chicoutimi in northern Quebec, Emond started Betina Lou (“It’s more memorable than Marie-Eve”) in 2009, having worked in the industry since her early teens; and her experience shows. Taking cues from Audrey Hepburn’s foolish and elegant style (like the iconic actress, Emond has a diminutive frame and striking eyebrows), the country’s contrary climate and missing links in her own wardrobe, Emond has grown Betina Lou into a locally made reliably stylish label.
WORN visited the designer at her warehouse studio in Montreal’s Mile End to talk fashion business know-how and showing at Montreal Fashion Week.
How did you get interested in fashion?
I started at a very young age. My grandmother made clothing for the family and she gave me fabric to play with; that’s really when my interest started. Then I studied fashion design. But, actually, before that I was sewing costumes for a dance show in my hometown. For four summers my job was assisting, sewing on feathers and sequins for Moulin Rouge-type of costumes. That really confirmed that I wanted to do this.
Wow! That’s quite the production.
It was a cabaret show, dinner theatre. There were four or five shows a week for the whole summer. At the beginning I thought maybe I could be a costume designer but I realized that I’m not into flashy things or bright colours—what I do is really wearable and simple, everything is there but not too much, it’s in the details—I don’t think I would’ve been able to create such extravagant clothing! Then I got my BA in fashion design at UQAM and worked at different places. I was an assistant designer at a place where we made prom dresses, which wasn’t really my style either! [laughs]. Then I worked at Mackage for six years; I learned a lot, everything from marketing to international trade.
Did you always know you wanted to have your own line?
Yes! [laughs] Okay, maybe not that clear, but I always wanted to be my own boss and have my own company. When you start it never stops and you don’t have time to say, “Where do I find a supplier?” “Where do I find buttons?” I wanted the experience first.
Were you nervous about starting your own business?
Not nervous—excited. It was natural, because I had planned it for a long time. At the launch, maybe then I was a little nervous. And the first time you put pictures on Facebook and you say, ‘Okay, that’s it! That’s what I was doing for six months!’”
You just showed your first collection at Montreal Fashion Week. What was that like?
It was a lot of work! We don’t have extra time—it’s always busy—so adding that on top was a lot of work. It wasn’t my first time because I’d worked on fashion week for different companies, fortunately. There are a lot of things to know, like how to run a casting, how to plan the stylist, public relations, who’s going to be sitting where, the music—lots of little details. There are many things I prefer doing than a fashion show—I like to be in the studio, making clothes—but it went well.
A few local designers show every season, would you do it again?
It’s never really been something that I wanted to do. This time I was selected by a committee to show, so that was flattering. I thought that now people would know the line; it was a good time to do it. But it’s not spectacular. It’s not really worth having people come and making such a big show of such simple, wearable clothing. I think there are other designers who do things that are more appropriate.
How was the feedback? Did you read the reviews?
There were a lot of reviews. I wasn’t nervous about them because, especially in Montreal, if they don’t like it they just don’t mention you. And if they talk about you, it’s positive.
As a designer, would you be happy if there were more criticism? If you put something out there and got a harsh critique would it make you think, ‘Okay, this is something I can work on’?
It would be hard because we work so hard and we’re not used to it because there is never any criticism or negative reviews. Sometimes there are negative reviews on fashion week as a whole, or on the selection of designers who showed but I don’t know if it’s a problem. But in music and film you have negative reviews all the time. We don’t get 5 stars or 3 stars—it’s always ‘Wow!’ People find what they like.
Have you seen the Montreal industry change over the years?
There are more designers and, I feel, a lot of collaborations between designers. It goes by ‘cohorts.’ If you launch at the same time you support each other. The younger designers I know because I’m interested and I follow them. I go to Fashion Pop every year and I try to see what’s new and what’s going on. Sometimes, a few years after [young designers] launch, you don’t see them anymore because they were too eager to start, but they’re going to go into the industry and come back later.
Is there anyone working in Montreal who you think is doing something different?
I like Atelier B., they’re really dynamic with the store and the mailing list and the events they do. They always seem to be able to do so many things at the same time and do them well. I like some brands who aren’t really considered “designers” like Naked and Famous, who are really selling well, and have a great product. We don’t talk about them too often here in Montreal but they are so well known everywhere.
photography // Allison Staton
The last time I saw Moon Moon live, I left with a tattoo—literally. While I’m sure not everyone who sees them rushes out to get inked the very next day, the impression left by this sprightly duo is more permanent than the buzz of a needle and ink breaking skin. Lyrics and vocals haunt their audience, while stop-animations of pressed flowers project over a white canvas of lace and linen garments. I’ve been lucky enough to know June (who, along with partner Conor make up Moon Moon) and her closet for several years, as she has brought her message of “More Love” from Toronto treehouses, to her native Newfoundland, Montreal, California, and now a cabin in Vancouver where the two reside. More than geographically, Moon Moon is spreading their mantra of “More Love” to bodies across Canada, committing themselves, and encouraging others, to recycle clothing and remove themselves from the grips of Fast Fashion.
How much thought do you put into getting dressed in the morning? Do you put more or less effort into picking clothing for daily life than for stage?
June > I keep my wardrobe small. I like to repeat outfits. When I find something I can move in, it stays with me for days.
Conor > Getting dressed in the morning I think mostly about what I’m doing for the day… it’s a question of function mostly. For the stage, it’s a totally different thing; we discuss with each other and endeavour to create a unified stage picture.
From stamping the wrists of the audience, to carefully crafted projections, it seems like in your live shows you try to generate an overall aesthetic experience, rather than just a two dimensional, flat performance. How important does clothing/costume rank in creating this experience?
June > Live music is a sacred thing to me, it brings people together; an opportunity to create community. To honour the experience I want the performance to be special, magical, and all inclusive. Costumes are an important part of the aesthetic that is fun to play with.
Lately, you both have been wearing white on stage. Was this a conscious choice? If so, why white? Is there some sort of significance behind this color for you as a duo?
June > We have been playing with live projections, and wearing white helps to reflect the images. Plus, white is a serene box to put yourself in.
Conor > White reflects all the colours of the spectrum, like the face of the moon reflects sunlight back to earth, our bodies on stage reflect our video content back to the space.
Much of my wardrobe is filled with castaways from June’s wardrobe, which she almost ritually gives away the majority of each year. June, what have been your reasons for purging your closet in the past? Do you think you’ll continue to do so in coming years? (A girl can only hope.)
June > There is so much abundance in the world! This practice of release is integral to make space for the new. I only keep things in my life if they serve me. If I’m not wearing that dress anymore, I’m going to give it to someone who will, and Casie, you always get first dibs.
Tell me about your initiative to not buy new clothing. Conor, is this something you are doing as well?
Conor >Yes, absolutely. I love thrift store shopping, especially in small towns where the store hasn’t been picked over, because I find the craziest pieces. I feel like at this point the world is so saturated with garments it just makes sense to recycle whats already there.
June > I believe in More Love and less waste. I try not to buy clothes and when I do, I shop consciously, and second hand. I chose to be resourceful, especially when the alternative to shopping is an adventure benefitting me, and the planet. If you have never been to a clothing exchange, host one now. It’s brilliant. Trade your clothes! These threads have stories, these clothes have soul.
This one is for Conor. Sometimes I feel as though for women, the possibilities for reinvention through clothing are infinite. As a male, and particularly as a performer, do you ever feel limited in possibilities for stage wear compared to your counterpart?
Conor > The simple answer is no. I have always been drawn to “costumish” clothing, I love to feel the way people’s perception of me changes along with my wardrobe.
What is your favorite piece of clothing you’ve ever owned and why?
June > I have a grey sweater that’s been living on me for about five years. SO COMFORTABLE.
Conor > I have a black felt fedora that I bought with my very first pay cheque. It has traveled all over the world with me; it has been worn by so many people I love and quite a few that I will never see again. I feel like the value of an item of clothing can best be measured in stories.
What is your favorite item that you’ve given away?
Conor > The first time I went to a thrift store I was maybe 17 and I bought this amazing leather bomber jacket that had a map of the world pattern on the lining. I recently left it for a friend when I moved away from Montreal. It shall be sorely missed.
June > Once upon a time I bought a beautiful winter jacket, made in Canada, from 69 Vintage in Toronto. It swept around my ankles and made me feel all Hollywood ’20s. Sadly, there was no room for it my latest move. Someone please go find it at Local 23 in Montreal and love it and love it and love it…
photography // Allison Staton
Welcome to Église Pop—AKA the basement of the most bangin’ church in Montreal.
Expectations: In the days of yore, before I found myself interning at WORN, I was able to build many misconceptions about fashion and its industry. Hearing that Montreal’s Fashion Pop included a runway show had me believe I was entering some absurd world populated by that type of human seen primarily on America’s Next Top Model. Coming to fashion from an academic background, I was worried I’d feel awkward and out of place.
Forgive me, for I have sinned. Fashion POP is anything but your run of the mill runway romp.
Fashion Pop winner Christine Charlebois revelling in her victory
Reality: I was pretty surprised to find my nervous, fashion show virgin self back in the basement of the French Catholic church where I had downed vodka and Red Bull and danced until 4 a.m. while Peaches spun records in a giant titty-covered leotard only a few nights before. (Those of you dying to ask Is the Pop Catholic? I’ll have you know the event is totally secular. Also: shush.)
There was no snobbery at Fashion Pop—just cheap beer, house wine, and a good old-fashioned survival of the fittest competition.
This, I could handle.
Fashion Pop designer Marie Darsigny.
Montreal chic outside of Église Pop.