The Sweetest Thing

Crushing on Montreal designer Betina Lou

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

Crushing on Elaine Ho

Montreal jewelry designer talks cats, art school, and becoming an independent fashion entrepreneur

Montreal is home to lots of hidden fashion gems; the plentiful thrift shops of Mile End, Fashion Pop, and our latest crush, jewelry designer Elaine Ho. Her design sense is both broad and bold, ranging from architectural geometric designs that look like they appeared out of an M.C. Escher drawing to morbid-cute miniature skulls. Plus, she is funny, candid, and loves cats almost as much as our editor-in-chief, Serah-Marie McMahon.

What was it like taking metal design in art school?
My first piece was in my high school art class; we got to make a silver ring with a bezel-set stone. I still can’t believe that our art teacher trusted a bunch of teenagers with gas torches and acid and dangerous stuff like that. Considering some of the kids in my class would sneak up to the loft above the art classroom to smoke pot during class, it’s kind of a miracle that there were no injuries or fires. After that I was hooked (to making jewelry, not smoking pot). I took metals classes at the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) while I was a teenager and about six years later I started taking jewelry courses again at the Visual Arts Centre in Montreal. The ability to make stuff out of metal, especially precious metal, is the best. Making something that could maybe last forever? Crazy.

How was going to school in the Prairies different from taking fashion design at Parsons in New York City?
I grew up in the suburbs of Calgary, Alberta across the street from a national park and had deer in my front yard. I could see the Rocky Mountains from my house; it was fun. But I never pictured myself staying in Calgary, and a move to NYC was perfect.

Parsons was amazing; they have campuses all over Manhattan. You go to class right in the Garment District and can buy fabric and supplies at the same places that “real designers” do. I got the kind of jobs and internships that would never have been available to me if I had stayed in Calgary. Oh, and not to name drop or anything, but one of my classmates was Prabal Gurung, and there was also this other guy who used to be a District Attorney who prosecuted murderers and rapists, and he decided to make the career change into fashion design. Awesome guy. I loved living in NYC and would have stayed there much longer had my student/work visa not expired. I was politely refused at the border when I returned from a vacation to Montreal in 2003. That’s how I ended up in Montreal.

Is every piece of jewelry handmade, or do you contract out the production elsewhere?
I am able to create almost every piece of jewelry myself, including all the wax and silver models. However, I am unable to do casting from my home studio and have been working with an amazing local foundry (SR2 Technologies) for the past seven years, who excel at what they do.

After the casting I do probably about 90% of the finishing myself, but sometimes I get a huge order and do need to have help with production. I’m a bit of a perfectionist control freak when it comes to my work. People are spending their hard earned money on my jewelry and that’s kind of a big deal to me.

A lot of your pieces have a dark edge, like cat skulls, dead rabbits, and two-headed snakes. How does the macabre influence the jewelry you design?
My favourite outfit in Grade 3 was a long black jumper over black leggings with a black long sleeve hoodie and black slouchy socks and black high tops—I guess it’s just the way I’ve always been. I’ve always been drawn to really cute and adorable things (Hello Kitty, kittens, baby animals, miniature versions of things) as well as dead stuff and violence (guns, knives, watching Full Metal Jacket when I was seven) so I suppose I’m just bringing together my favourite things.

What are some of your more geometric designs based on?
I used to doodle cubes, cylinders and other geometric shapes in my notebooks, and always looked forward to going to the gem and mineral show every year as a kid. I still do, not because they’re kind of a freak show, but because I absolutely love crystals and minerals and fossils and rocks (just not in the weird spiritual energy way). I just think they’re beautiful. Most of my geometric designs are based on existing and imaginary shapes, and inspired by natural crystal structures.

Our editor-in-chief, Serah-Marie, is obsessed with your pet cats you post about on Instagram—tell us more about them.
I am obsessed with cats! Especially Persian cats. They’re possibly the most domesticated animal you can get your hands on. They are so easy to take care of, extremely friendly, and not much more work than a houseplant—save for the excessive shedding.

Pepito Mimumo(Black Persian): I picked him up nine years ago at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), and he was already a senior when I got him. By now he could be 200 years old. He is old and crotchety, dirty and cranky, gets cat food stuck in his nose, and the end of his tail is always wet because he sleeps curled up like a fox and drools on his tail. He never cleans himself, so I have to give him baths. He was recently diagnosed with kidney failure, but he’s doing okay, all things considered.

Poof (White Flame Point Himalayan): I got Poof from a pet store in 2003. She lived in a cage for about six months and I used to visit her every time I bought cat food from the shop. I’m sure she’s probably from a puppy mill or something awful like that. I don’t buy pet food from shops that sell kittens and puppies anymore. She looked gross because she had a bad cold and was sort of wall-eyed. No one wanted her and they kept marking her price down because it’s harder to sell older kittens. Poof turned out to be a great cat.

Fräulein Ponyo von Mitten (Black long-hair alley cat): She was a very small abandoned kitten living under my front porch and I took her in a few years ago. She has extra front toes so it looks like she’s wearing mittens.

Sofia (Grey Persian): I just picked up a fourth cat this month. Her owner was really sick and not able to take care of her anymore. She is a five year old, tiny cat with giant eyeballs, and looks like a cartoon character. She has settled in quite well, and pretty much runs the place.

WORN Fashion Journal is obsessed with cats: our associate web editor Alyssa owns a cat sweater, our publishing intern Jill owns a kitty iPhone case and our publisher Haley owns a ‘Cat Flag’ parody t-shirt. How does owning cats affect your design process?
I love and want both those cat shirts, and the iPhone case. I have a few cat items in my collection, but they’re subtle—well, I think they are. There is a fine line between liking cats and looking like a crazy cat lady. When I make cat designs, I make sure it’s something I would wear myself before putting it into production. But perhaps that’s not saying much because I have a rather large tattoo of a cat face hidden in floral lace on my arm.

Do you have any plans to continue producing your clothing line?
Yes, I would like to eventually. I took year off of designing clothing so I could focus more on jewelry. Jewelry keeps me really busy, so I think all I can handle at this point is a super mini collection or season. By super mini, I’m thinking one top, one bag, and some mittens.

What sort of consideration do you give to environmental sustainability in your jewelry design and business model?
I never throw anything out. That’s also known as hoarding. But does it count as sustainable? I keep all my silver scraps, even the tiniest ones, as well as any failed projects, which get melted down and re-used. I try to use the “greenest” and least poisonous options for my pickling, cleaning, and oxidizing solutions. My jewelry teacher once told me about this lady who had the most beautiful patinas and finishes on her jewelry made from crazy chemicals and she’s dead now because of it.

I try to get all my supplies locally. I recycle everything I can, and I use biodegradable poly bags for the accounts that insist on having their items individually poly-bagged. I use recycled cardboard mailing envelopes, and paper jewelry boxes that can be easily reused and recycled. (I hate bubble envelopes; they are the devil’s invention.) Overall, there is very little waste from making jewelry.

Are their any jewelry designers you admire, or design colleagues you think our readers should check out?
I’ve really been into silversmith Hans Hansen and his son Karl Gustav, who made stunning minimalist jewelry in the early 20th Century. I’m also obsessed with Victorian mourning jewelry, especially the stuff with human hair, which is so intricate and pretty and creepy.

Any tips for young people interested in starting their own fashion businesses from the ground up?
Just go for it. Intern or work for businesses similar to the one you want to create, because it’s the best way to learn all the behind-the-scenes stuff they don’t teach you in school. Don’t quit your day job right away either. See if your work takes first, then quit, and make sure to steal a lot of stationery on your way out. You can never have enough pens or printer paper.

photography // Allison Staton

Mon Dieu! Fashion Pop

Our intern checks out the coolest fashion show to take place in a church basement

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.

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Fashion Pop Returns

Start getting excited for one of our favourite annual Montreal events

Fashion POP, a component of the POP Montreal Festival, was created in 2008 as a means to bring attention to the emerging crowd of young designers surfacing in Montreal.

Six of Montreal’s most excellent and experimental designers will present their work to the fashion community, competing to win a fantastic prize package: a $1000 cash prize courtesy of Le Chateau, a pop-up show at Espace Pop, and of course, a four-page editorial spread in WORN. Most exciting of all? The event is totally free.

Pop on over to Église POP Salle Little Burgundy this Sunday, September 23, at 7 p.m. to see the event in action for the fourth year in a row. WORN will also have a table at Puces Pop on Saturday, September 22, and Sunday, September 23, at Église St. Michel, so come and say hi.

Vicky Dubois
Dubois’ self-titled clothing line makes use of volume, contrast, and simplistic shapes to create beautiful garments out of high quality natural materials. Her experience at Marie-Victorin College studying Fashion Design, as well as her time spent working with designer Clayton Evans of complexgeometries has allowed her to develop her sensible aesthetic.

Marie Darsigny
Inspired by dreamy teenage pop and kitsch, Marie Darsigny’s designs are fused with ’90s style, which she sells on her etsy shop, marie magie. Darsigny has completed degrees in Fashion Design and Communications, and fuses these loves together by writing for sites like xoJane and LezSpreadTheWord.com.

Christine Charlebois
Christine Charlebois is an award-winning designer whose minimalistic design creates maximal results. Developing her expertise in women’s conceptual clothing, Charlebois has worked with JEANPAULKNOTT in Brussels, and is currently the research assistant to Joanna Berzowska, an expert in the field of electronic textiles and responsive garments.

Danica Olders
Canadian fashion artist Dancia Olders is a recent graduate of NSCAD where she majored in Textiles and minored in Fashion. Her limited edition silk-screened clothing and jewellery line, The Lost City, is reflective, intricate and striking. Her body of work explores the concepts of time, money and the machine—elements that rule our lives in both inspiring and destructive ways.

Camille Forcherio
After working with swimwear for many years, as well as a gig doing made-to-measure tailoring, Forcherio broke out on her own to create her line MimiHammer. After three collections and her own line of swimwear, Forcherio’s feminine and romantic design continues to progress.

Duc C. Nguyen
Nguyen is currently completing his degree in Fashion Design at the École supérieure de mode at Université de Québec à Montréal, but his background in Architecture and Industrial Design make him no stranger to the world creative fabrication. Alongside his hands on work, he is also the Fashion and Trend Editor for MontrealStateOfMind.com.

images // courtesy of POP Montreal