Earlier this month, Montreal played host to the Bicycle Film Festival. Always willing to take the most creative route, the festival was also marked by the Fashion Ride. Both the city’s most eco- and fashion-conscious showed up (including WORN’s pals from Citizen Vintage).
Back in early March, I saw a girl on the corner of my street with thousands of red felt squares and safety pins stuffed in her shoulder bag and a messy hand-written sign saying “GRATUIT!” This was my first encounter with the carré rouge, the simple swatch of fabric that has come to symbolize the Quebec student strike.
It’s rare that a protest movement affects the way thousands of people get dressed, but the strike has done just that, turning the red square into both a symbol of solidarity and, for some, a conscious fashion statement.
If you’re unfamiliar with the politics behind the carré rouge, let me give you a brief rundown: In mid-February the provincial government announced a plan to increase tuition by 75% over the next five years. Student unions decided to strike, and, since mid-February, marches have taken place regularly throughout the city. What started as a student movement quickly morphed into a mass social protest after the provincial government passed the controversial Bill 78, which states (among other things) that a group of over 50 people is an illegal protest. Suddenly, it became less about tuition and more about the government’s dismissive (and borderline unconstitutional) behaviour.
The symbol came out of a 2005 student strike against funding cuts to grants and loans, and comes from the expression “carrément dans le rouge” or “squarely in the red,” which refers to the amount of debt students are facing.
Before photography took over the pages of fashion magazines, they were filled with illustrations. American Edward Steichen, the subject of the recent exhibit, Edward Steichen: In High Fashion, the Condé Nast Years, 1923-1937 at the Musée des Beaux Arts de Québec, was one of the first to cross over from illustrator to photographer. Having bought his first camera as a student in 1895, it wasn’t until 1911, when he convinced the publisher of French magazine Art et Décoration that photographs rather than drawings would better show off the clothes, that he became one of the first fashion photographers.
After a stint in the army during the First World War, where he honed his camera skills taking shots on the front, he returned to the U.S. where he became the chief photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair. It’s this era that’s explored in the exhibit, starting with his cover illustrations and early photographs, and moving on to his Hollywood portraiture.
The other week I got the opportunity to see Perseption, the final collections from UQÀM’s École Supérieure de Mode de Montréal’s (aka Montreal Graduate School of Fashion Design) graduating class. Watching new designers before they get established is always exciting, and I’m clearly not the only one who thinks this way—when I arrived at the venue, it was nearly full. It was so full, in fact, that spectators were already finding standing room along the walls. Unlike most fashion shows, this one didn’t have a typical runway; instead, it was diamond shaped with four runways emanating from the centre, creating a chaotic, almost disorienting effect as models came and went from all directions.
The evening opened with Coupé à Vif by Duc C. Nguyên, which was all about playing with curves and creating volume where it’s unexpected. The red linen dresses were classic in shape but had geometric tweaks, a bustle here, hip triangles there. The look that got my attention was an A-line dress that left the model’s breasts exposed. I liked the edginess of it and her daringness to pull it off. All of the pieces were well-crafted and pretty, but this one made me think Nguyên could hold his own with the big leagues.
Mélanie Poupart showed a hard/soft mix (a tailored skirt paired with a draped top, for example) in her collection Hi, My Name Is… which took inspiration from grief. I quite liked the floaty organza clutches that the models carried down the runway. The final model, dressed in a figure hugging, long, white dress, came out on pointe and seemed to sum up the fluidity the designer was going for.