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

Seeing Red

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.
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Seeing is Believing

The fashions of Edward Steichen.

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.

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Strutting It: ESMM Grads Show Their Stuff at Perseption

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.
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