Q&A with Denis Gagnon

Cult MTL talks to Montreal fashion design icon Denis Gagnon about city style, gender norms in the new collection, inspiration and his collaborations with Aldo.

Denis Gagnon at work in his studio.
Photo by Sebastien Roy.

Denis Gagnon is an icon of Montreal’s fashion world and a consummate showman, known for playing with gender expectations in his flawlessly executed runway shows. Cult MTL talks to the designer via email about city style, the new collection and his collaborative projects with Aldo.

KS: This season’s Fashion Week was your most radical, most playful, and perhaps the most spectacular runway show to date. You put male models in high heels, used theatrical make-up and synthetic wigs, you had trans-gendered models, and your show managed to push the gender and race boundaries in a way that was both stunning and entertaining. What were your ideas and motivations for this kind of spectacle?

DG: I decided to make up such a show because the resources were reduced and I can always count on my friends to help me. I’ve been in this transgender-cosmopolite scene forever (or almost) and I thought this category of people had a place in a show. They are creative and people used to being part of shows and this had never been done before in Montreal. I thought it was about time for an innovative show, with different “models.”

KS: While you seem to want to push gender boundaries, your women’s collection celebrates femininity and many of the dresses are classically graceful, while your men’s collection is empowering and edgy. Is this a new way of empowering genders without creating gender limitations?

From Denis Gagnon’s latest collection.
Photo by Nick Lafontaine.
DG: The gender question is all about finding alternatives. When I create for men, I create for myself in a way, and this edgy style is my style, this is why you find this “edgy” feeling in my men’s collection.

KS: What does pushing gender boundaries mean to you? Do you think it’s possible to redefine gender roles and images through fashion?

DG: I think this redefinition of genders is in the air right now, it’s in the trend. You feel this in many fashion shows, with women dressed in oversized, man-like clothes. I just have the feeling that this hyper-feminity trend is over. It’s just working the other way round now, with women loving to be dressed manly and men in feminine clothes (or feminine fittings).

KS: Have the gender roles changed since you first started designing clothes? What changes have you noticed in fashion and gender over the years?

DG: As I said before, fashion evolves. Is it changing for better? I don’t know, it’s all relative. What’s in fashion now, won’t be in a few years, and this scheme is reproduced over and over again…

KS: Does the city of Montreal play a role in your work? Do you identify with the city and its people?

DG: I surely identify myself to the city. I love Montreal and people here but I don’t necessarily identify with the people here. Even though I feel good here, I get my inspiration on internet and in magazines.

KS: How would you describe Montreal fashion? Do people in Montreal dress differently than in other cities?

DG: I wouldn’t say people here dress in a very different way from people in Vancouver or Toronto. I think people dress “more nicely” in big cities in general, compared to small places or villages.

KS: The Montreal student movement and demonstrations have left a mark on the city over the last year. Do you think it will also leave a mark on Montreal fashion and culture, especially the symbol of the red square?

DG: I hope the demonstrations will indeed leave a mark, and maybe one day we’ll see rainbow or pink squares.



Photo by Sebastien Roy.
KS: How has the Montreal fashion scene changed over the years since you started your label here?

DG: Montreal has indeed massively changed in the past few years. The internet helped that, we no longer live in “worlds” but everybody now lives in “one world”. We can just take the example of Google Street View, one can “be” in Shanghai in a click, without ever having gone there in person…

KS: Are there places/shops/cafés in Montreal that you find inspiring?
I love Laika, Olive & Gourmando and many stores on St-Paul Street.

KS: Over the last six years, you have become an icon of Canadian fashion. Your collaboration with Bedo and Aldo made your name well-known beyond Montreal and Toronto. What other campaigns or collaborations do you have planned for the future?

DG: I still have a lot of dreams, of course. I also have many projects, but I’ll keep them secret for now. As for Aldo, it was not a collaboration but a sponsorship. And for Bedo, I won’t comment on it for now.

KS: Linda Evangelista once said that she doesn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day. What gets you out of bed?

DG: I won’t get out of bed for less than $100, haha. In this industry, you survive more than you live, in Quebec at least. But I wake up by passion and to surpass myself.

KS: What advice would you give to creative Montrealers?

DG: If you have talent and enough balls to do it, pack your things and try your luck somewhere else! ■


Denis Gagnon will be speaking on the panel Stylist vs. Designer vs. Editor, as part of the Aldo 40th Anniversary series of panels, exhibits and talks about Montreal fashion. Aldo flagship store (1007 St-Catherine W.), Oct. 12, 7 p.m., free

Kat Sark is a fashion and culture blogger at Suites Culturelles, and the co-author of Berliner Chic: A Locational History of Berlin Fashion (2011) and the upcoming Montreal Chic.

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