The crowd carefully nibbling on miniature croissants and sipping lemon water in a pristine carpeted room in the downtown Hotel Loews Vogue this Monday were there to discuss the 19th annual Festival Mode & Design (FMD). Outside the room stood two rather disparate crowds of (mostly) young people, one an almost universally lanky crew of professional models, the other a palpably nervous group of aspiring models there for a polite but efficient cattle call, “Casting Sauvage,” in which anyone over 16 can audition to be part of the resulting outdoor catwalk shows at Place des Festivals come August.
Montreal-based choreographer and dancer Alexandra “Spicey” Landé was both on the judging panel for Casting Sauvage and will for the second time host this year’s Fresh 2 Death Battle, in which nearly 100 dancers will battle in a range of street styles as part of the FMD. She and her co-panelists seemed genuinely enthused about attracting newcomers with that mysterious “energy” that makes someone compelling to watch. The subtext to Casting Sauvage, after all, is to get people with underrepresented faces and bodies modelling. Landé talked about how descriptors like “diverse” and “plus-size” in casting can be both useful in convincing people of all backgrounds that they’re genuinely welcome, while simultaneously tricky in the ways in which those same words can serve to tokenize. Think of the ways in which so much casting lingo inevitably reduces you to a sort of late-night TV criminal profile of yourself.
Watching Casting Sauvage, these novices were a) absolutely more varied in background and shape than the slinky professionals in the adjacent room, and b) while some certainly lacked the steely, almost predatory confidence of the pros, you could easily see the panel’s face light up when someone was just ineffably better at walking in heels across the carpet of a well-lit conference room under the gaze both of the owners of exceptionally well-cut suit pants, the kind of haute couture weirdos who wear leather vests as shirts, and the camera guys wiping the last bit of greasy Danish dust off of their jeans.
The outdoor catwalks are of course only one aspect of the FMD, albeit one which is highly anticipated. Whoever is chosen from Monday’s casting will be sharing the stage not only with other models, but with 14 dancers from les Ballets Jazz de Montreél, all of whom will be dressed in Sarah Pacini clothes and styled by Quebec designer Phillippe Dubuc. The outdoor programming also promises the Village de boutiques éphémères, in which 28 local designers sell their wares, an initiative by Fondation le Chaînon, called RELUXE, promoting used luxury fashion items, as well as a collection resulting from the collaboration between Montreal-based stylist Cary Tauben and Value Village and a wealth of multidisciplinary shows.
The indoor programming, meanwhile, is a two-day conference and speaker series in advance of the outdoor component, this year featuring an insider’s discussion of “the creative approach that guides large-scale productions” from the costume designing team at Cirque du Soleil.
All told, the FMD line-up promises a celebration of that strange thing that fashion represents somehow even more than other mainstream arts: that blurred zone between art and capitalism. It may be a guilty pleasure, but no less worthy of conversation. ■
The Festival Mode & Design runs from Aug. 19–24. The outdoor programming at Place des Festivals (1499 Jeanne-Mance) is free. Get tickets for indoor programming at the Wilder Building (1425 Bleury), $25-$150.