The Man Behind the Glasses: Denis Gagnon

Denis Gagnon’s Famous Lanvin Glasses

In Montréal, the name Denis Gagnon is synonymous with cutting edge fashion. He is known as the “enfant terrible” but also the “darling”. One of Canada’s most acclaimed fashion couturiers, he is a national treasure and recognized on sight for his thick, oversized vintage Lanvin glasses, a gift from friend and fellow designer, Renata Morales. If you don’t know his work – you should!

Designer Denis Gagnon

Very few people make me feel that I absolutely have to have something they have created. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does – I must have it! This is how I feel about Denis Gagnon’s work. Having admired his work for years now, I have often asked myself why this genius hasn’t skyrocketed into the annals of fashion history? So, I decided to speak with the creative mastermind himself. What a funny, animated and generous character. He claims to be shy, but covers it well and being from true British stock, I loved his sarcastic wit.

Descending into his beautiful boutique in Old Montréal, as if into a cave or wine cellar, I found mannequin torsos literally hanging from the ceiling and thick leather accessories on display. This didn’t surprise me because it reflects Denis Gagnon’s style. While his clothing is avant-garde, for the confidant and urban, and this season androgynous, there are still so many “commerciable” (“commercially wearable”) pieces. This is a “Gagnon-ism” that he came up with on the very spot que j’adore!

Pre-Fall/ Denis Gagnon
Leather Accessories & Feather Necklaces/ Denis Gagnon
Leather Jacket from Spring/ Summer 2012 Collection

Playing with feminine and masculine silhouettes in unison, he creates the perfect balance between the sexes and constantly surprises people. This Spring/ Summer collection was full of florals, and models skipping down the runway, while he is usually known for darker, more somber creations.

Fashion Week/ Denis Gagnon SS2012

Notorious for his mastery of leather, the designs and the details that comprise his work are so fine, the mixture of textures and patterns so unique, he likens himself to a chef. He tries a recipe, improves it, tests and perfects it. Then he discards it, and diligently works towards refining and reinventing with leather as his key ingredient.

Montréal celebrity Isabelle Racicot recently showed me one of Denis’ leather jackets from a few years ago and I fell in love. But, as Denis moves forward and evolves, I fear my opportunity to acquire such a garment has passed (Sigh!)

Denis is so well respected that two years ago, he was honored with a prestigious exhibition at the MMFA (Montréal Museum of Fine Arts), to show his collection, right between the YSL and the Jean-Paul Gauthier exhibitions in 2010. Marking a decade of designs, he was the first Québecois to be showcased and definitely considers this a main highlight of his career.

Denis Gagnon Exhibit/ MMFA (2010)
Intricate Zipper Dress on Display/ MMFA (2010)
Denis Gagnon Exhibit/ MMFA (2010)

Clearly, he enjoys experimenting with different aspects of multimedia. For his SS2012 collection he made a film, Nuits Nouvelles, to open his runway show. Some may have thought it was too long, but on its own, it stands out as a piece of fantasy made real. This short takes us on a mysterious journey through the woods at night, with fairy-like models wearing his clothes. This is what he is known for. He takes dreams, not always bright, and turns them into wearable, tangeible things. He also made a documentary called Je m’appelle Denis Gagnon, in 2010 – both films were directed by Khoa Lê.

2010 Documentary on Denis Gagnon

Having had a colorful past, designing costumes for the theatre, teaching in Morocco for three years and constantly challenging himself to surpass his latest work, it is not an easy path. But for Denis, it has never been a choice – it is innate and designing is a way of life.

Considering his interest in multidisciplinary media, and my own passion for Film, I had to know what sort of films he himself appreciates. The Godfather and The Hours made the top of his list, while I was thrilled to find that we share a passion for old black and white classics such as Casablanca, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis dramas. He can’t wait to see The Great Gatsby remake and of course, he fully supports local talent Xavier Dolan’s work.

Here are his latest creations – Denis Gagnon’s Lookbook for Fall/ Winter 2012-2013 (not all available in the store yet!) He recently returned to menswear after an eight year hiatus and the fashion-forward urban man will be so relieved that he did. While much of this collection is unisex, with some gothic and graphic sci-fi inspired twists, there are quite a few pieces that I would wear immédiatement, if it weren’t forty degrees outside!

What caught my eye:  a gorgeous belted and highneck masterpiece in black leather, with cream and grey sleeves, which could be worn as a dress or coat, an ethereal melange of emerald silk and black leather, and a beautiful hooded woolen vest with leather trim. I want them all!

My Absolute Favourite – Fabulous!
A Vision of Leather and Silk/ Denis Gagnon
Hooded vest w/ Leather Trim
Fall/ Winter Collection

Denis has dressed many Québecois celebrities but when asked who else he would love to see wearing his clothes? Madonna and Céline Dion are two names that come up. What a perfect fit!

Contrary to popular belief, Denis’ inspiration does not come from a dream in the middle of the night, but more from everything that he sees and processes, including other designers. He says it is impossible to be unaware of what others are doing in this industry. Not only does Denis work magic in his atelier, but he also mentors and fosters young talent. He is very involved in the design program from which he graduated at LaSalle College – the place to discover raw talent. He teaches and inspires them and they in turn energize him to achieve his bi-annual metamorphosis. Denis also wants to make sure that new designers realize the stark realities of Fashion. This is a long road – there are dues to be paid and many difficult trials and tribulations to endure. It is not all glamour and parties, but very hard work and commitment.

With barely six months between collections, he hardly has time for himself.  After designing the clothes, cutting, sewing, producing, showing his lines, and collaborating with others, he doesn’t really have the time to recuperate or to travel extensively. He did of course make time to see Alexander McQueen’s posthumous Savage Beauty exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum in New York. In his boutique, he carries local designers Travis Taddeo, Anastasia Lomonova, Samuel Mercure and Lyn by Jocelyn Picard. Denis has also collaborated with Bedo on the ODASI line, Aldo for shoes and Fullum & Holt for handbags.

Unfortunately, today the fashion industry is run by conglomerates and consortiums and the bottom line is everything. These days, Denis has to focus more energy on business and logistics and not as much on creation. He is such a perfectionist and true artiste that he still runs his brand as a one-man-show and even tweaks the details on his collaborative efforts.

Fashion is fickle so we must remember that if we want to worship at the altar of Fashion, we must support the church! I can’t wait to see Denis Gagnon finally get the recognition he so richly deserves on Fashion’s international stage.

Merci Denis! Merci Laurence!

Boutique Denis Gagnon 170B, rue St-Paul Ouest Tel: (514) 935-6360 Ref: Shopgirlmtl

Visit Denis Gagnon’s Website Online Here!

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