marche_bonsecoursMONTREAL, Mar 1, 2010 / FW/ — At the Bonsercours Market in Old Montreal, the 18th edition of Montreal Fashion Week began with the expected fanfare – editors and photographers lining up to get their press badges, the central waiting area alive with music, champagne, hors d’oeuvres and presents from sponsors, this time from P&G Beauty.

Way at the end is the Press Room, an oasis for journalists amidst the sea of madness in the central waiting area. And, this is where FashionWindows caught up with Chantal Durivage, co-President of Sensation Mode, which, together with the City of Montreal and the Montreal Fashion Bureau produces Montreal Fashion Week.

A statuesque beauty, Chantal Durivage can easily compete with the much younger catwalk models for the klieg lights. Instead, she chooses to work behind the scenes and guide the development of Montreal Fashion Week.

chantal_durivage“I’m very ambitious,” said Chantal Durivage when asked where she sees Montreal Fashion Week in 5 years time. “I see Montreal as a fashion destination by 2015, the way New York, London, Milan and Paris are.

And, it was not an empty boast. Chantal Durivage has every right to be more than hopeful. With Montreal’s 40,000 strong workforce in the fashion industry, workmanship and craftsmanship that dates back from the 1800s plus the creativity of Montreal designers, that ambitious plan is very doable.

Diane Duhamel and Emanuela Lolli of Montreal’s Bureau of Fashion agree with Ms. Durivage. Working tirelessly to promote Montreal Fashion Week abroad and bringing the international press in the city, they all see a time when Montreal becomes the undisputed Canadian fashion capital.

“Slowly but surely, things are moving towards Montreal fashion week to become comparable with the European fashion weeks,” says Emanuela Lolli, who is a Montrealer by marriage. An Italian native, fashion runs deep in Emanuela, whose Italian fashion sensibilities were honed sharply in Paris where she resided for 20 years.

“Things do not happen overnight. It takes time, money and cooperation between the public and business sectors, between the City and the designers for us to achieve our goal,” continued Ms. Lolli. “All of us are working together towards the same objective; hence I’m very positive that we will reach it.”

Commissioner Diane Duhamel of the Bureau de la mode Montreal is taking a very proactive approach. Attending the recently concluded Paris Haute Couture Week last January, she brought home the lessons she learned from Paris and since then has become more than just optimistic about Montreal’s place under the fashion sun.

“We all love Montreal,” commented Diane Duhamel about Montrealers who are very passionate about their home city. “To succeed, we need to find the look that defines Montreal, the same way that when you say Paris or New York, you have a picture in your head what their fashion evokes. And we will find it, because we already have it, we just need to pinpoint it.”

Again, this is not an empty boast. According to Cynthia Cooper, Curator for Costume and Textiles at Musee McCord Museum, fashion had been alive and have been thriving in Montreal as early as early as the mid 1800s, at about the same time that Charles Worth founded Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris; the most famous of its local designers was Vere Goold who operated a made-to-measure shop from 1894 to 1902.

Diane Duhamel
Diane Duhamel

Even Christian Dior himself had a presence in Montreal. When Monsieur Dior was still alive, he had a licensing agreement with Holt Renfrew wherein they can reproduce his haute couture creations in the retailer’s atelier. Manned by Paris-trained artisans, that arrangement was so unique; it became the precursor to modern day licensing.

With a fashion heritage that can be traced back as far as 150 years, the Montreal look that defines the city exists as Ms. Duhamel had surmised. It is just a matter of unearthing it.

Three women with the same agenda when it comes to Semaine de Mode Montreal; how they pursue it might be different, but they all plan to land in the same stage when they are done.

“We are continually expanding our reach,” said Chantal Durivage, emphasizing that the city’s pursuit for recognition in fashion never stops. “We have partnered with “Who’s Next” in Paris, Tokyo Fashion Week and Berlin Fashion Week wherein we will be exchanging talents so that we can promote each other’s designers.”

“Collaboration with other cities and other trade shows are also in the works, but I cannot confirm their names because we have not signed an agreement yet,” Ms. Durivage finished with a smile.

And finally, when asked about the dates of Montreal Fashion Week, which currently conflicts with Milan and Paris, Chantal Durivage amiably said, “We are working on that. We will find our perfect spot on the fashion calendar sooner than you think.”

And quite frankly, I do believe her!

Photos by Mari Davis

Montreal Fashion Week