Representing the creative future

Fashion schools in lockdown: Montreal

Montreal’s fashion students on dealing creatively with the uncertainty of the moment

What is happening to schools outside the big fashion capitals? Just like for all fashion design students globally, in Montreal, Canada, the moment of the final show feels like “the point” of a fashion degree. After an endless series of trials and errors, the final presentation is supposed to be the time and space for them to reveal to the industry what they’re capable of. As much as Montreal fashion shows might not have the international reach and exposure of universities in London or New York, they remain a starting point to introduce the graduates to local industry, which thrives on nurturing emerging talents

For this year’s graduates, things won’t be the same. Given the current situation with COVID-19, fashion shows, including student showcases, are cancelled. Antoine Dufresne-Fortin, a student currently graduating at the École Supérieure de mode de l’ESG UQAM (ESM) in Montréal, began sewing and designing couple months before the lockdown, bringing half his collection together by the time it happened. He is now wondering if he will manage to finish. “We were told the university would be closed for two weeks, and I’ve been naive enough to believe that after that, everything would go back to normal,” he said. “Working from my flat, it became much harder, almost impossible for me to complete what I initially set out to do. Most of my fabrics stayed at school and there was no way of getting them back. Luckily, I  bought materials just a few days before the stores closed down. At one point I considered using my curtains as a last resort.”

Antoine Dufresne making in isolation

At one point I considered using my curtains as a last resort.”

Faced with new working conditions and limited resources, students had to fundamentally rethink what they were doing at school and see what could be done in quarantine — and how. For example, Antoine lacked the proper thread colour for a dress he was making. Upon this discovery, he considered seam options and decided to choose a French seam instead of the common plain seam, using twill tape as bias, so the piece wouldn’t have raw edges. One of his classmates, Gabriel Paul Caron, whose womenswear collection is called Épilogue, fitted the samples on himself and his little brother. “It’s quite funny at times, frustrating at others,” he said. 

Gabriel Paul fitting his looks on his little brother
Gabriel Paul fitting his looks on his little brother

Like most students, Gabriel said he finds himself “in a set up that’s way different than the one at school where facilities include workshops with a wide range of equipment, with lots of space, with good light,” and so has to adapt to the restrictions of working from home. 

Despite the many constraints of a lockdown, this year’s graduating class still has to show a collection. The question now is: How? There’s Instagram, but does that make-up for the disappointment of missing out on experts being exposed to their work, an opportunity that only a runway can offer? 

@commedesdamdam 's research
@commedesdamdam 's research

“The school board could get a tad more involved in the ways of promoting our students,” said Milan Tanedjikov, lecturer at both the ESM and Collège LaSalle. “I’d be thrilled to simply see more of their work, of their sketches online. An online portfolio, if we may. It doesn’t have to be a far-fetched reality show.”

Meanwhile, whether there’s a fashion show — be it physical or, in a near future, virtually in some way — or not, the reality is that graduating students are, well, soon to be graduates. But in these confusing times, where pretty much everything becomes a question, is there any prospect for designers to get a job, and better yet, a paycheck? To that, Milan isn’t worried about. With the health and safety protocols now emerging, he’s been involved in the production of face masks and had a rather hard time finding qualified workers. “The fashion industry as we know it — packed full of companies producing abroad at a lower cost — is in shock. The good news is that the demand for local stitchers, cutters, pressers, pattern makers, and so on is spiking.”

 

https://www.instagram.com/p/B96xS5dn-9i/

“The fashion industry as we know it — packed full of companies producing abroad at a lower cost — is in shock. The good news is that the demand for local stitchers, cutters, pressers, pattern makers, and so on is spiking.”

There are several positives that have strung from lockdown such as the resurgence of support for stay-at-home production lines. Emerging and established designers alike can use this situation to their advantage. They are, as Milan points out, the ones who can do manual labour, who know how to work a sewing machine. And so, to help with the protective equipment shortages, Maïa Nadeau Godard et Jaylen Laroche-Boafo, both Milan’s mentees, put their projects on pause to start making hand-made masks next week. For Maïa, they made a biomimetic version that tricks us into thinking she used her own braided hairdo as a means of holding the mask on. 

Maia Nadeau Godard's mask
Maia Nadeau Godard's mask

“The most valuable skills I developed in college weren’t necessarily acquired through the classes themselves, but through the opportunities, I got from the network I built because of the program,”

Émile Lemay-Racine, a recent graduate in industrial design with a specialization in shoemaking from the University of Montreal, is currently brainstorming ways to make masks with 3D printing, a technology he’s been using for the platform soles of his shoes.

Tommy Lecomte, a college graduate from LaSalle who applied to ESM for fall 2020, reflects on the current events, explaining why he doesn’t regret his decision. “The most valuable skills I developed in college weren’t necessarily acquired through the classes themselves, but through the opportunities, I got from the network I built because of the program,” he said.

Now, that up-and-coming designers are confined at home with plenty of time to cut, sew, and make clothes out of their remaining fabrics, who knows what sort of well-thought-out ideas will the next cohort bring into the workshop. Even in times of social distancing, learning in Montreal prevails in and out of the classroom.

Tutor Milan Tanedjikov during a ZOOM tutorial
Image by Milan Tanedjikov

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