Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Here's another tidbit from the Gazette, sad news about the Denis Gagnon shop. Even though HQ represents a different price category than Mr. Gagnons collection, we like to support and spread the word about independent designers at every level, whatever point in their career the designer may be at.

Thursday, January 25, 2007
© The Gazette, Montreal

Denis Gagnon made magazine covers, but can't pay the bills

Yesterday, Gagnon announced he was closing his boutique on St. Laurent Blvd. in the creatively burgeoning Mile End district. He could not stay in business without public or private financial support, he said.

"Mile End is getting there, but the product was perhaps too expensive for the area,'' Gagnon said.

Gagnon, 45, is known for his avant-garde creations, often in leather, with intricate hand-sewn details like pleats and puckers. A T-shirt might cost $100; a leather coat perhaps $1,000 to $1,500.

Fellow designers, editors and stylists were dismayed by the news of Gagnon's closing. They pointed to the difficulty of staying in business without financial backing and to Canadians' lack of support for homegrown designers.

Gagnon is certainly not the first talented designer to go out of business, here or abroad. Last year, Quebecer Philippe Dubuc declared bankruptcy before restarting his business on a smaller scale. Years earlier, Siphay Southidara, now working for Parasuco, abandoned his acclaimed Yso label.

"What a loss,'' Dubuc said.

"We struggle, we struggle, we struggle. We hang in, we get a lot of attention, we get press and positive reviews."

Constant coverage in the pages of magazines like Elle and Flare - most recently with a cover shot in Flare featuring five red dresses from five Canadian designers - did nothing to boost sales, Gagnon said.

Designers need to market themselves more effectively, said Lisa Tant, editor in chief of Flare.

"Know your business side of the fashion industry, as well,'' Tant said. Market yourself, make sure your fit is right and price appropriate, she advised.

She acknowledged, however, that many Canadians don't shop Canadian.

"We have to support our own artists,'' she said.

Gagnon, one of our biggest talents, reminded her of Rick Owens, an American designer in Paris "who is willing to put himself out on a limb and make fashion artistic,'' she said.

"It's hard in this country to build a business on that."

There aren't enough stores carrying Canadian product, she said. And shoppers prefer to go to the mall to buy from cheaper multinational retailers or from luxe international brands, she observed.

Designers Mike Mitto and Payam Tavan are neighbours of Gagnon on the same strip of St. Laurent Blvd. The pair are among a handful of designers who opened there in the summer of 2005.

Business is picking up, they said. "We diversify a lot,'' said Tavan.

The pair do private label for manufacturers, custom design and sell their Tavan & Mitto line to Simons and The Bay.

Tavan said the block is lined with luxurious home decor shops, so price is not the problem. "We do have the Westmount lady, believe it or not,'' Mitto added.

"We're going to be losing one of our biggest talents,'' Tavan said.

Added Mitto: "Remember, fashion is a business and not an art. It's an applied art."

Azamit, a stylist, model and muse to many designers in Montreal, agrees that local shoppers do not support homegrown talent. She herself has closets full of local fashion, and can be counted on to make an entrance at fashion shows and parties in original Canadian styles.

"They go for the big brands,'' said Azamit, who does not use her last name professionally. "The money is here, but nobody seems to be investing in the right places.''

For his part, Dubuc said consumers have always supported him. "That's why I'm still here.''

But where is the industry in terms of supporting creative talent, Dubuc asked.

"Copying,'' he answered, suggesting that the major players in the apparel industry prefer making knockoffs to creating new fashion.

"Why doesn't the fashion industry turn around, look at the designers and say: 'Let's blend commercial products and creativity and make something of it?' ''

In fact, Simons, the Quebec department store, came to Dubuc's aid after his bankruptcy, commissioning a mid-price collection for men that will be available in July. "That's an example of good support,'' Dubuc said.

Meanwhile, Gagnon plans to reflect on how to "restructure his career,'' perhaps take private commissions or contracts or work in theatre design, which he did before moving into fashion in 2001.

He decided to close down to avoid having to declare bankruptcy, he said. He also lost his business partner, Anne Van den Bossche, who is working in Paris with designer Rick Owens.

"It is a dream of mine to reopen downtown, but for now, I have to pay down my debt,'' Gagnon said.

Whatever happens, Gagnon vows he will continue to work creatively. "My name is out there."

The Denis Gagnon boutique, at 5392A St. Laurent Blvd., will close Feb. 17. The designer is liquidating all stock until then.


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