Who Denis Gagnon is and what he does goes much deeper than a basic understanding of fashion culture. Celebrating 10 years of creation, Gagnon is not only a fashion designer—and an adored one in Quebec—but a couturier, a man who is true to his craft in its most ultimate form. The exhibition Denis Gagnon S’Expose/Shows All marks a milestone at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, as it’s the first time a Quebec couturier’s work has been displayed as an exhibit in the museum. Both Quebecers and Canadians are brought together by Gagnon’s passion for design, innovation, and recreation through his undisputedly deserving recognition.
“He is assembling material in a form that is aesthetically accomplished,” says Stephane Aquin, curator of both the exhibition and the MMFA’s contemporary art collection.
Rather than looking at his work retrospectively, like with the recent Yves Saint Laurent exhibit, the Gagnon exhibit presents one year of his creations through fringe, chains, stripes, and zippers. Using black as his motif and personal touch, each collection represents its own specific vision using materials like lace and leather. Although each series is designed around one predominant theme, his collections are fluid and consecutive, with each one tying into the next.
Aquin describes Gagnon’s art as conceptual, which is demonstrated through his use of eclectically woven materials. He is able to create things that are completely unrecognizable yet still connected to the origin of his design and art.
“Gagnon’s work falls into the fashion world,” Aquin says. “But before all, it is a form of art and crafting that dresses the body.”
Although each of Gagnon’s pieces performs a specified function, Aquin affirmed that it is a “faux-debat” (“false-meaning” in french) to say that this utility takes away from any of its artistic value. Within the context of the museum, integration of such “other” forms of art has been actively shown throughout the years, and therefore there is no reason not to consider couture a true art form.
Although Gagnon’s art is featured on the 20 or so half-mannequins wrapped and suspended from the ceiling of the room, another creative and talented mastermind is commended for his architectural innovation within the exhibit: Gilles Saucier.
“[Gagnon] said he really wanted to work with Gilles Saucier, a very well-known Canadian architect and celebrated Canadian artist and [that] it’d be a chance of a lifetime,” says Aquin.
With both of these renowned artists demonstrating excellence in their own individual realms of design, fashion, and architecture come together beautifully in the exhibit. Every detail encompasses both Gagnon and Saucier’s vision of aesthetics.
“The same goes for architecture as it goes for couture—these are two forms of art that shelter the body, and no one would say that architecture isn’t art,” she says.
The blend of Gagnon and Saucier’s creations is revealed in an almost natural way: they complement each other’s ingenuity in a symbiotic relationship. Images of the origin of each series are displayed on the wall and in the background of each of the collections which, in Aquin’s words, “Speaks of each element in the vision of art: you see something, transform it, and it lives.”
Although this was a more challenging exhibition than others due to the large video screen and other structural elements in the room, Aquin says that good artists ultimately make the right decisions in terms of how to arrange their work. This is evident in both Saucier’s and Gagnon’s use of detail.
“Craft has always been a visual element of art and we’ve totally forgotten that,” she says. “And these guys have been holding onto craft as something important.”
Since presenting his spring collection at both Montreal and Toronto Fashion Weeks, things are looking up for Gagnon.
“Fashion can prey on couture as it can prey on Converse sneakers and mackinaw wool shirts,” Aquin says. “They are not even seen as fashion, they’re not even couture. But fashion is a phenomenon and couture is a form of art.”
Denis Gagnon S’Expose runs through February 13 at the Montreal Museum of Art in the Jean Noel Desmarais Pavillion. Admission is free. More information at mmfa.qc.ca