1986 – A hard-working student rece ives her fashion diploma from LaSalle College. Thirty years later, she is ranked among the fashion greats. This did not happen by accident.
Marie Saint Pierre seems to collect awards without ever seeking them. Like all designers with their own label, Saint Pierre is motivated to constantly re-invent her creative artistry and ensure the longevity of her brand. Her story unfolds with near perfection. In 1995, she was the first Quebec designer to stage a show at Collections Créateurs in Paris. “I went to Europe to see if what I was doing made sense, to see if I could measure up on an international stage. I wanted to validate my technical and creative skills.” Her press agent urged her to set up shop in the City of Light, but she became pregnant with her daughter, and decided to stay in Quebec. It would be easy to say “and the rest is history,” but that would be to gloss over nearly three decades of hard work, as Saint Pierre remains a prominent player in the luxury market (with three boutiques in Montreal, and a new address in Miami). “It’s hard to be in business here,” she says. “The financial world is not exactly partial to women in this milieu […] As an entrepreneur, you try to avoid failure, because it’s too hard to come back from it. You need to examine your work, your team and your production with a very critical eye.”
The designer, who works in partnership with her sister, says she has an innate flair for her business. “When something bothers me, I go walking around the building and let my instinct tell me which of the three doors to talk back through.” That sixth sense surely drives her decision to create differently. “I work on live models who move around, because I need the design to be beautiful at all times.” All her creations are designed and produced in Montreal, and you can see Saint Pierre’s architectural approach to clothing in them. “I dress women for whom clothing is also an attitude, and that has a function beyond beauty alone.” She adds that research and developmen—which brings together technology and artistic skill — “has always been part of the DNA of Maison Marie Saint Pierre.” During our interview, the words “work” and “requirement” came up frequently. With six collections to produce a year, plus related projects, there is no resting on her laurels. “It takes time before you can say you’re producing luxury goods. It doesn’t happen by chance, or because you just decide to. The product has to be validated as luxury, and meet certain standards of ethical production. It takes a certain number of years and a certain volume of business, too; otherwise you remain an artisan.” The secret to durability in this business lies in having consistently, high expectations—of oneself, and of others—as well as a lively curiosity about what’s happening, and more importantly, what’s going to happen. Marie Saint Pierre says she is interested in everything, from social media to science, which can significantly influence textiles, the building blocks of her trade. “Often, the fabric I have in mind isn’t available on the market. So I buy two or three kinds and fuse them, using a process I have developed. Among other things, this allows me to create volume that defies gravity.” Pushing the envelope, anyone? “I have always been a non-conformist, and am always seeking to do more, and go further. If I ever felt like I had ‘arrived’ somewhere, I would give it all up.”
Behind the scenes
Marie Saint Pierre’s fall collection reflects her vision of the many faces of women, interpreted through dresses, blouses and jackets in colours that are part pastel, part gumdrop, and even include misty grey and midnight blue. Inventive shades match innovative fabrics, such as a neoprene-velvet made of wool. “For the Spring 2017 collection, I focused particularly on textures and depth. I also play with the weight of the materials: the airy lightness of neoprene coexists with the near-liquid heaviness of a silk jersey. Some pieces are very androgynous, since I have noticed a growing number of men are drawn to my brand. Finally, I allowed myself a bit of boldness—even insolence — with the unexpected use of kaleidoscope-view floral motifs.”