When I ask how he is doing, he answers “well,” and then asks me the same thing. I explain that I have a little problem with one of my eyes, but it is nothing serious. He smiles and replies that he is familiar with eye problems. And that is how I learn a fascinating fact about this former fashion model, now a sought-after curator. Born with an eye condition called amblyopia, he can only see in two dimensions. Surprising for a man who transcends images. But then again, everything about him is surprising.
In his early twenties, he studied architecture, strongly encouraged by his parents, both of whom are international lawyers with a firm belief in higher education. One evening at a social event in Quebec City, he ran into La Presse journalist Marie-Christine Allard, who told him, “You should be a model!” A model? It had never occurred to him. For Thierry-Maxime, models were people who posed for the Sears catalogue. He decided to give it a try and approached the Giovanni agency. They told him to forget about it. So he went to Montage Models. This agency thought he had an interesting face, took four Polaroids of him and said they would call. They all say that.
The next day, they called. Montage had faxed the four photos to an agency in Paris, who wanted to see him—right away. Could he leave that very evening? Thierry-Maxime discussed it with his boyfriend. Why not? He was looking for a summer job and being a model in Paris sounded like a good idea. The next day, he was in France. The agency sent him to a studio to see a photographer. When the photographer asked him how long he had been modelling, Loriot responded, “It’s been 15 minutes.”
When he returned to the agency, an agitated woman exclaimed, “Do you know who you just met? That was Mario Testino, one of the world’s greatest photographers. He just hired you for his Burberry campaign with Kate Moss. You have to leave for London, immediately!” And thus began the international career of Thierry-Maxime Loriot. From unknown to megastar in 15 minutes.
He modelled for all the major campaigns, with all the greatest photographers. The real jet set. His parents worried that he might get involved with drugs. Quite the contrary, he spent his free time visiting the most beautiful museums in the world. He prepared for the next stage of his career, by doing a bachelor’s degree in art history at Université de Montréal.
One night, he accompanied a friend to the opening of the Yves Saint Laurent exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. In another example of the Loriot magic, he met Nathalie Bondil, then chief curator of the MMFA. She offered him an internship at the Museum, which he did, in between two modelling jobs. One day, Bondil asked if he would assist French curator Emma Lavigne with the exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s bed-in. He agreed to do it. His contributions were so remarkable that he was put in charge of the museum’s upcoming exhibition on the work of Jean Paul Gaultier. It was a triumph! He becomes known around the world. More projects followed. He curated the exhibitions and edited the catalogues for Thierry Mugler: Beyond Couture, Viktor & Rolf: Fashion Artists, Peter Lindbergh: A Different Vision on Fashion Photography, Philipp Fürhofer (Dis)illusions as well as three Jean Paul Gaultier books. He was the artistic director for Rufus Wainwright’s All These Poses World Tour. He even works with Madonna.
It would seem that Thierry-Maxime’s life has been a bit like a fairy tale. Until 2016, the year he turned 40. Returning home on a very long flight, he felt unwell. He finally went to the hospital the next day. It was a close call. He was having a heart attack. Diagnosis: myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle caused by a viral infection. He could have died. In his case, the only cure was time. He did not move for weeks. After three months, he was told that the worst was over. He faced a long convalescence as his heart was starting over. Though he used to run marathons, he was now exhausted after a short walk with his dog. Slowly, he regained his strength. Today, he is as fit as he was before. And his artistic talents never left. He is putting together a new exhibition with Jean Paul Gaultier to be presented at the French Pavilion, at the next World Expo in Dubai, in 2021. A kid from Quebec representing France—another magic trick!
His life began with an eye disorder, and started anew with a heart infection. The eyes and the heart: an apt summary of Thierry-Maxime Loriot, the “Little Prince” of fashion, who produces such moving work. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince says, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
In closing, I ask who has been his biggest mentor. I am thinking that he will respond with the name of Gaultier, Mugler, or one of the other legends he has worked with. Instead, he answers, “My boyfriend. He’s the one who made me believe in myself.”
The heart before the eyes.