Designers seek spotlight as Montreal Fashion Week turns 25

As Montreal Fashion Week gets set to kick off on Tuesday, homegrown designers say they're finding the battle for consumer dollars increasingly fierce.

Local designers say they face competition from large-scale chains

Models walk the runway in a 2012 Montreal Fashion Week show. Designers say they face increasing competition for consumers from large-scale chains. (Sebastian Roy / The Canadian Press)

With Montreal Fashion Week kicking off on Tuesday, designer Christian Chenail says the steady arrival of large-scale chains offering lower-priced products has made the battle for consumer dollars increasingly fierce.

"A girl who would maybe buy my stuff at 50 per cent off at the end of the season, now she's doesn't come anymore to see my things. She's buying at Zara," said Chenail, whose made-in-Canada offerings for his Muse label include jackets retailing for around $450 and dresses in the $350 to $400 range.

"I have two choices: produce in China — or still doing what I do the best and try to find a way to attract those people again."

Chenail, who has spent more than two decades as a Montreal-based designer, will be among the first to his unveil spring-summer 2014 collections at Fashion Week, with late screen and style icon Grace Kelly serving as the main inspiration for his latest line.

"I still have the energy and the excitement to show my collection on the runway," said Chenail. "This is one of the things that's the most important for me—to get pleasure from my work."

homegrown designers fight for market

Sensation Mode co-president Jean-François Daviau, whose firm organizes the event, said homegrown designers may not be able to compete with the pricing and output of affordable apparel chains, but they can distinguish themselves by producing items unique to the marketplace.

"You have to develop an authentic product [...] with a good price, but not fast fashion. You cannot go there," said Daviau. "You cannot look at H&M or Zara. That's volume. That's the game of mass production. You'll never be able to fight the price."

In celebration of the semi-annual event's 25th edition, Montreal Fashion Week organizers are inviting designers to show their new lines without charging a participation or production fee.

Daviau said the $1,500 sum would typically cover show essentials like hair and makeup.

Organizers also approached modelling agencies in the city to request a break on fees, and contemporary art complex Arsenal—which plays host to the event—is also offering a deal to use their facilities.

Fashion Week commemorates key milestones

Despite the consistent winds of change swirling around the industry, Daviau sees the staging of fashion weeks as a key constant.   

"I think when a designer does a fashion show, that pushes him to enhance his creativity and explore more and challenge himself because you have the reaction," said Daviau. "I think it's important for the designer, but also for a city. It's a way of branding and bringing a lot of energy into a creative industry."  

The latest edition of Fashion Week will see a pair of labels commemorating key milestones: Bodybag by June marking its 15th anniversary and Dinh Ba Design celebrating its 10th.   

Fashion fans unable to see the presentations in person can access collections online with shows being live streamed on the Montreal Fashion Week website.   

Montreal Fashion Week runs from Sept. 3-6.