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'Canadian fashion' wasn't really a thing until Leo Chevalier

Forty years ago, seeing a fashion show featuring clothes designed by a Canadian was a novelty.

'He's the most contemporary, and the most fun,' said one of his admirers

"She doesn't have an age, she has an attitude," Chevalier said when describing the women who might wear his designs. 2:13

In 1979, Canadian fashion was finally coming into its own, and at the forefront was Leo Chevalier. 

"He's the best designer that Canadians have ever had," said fashion writer Iona Monahan of Leo Chevalier. (The National/CBC Archives)

"The country that gave the world Stanfield's underwear has more to offer," said reporter David Bazay. "That's the view of Leo Chevalier, one of a handful of Canadian fashion designers."

Fashion writer Iona Monahan was a believer.

"He's the best designer that Canadians have ever had," she said. "He's the most businesslike, he's the most aware, he has the best taste, he's the most contemporary, and he's the most fun." 

Chevalier started out as a department store window dresser in Montreal, and he'd been in the business for 20 years.

"A little bit of more skin showing this year," Chevalier said of his 1979 spring collection. (The National/CBC Archives)

"His brand name, now on dresses and fur coats, will soon appear on other products including perfume and menswear," noted Bazay.

At the runway show featuring his spring collection, Chevalier himself described the clothes he'd designed.

"The silhouette is narrow, it's a little shorter than it was before, it's very soft, very lightweight," he said as models strutted on the catwalk. 

There were other differences from his previous collections.

One thing his runway shows had proven was that price didn't matter for his customers, Chevalier said. (The National/CBC Archives)

"A lot of skirts that unbutton a little up the side or up the front to show a little more leg," he said. "I don't think you'd describe them as sexy, but you could describe them as a little more sensual."  

A dress by Chevalier could run to $150, and the Canadian women who made up clientele were willing to pay it. 

The designer had a sense of what type of woman would buy his clothes.

"My customer is not a teenybopper, or even a young unmarried," he said. "Unless she has the kind of sophistication ... that my clothes supposedly have.

"She doesn't have an age, she has an attitude."