Since before it opened its doors and throughout the following 50 years, Expo 67’s effect on Montréal cannot be understated. As the city’s de facto débutante ball entrance onto the world stage, Montréal pre and post Expo 67 are two different cities. And giving proof of Expo 67’s reach into all facets of Montréal life, the Musée McCord’s Fashioning Expo 67 takes a close look at the fashions directly related to, influenced by, and seen at the world’s fair.
A fashion kaleidoscope
Expo 67’s spotlight on Montréal has been interpreted countless times through its transformative architecture and achievements in bringing the world together on two man-made islands in the St Lawrence. “Though Expo 67 left an indelible legacy, its spotlight on fashion has been all but forgotten,” notes Suszanne Sauvage, the Musée’s President and Chief Executive Officer. For the first time, Fashioning Expo 67 examines the fair’s influence through its fashions and also takes time to collect the opinions of those who wore them.
Each pavilion brought along a team of hostesses, all outfitted with a unique look. And while each of these frocks brought with it a sense of national pride, not everyone was happy with her country’s chosen style. Comically, while the German pavilion’s first-draft outfits were too warm for the season and required a local re-design, Italy put their best foot forward with gorgeously adorned shoes lusted after by all the ladies on-site. The younger set at the Youth Pavilion were given several outfit options to piece together themselves, and the Australian hostesses shortened their hemlines after first catching glance of the British pavilion’s showy Swinging London skirts. Many of these outfits are on display for the first time in decades, accompanied by photographs and period film footage proving just how stylish Expo 67 was – and still is.
Much like the fair itself, Fashioning Expo 67 pays special attention to the local designers whose work took centre stage at Expo. (129) Compiling interview footage and an overview of Mode Montréalaise of the period, the Musée’s halls shine light on the local fashion designers who took the world’s attention.
Saddled with the task of creating the signature look for Expo 67’s beloved hostesses, young Montréal couturier Michel Robichaud created the powder blue blazers, skirts, white tops and tri-color hats that made these walking Information beacons stand out from the crowd. Several other dresses from Robichaud’s expert hand (including those constructed for Marie-Claire Boucher Drapeau’s official function appearances as the Mayor’s wife) are on loving display.
Other Montréal and Canada-based designers of note also take their rightful place behind museum glass, including Marielle Fleury, Serge & Réal (designers of the Québec pavilion outfits), Jacques de Montjoye (whose conceptual and politicized fashions caused sensation), and John Warden (designer of the Canadian National Pavilion and the Canadian Pulp and Paper Pavilion’s uniforms).
Film footage of The Great Canadian Fashion Caper, the weekly on-site fashion show of Canadian designers, captures roller skating beauties and handsome men in kilts (tussling with the breeze) showing off Canadian fashion. Outfits and accessories made during Expo’s reign over the country’s imaginations reclaims the city and country’s place as fashion capitals finding inspiration from within.
The world’s runway
Focused on Montréal fashion it may be, Fashioning Expo 67 also sets aside space for the work of international fashion greats whose work also graced the world fair’s pavilions. (130) Traditionally-inspired pieces designed for Africa Place stand proud next to Expo ensembles by Bill Blass (USA Pavilion), Sorelle Fontana (Italy), Roger Nelson (Britain), and Jean-Louis Scherrer (France).
These fashions of Expo 67, unseen together since the exposition itself, and still so full of groovy energy and life, literally threaten to walk right out of their displays. It’s a sight worth seeing before they head back into the closet for another 50 years.