Established among Montreal’s big names, alongside the likes of Marie Saint Pierre, Philippe Dubuc, Tavan & Mitto and Denis Gagnon, Harricana par Mariouche distinguishes itself by way of its ecological policy…
Harricana par Mariouche, named after its creator Mariouche Gagné, is a fashion house unlike others because nearly everything Gagné makes is fashioned out of recycled fur.
“A real fur coat has a shelf life of 100 years, whereas we don’t even know how long it takes a faux fur coat to disintegrate once it’s been discarded, because plastic hasn’t been around long enough for us to know. Which one do you think is worse for the planet?” Gagné’s question is a pointed one, and one even members of PETA should mull over. For Gagné, this is the basis of a philosophy she’s developed throughout her career, that blends a love of Native culture, natural materials and high-end fashion.
After a first immersion into fashion in Paris, where as the winner of a contest created by Cartier and Air France she got to live and work a stint in the City of Lights, Gagné wanted to study at the Domus Academy in Milan. The only problem? The tuition cost $25,000. That’s when her mom came across another contest that asked budding designers to work with fur. “I was really outdoorsy, so I decided to create skiwear with fur inside, using my mum’s two old fur coats, and I won the contest. I was able to do my master’s degree at Domus. When I came back to Montreal at 21 I kept working with recycled fur, and presented my pieces to Simon’s and right away got orders. That was the beginning!”
Today, in addition to having her line in stores like Simon’s and Ogilvy’s and working in tangent with some of the world’s biggest brands, including a partnership with Rossignol next year, Gagné has her flagship store in an impressive 100-year-old bank building on the corner of Atwater and Saint-Antoine.
“I moved here in 2002, just over 10 years ago. The whole collection is here, as well as all the services we offer – transforming, cleaning and restoring recycled fur and wedding dresses. I’ve got amazing contact with the customers here – I get young, old, men, women visitors, so I can go bit more crazy and do one-of-a-kind pieces. If you look at the store there are no two pieces that are exactly the same.”
The most impressive section of the building, other than the retail, is the Économusée – launched in 2012, the museum invites visitors to explore Gagné’s atelier and back store (I’ve never seen so many fur coats in one place!) in a fascinating guided tour that teaches not only about this label, but about the history of fashion in Montreal. It’s a great way to absorb the craftsmanship and detail that goes into the kind of restorative work Gagné and her team do. It paints a sharp contrast to the world of fast fashion.
“You can get a pair of boots for the cost of a cup of coffee today,” says Gagné. “It doesn’t make sense, if you think of the work that goes into making a pair of boots. As a fashion person it’s up to us to educate people on this imbalance. There’s a very big difference between the boots at $19 and the ones at $200. It’s not the same materials, it wasn’t made in the same conditions, it’s not going to last the same way… the $200 pair will last you 10 years. The effect on the planet is so much less in the long run.”
So make a visit to this made-in-Montreal design house a must while you’re in town, and while you’re at it, reserve yourself a half-day for the area. “Every week there’s a new condo building, a new restaurant, a new Starbucks in this area! It’s so great,” says Gagné. “There’s Parisian Laundry and Arsenal, two art galleries that are just amazing; cute cafés and restaurants on Notre-Dame Street; you can rent a peddle-boat on the Lachine Canal, go to the Atwater Market… discover an area that’s kind of what Brooklyn has become to New York.”
Harricana par Mariouche, 3000 Saint-Antoine West, (514) 287-6517
Photos by Coey Kerr