Thrust into the limelight at the age of 19 by an international fashion competition, Québec’s Mariouche Gagné has been making a name for herself for the past 20 years with her recycled eco-chic furs. Today, she is busy lining up one project after another. Tomorrow, the world.
The wall of fur in the restaurant Laurie Raphaël at Hôtel Le Germain Montréal, that’s her. The fox fur–lined aviator hats and the much-loved mink bags dangling from elegant, fashionable arms, that’s her too. Since as far back as anyone can remember, Mariouche Gagné, now 42, has never followed the crowd. “I grew up in the countryside—I love the smell of nature all around me. And when I started out in fashion, I really didn’t think it was for me. I wanted to change the world instead,” confesses the designer. Now her firm—Harricana—boasts some 20 employees and has recycled and turned more than 80,000 fur coats into fashionable clothing and accessories, saving close to one million animals over 20 years.
Harricana and its Écoluxe® label embody the designer’s deeply held values. “I’m all for luxury without having to be a snob—raw and natural, passing on our heritage with fur coats handed down from mother to daughter, and that I bring up to date. Now it’s the same thing for wedding dresses, silk, and leather. All my creations have an almost industrial design side to them and I love the fact that they’re useful, however chic the material they are made out of may be. I love making a coat reversible, turning a bag into a muff. I draw my inspiration from our wide-open spaces, the First Nations, the wonderful clean lines of Inuit art and esthetics.” If proof were needed, look no further than the dazzling pictures of singer/songwriter Elisapie Isaac—both muse and friend—in the 2012–2013 winter catalogue.
At home in her studio-slash-workshop in Montréal—a recent addition to the economuseum trail—and already distributed in 15 countries, Mariouche has ambitious plans for the future. All being well, her next exploit will be the Rossignol Harricana ski collection, for men and women, set to hit the international market in fall 2013. “I’d already worked on Jean-Charles de Castelbajac’s collection for Rossignol,” she says. “This time it’s my creations, thirty-odd very technical pieces bringing together thick sheepskin and metallic, moonlike materials, for example. I imagined a French ski champion and an Inuit meeting and falling in love in the Far North and the outfits they would come up with if they swapped clothes.” A much-anticipated launch is slated for Val-d’Isère in December, then it’s on to Montréal Fashion Week, the Sundance Film Festival, and the world-famous ISPO ski show in Munich.
Other projects lie scattered across her drafting table. Like the November launch of Harricana perfume, developed with Monsillage. And after opening a new section at Signatures québécoises—the new showcase for local brands in Église Saint-Roch in Québec City—and the revamping of her online boutique, it will be time to gear up for the Christmas market in Toronto’s Distillery District. At the same time, Mariouche, a responsible citizen if ever there was one, hosted a fundraising evening for Ondinnok this fall, a theatre built around the idea of reconquering the imaginary land of the Aboriginals. All while working on a worldwide project to come with a major foundation.
And yet none of this can steal Mariouche away from her two darlings, Zoé, 4, and Oscar, 2 ½, “whose very existence in [her] life beats any extreme sport.” It’s doubtless with one eye on her two children that she looks forward to Harricana becoming “the world’s premier brand of luxury, environmentally friendly goods.” With prestigious European group LVMH having just selected the brand for its official supplier guide, now all that remains is finding that special partner with whom she can really hit the heights. Mariouche Gagné is well on her way, and just like Rivière Harricana in Abitibi, she’s going to take some stopping!
Life is like a river…
It all started in 1990, when Mariouche Gagné, then a student at Collège LaSalle, swept all before her at the Jeunes créateurs de mode Paris fashion competition with a white coat inspired by the polar bear and an Inuit legend. Three years later, while studying for a master’s in design management at Milan’s Domus Academy, a reversible ski suit and accessories taken from her mother’s fur coat earned her second prize in the Fur Council of Canada Jeunes créateurs competition. The recycling concept was born. The brand’s DNA had been formed. The path ahead had been cleared.
Par Carole Schinck