It's slow fashion,” designer Angela DeMontigny says as she discusses her edgy eclectic custom couture collection worn by celebrities across North America, many musicians and many First Nations customers.
“I'm old school,” she says. It takes time to craft, individualize and tailor each DeMontigny piece, just as it takes time to develop a 21-year fashion career that took her from Vancouver to a fashion design internship with CCAB (Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business) in Toronto, and finally to a storefront in Hamilton and a residence near Ancaster.
Walk into Angela DeMontigny's studio along Hamilton's trendy James Street North (home of the monthly Art Crawl) and admire rock star quality leather jackets, sparkling Italian metallic suede sleeveless dresses or French lambskin and Lycra skinny pants in black or charcoal brown hanging on racks.
Admire away, but you can't buy. These are samples only.
Each DeMontigny garment is individually cut and stitched and made to order in any size for both men and women.
“I like working with clients to find out about their lifestyles and careers,” she says. “Then I make them something that suits them and their professions.
“You can dress in a stylish and unique way that is individual, and still be professionally appropriate. I love doing that because I create things that people can wear and wear ““ quality pieces that last up to 15 years.”
This is investment clothing, with attitude.
She works with people to build wardrobes and her pieces can be casual or dressed up ““ there are no rules expect everything is quality and everything is made from hides: European cow and lamb leather and Ontario trapped raccoon, fox and coyote fur.
“It's not how I started out,” DeMontigny says, but it's now my medium. I love leather; it's in my DNA. I'm from a line of trappers and furriers.”
Metis and Cree by birth, DeMontigny's heritage is the signature of her design aesthetic. However, that wasn't always true. Her early work reflected Mexican and South American influences. “I like ancient motifs and symbols,” she says.
“I did a lot of hand-painted and screen printed work.” In her store today, she still stocks four styles of spirit animal printed t-shirts.
Then two Canadian First Nations designers ““ Dorothy Grant and D'arcy Moses ““ got a lot of mainstream attention, and DeMontigny found her inspiration. “I realized there was a huge opportunity to promote my culture through design,” she says.
She abandoned her mass production strategy ““ “I had a factory and hated it,” she says ““ her custom tailored leather, suede and shearling couture then launched full ““ yet slow ““ speed ahead.
All hides are sourced from Europe in small quantities, and shimmery Italian metallic suedes are a designer (and client) favourite taking a starring role in DeMontigny's signature wedding dress design. Yes, a suede wedding dress ““ with handstitched beading across the front panel.
“I just finished another suede couture gown with more than 40 hours of hand beading down the front for a famous Canadian singer debuting a major project next year,” DeMontigny says coyly. “But I can't say who.”
DeMontigny will also be featured in a coffee table book about Canadian fashion designers out next year. She's also been the head designer for Canada's Aboriginal Indspire Awards ““ styling both presenters and sets ““ and coordinated the first group show of Aboriginal Fashion designers during a Toronto Fashion Week.
“It was important for me to learn marketing, business and how to produce trade events,” she says referring to her internship in Toronto 15 years ago, after she opened her own Vancouver store at the age of 24. While classmates interning with well-known Canadian designers sewed on buttons in back rooms, DeMontigny was organizing a NAFTA-inspired Canadian design exhibit in Mexico City.
“Now, I can produce large scale shows when necessary,” she says and recently participated in the annual Glamour in the Hammer runway event, a fundraiser for Good Shepherd in Hamilton.
Art Crawl along James Street North on the second Friday evening of every month, and the annual big sister event SuperCrawl every September, have been great for the street and good for the store, DeMontigny says. “It brings people out who might not have been here before and even though it's insanely busy people come back later.”
“Of course, not all who come to browse are in the market for custom $1,200 pants. (“Though, when you consider the cost per wear over years,” she says, “it's a great deal.”) For immediate gratification, you can take home other DeMontigny creations, without the five to six week wait. Python skin or acid-washed cow leather handbags, add accents of texture to any look, and leather cuffs inset with a line of colourful healing stones and crystals are a signature accessory.
Home décor is the next logical extension of DeMontigny's lifestyle design approach to all she creates. New are 2 hand-poured Lodge line of soy candles that mimic the spirit and essence of traditional medicines such as cedar, sage, sweet grass and tobacco. A favourite, Ceremony, is the smell of a scared lodge fire. It's the natural candle version of smudging used to clear negative energy from a room, welcoming perhaps more thoughtful consumption and maybe a new pair of pants.