By Katherine Ellis
Photography by Aleyah Solomon
Speaking in a beautiful accent à la Montréalaise, Valérie Dumaine chats about her love for languages, including Russian and Italian (which she would love to learn) and German (in which she is fluent).
Switching easily between languages, we chat about her fateful trip to Germany, which gave Dumaine the final push to start her own line. Twenty collections later, her work is now available in stores across Canada, the United States and Japan — and easily recognizable by the mix of prints and patterns in her elegant designs.
KATHERINE ELLIS: After graduating from LaSalle College, Montréal, you travelled to London, England, and had an internship with Gaile McConaghie. How did this come about?
VALÉRIE DUMAINE: It was about a year and a half after I graduated from LaSalle. My friend, who lived in London, was studying shoe design. I thought it was a good opportunity for me to just go there. I left with my portfolio and had a place to stay because of my friend, [so] that’s why I could do the internship without being paid.
[My friend] told me about all these places he knew and about independent fashion designers. I was lucky. I knocked on a few doors [of some designers], and one of them got interested. I stayed and worked for her for a month, and I learned a lot. She was working alone; it was a small company, so I did a lot of things. It was a variety of tasks and I really enjoyed it.
Why did you want to create your line?
It has always been my goal since I was a kid. That is the only thing I knew I wanted, and that’s the reason why I was doing fashion and why I was going to LaSalle.
It was something that was always there and I never questioned myself. After working for all these companies in Montréal, I knew I would never want to work for anybody else [laughs]. And at this point, if I did not run my own company, I would not work for anyone else. I would quit working in fashion altogether.
Your designs are very minimal, with clean lines and structure. There are also distinct influences from many eras, including the 60s. What is your inspiration? Can you describe it in three words?
Minimalism, Bauhaus, constructivism.
My designs are very structured, but I recently introduced draping, and I am now working with fuller fabrics like chiffon and silk chiffon. It is really not something I am familiar with, so I was exploring a bit more with that recently, especially because we work with a company based in India and they produce a lot of silk.
But I would say my main strength is structured pieces, coats and blazers. I’m always trying to stick to the minimal way, with not too much ‘bling’.
I am inspired by a lot of things from the past. As you know, clothes are always cyclic and decades come back all the time.
In the studio
Can you walk us through your design process?
I used to have design ideas in my mind, but then I was never able to find what I wanted exactly.
I decided to meet all suppliers [for fabrics] and then seeing what was available, it was easier for me to decide, and it gave the right tone to the collection.
I always try to find the richer fabrics first. Then, the basics — I brainstorm, draw a lot of things and narrow it down. Then, we start doing the patterns. I am very visual. We don’t spend too much time drawing. With experience, I know that when you have something in your head, it never comes out or becomes what you imagined. So I create it, and once it’s done, I know a bit more of where I am going with my designs.
With 19 seasons behind you, you are in the process of selecting 10 pieces for your 10th anniversary showcase from previous collections, and using them as inspiration for a whole new collection. How did you choose these pieces? In all your collections, do you have a favourite piece?
We selected the ones that we liked the most, and the ones that sold the most and stood out. The original items are all in white, have black and white prints, or black and white patterns, and a few are black.
It’s hard to pick just one favourite. But it might be the first blazer from my first collection — the Russian Disco line — from spring 2004. It was white with a black silk print on the side. It sold really well, and I was really happy about this piece. Still am.
One of our bestsellers of all time is the Jean dress. We have been repeating it for the past five or six seasons, and I am now known for this dress. This was definitely an influential piece.
You are selling your clothes online and at select boutiques across Canada. Are you planning to open your own store?
I would love to open my own store, but it’s like having another business on the side. When I first started, I thought I would have my own boutique for my 10th anniversary, but I would not be ready to have my own store right now! [laughs] It’s a lot of money as well. So, I don’t know if this is going to happen one day, but I hope it will.