One thing I love about my job : I get to meet inspiring people. People who push me to question myself and expand my knowledge. With them, I have conversations I’ll never forget.
That’s exactly what happened with Marie-Christine Quenneville, founder and designer of the fashion label, Les Enfants Sauvages (which could be loosely translated to The Wild Children), when we met a couple of weeks ago at her studio.
Where does the name Les Enfants Sauvages come from?
After studying sewing and pattern making, two disciplines I found too restrictive and material, I decided to do anthropology. The desire of launching my own line came after that. It’s the idea of doing what you want and taking advantage of your freedom and individuality. “Les Enfants Sauvages” represent that feeling.
More precisely, the name comes from a book I studied in my behavioral psychology class. Those feral children are abandoned in the wild and are literally raised by animals. Studying those cases, scientists realized that if the human doesn’t acquire the function of language by a certain age, there’s no way to learn it afterwards. It’s an interesting theory about what’s innate and learned.
African textiles come back often in your collections. Why are you so inspired by them?
At the beginning, everyone in Montreal was doing basics and I wanted to create bolder pieces. It’s not about constantly wearing a turban or flowers, but it feels good to incorporate extravagance in your life once in a while. Those prints also create a balance with my classic and symmetric designs.
Moreover, they aren’t only extremely beautiful, they have their own meaning in every culture. For example, those two red motifs are called “oeil de Marival” (Marival’s eye). When a woman wears them, it means “Watch out girl!” and everyone knows that. It’s expressing yourself without the need of words. It’s fascinating. Beyond being pretty, they’re also spiritually rich.
Do you think you’ll use fabrics from other cultures one day?
I kind of tripped over the African fabrics and, since then, that aesthetic has been a signature of my work. However, I also use a lot of Japanese and Indian textiles. In the end, it’s all about an organic exploration. I don’t want to be solely associated with African fabrics.
Where do you source them?
I have my suppliers in Parc Ex (a multicultural neighborhood in Montreal). When I started my research, I went to stores where they sell fake hair and I started asking around. Now, these women know me and put fabrics aside for me. In the African culture, beautiful clothes are extremely important for weddings and church days, thus the importance of textile.
On another occasion, I went to the Indian neighborhood in Toronto and I did a whole collection with sarees.
What do you think of cultural appropriation?
It’s a touchy subject, I had to reflect a lot about that. Especially when I went to Africa and the States (where she participated in entrepreneurial forums and did research), where the Afro-American community is obviously much more present.
The thing is that those fabrics don’t belong to a specific culture or country. At the beginning, the Dutch colonized Indonesia and then imported the batik printing technique. Their first factories were built in South Africa in order to provide for the European market. Subsequently, West Africa integrated it in their culture. Those prints traveled a lot and I feel like a pawn in their evolution.
It’s like borrowing. I’m not capitalizing on some kind of exotic imagery. The whole world is an inspiration to me.
How would you describe your creative process?
It’s a huge puzzle. I start by playing with the fabrics. There’s often a main print with other patterns revolving around it and then solid colors. I always have my sketchbook by my side. I move stuff around and try new combinations.
In terms of influence, everything inspires me: life, travels, the world, contemporary art… I’m attracted to experimental things. That’s who I am. It’s my environment.
Are your clothes produced in Montreal?
Yes! The patterns and samples are developed here, at the atelier, and the production is done on Chabanel street, by skillful Cambodian ladies.
Who is your muse when you create?
These days, it’s a mix of my friend, who looks like Charlotte Gainsbourg, but more punk, and a designer from New York that I love, Maryam Nassir Zadeh. She’s inspired by Iran, before the revolution. Her creations are funky and reminiscent of the 60s and 70s. She’s a big influence to me.
When do you feel the most creative?
In the morning or at night. During the day, I feel overwhelmed by details, paperwork and meetings.
How would you describe your relation with color?
Everything started when I realized that black and white didn’t suit me. Oppositely, when I wear colors, I feel wonderful! I believe that the right nuances matched strategically, affect greatly our state of mind. When my socks match, I know my day will be a good one!
What do you need when you create?
Matching socks! (Laughs) Seriously, I need music. I listen to a lot of Organ Mood, Nouveau Zodiac, Sara Dion, Mary Davidson and Le Fruit Vert. I like lengthy complex music with multiple layers of textures.
All photos by Naomie Tremblay (except for the first one).
To read other interviews with inspiring minds, head over here!