This designer is dedicated to making accessible clothing a wearable art
For decades, the concept of wearable art, where clothing was used as an expressive artistic expression, was often too expensive or completely impractical. Clever clothes were reserved for a small part of the population.
But designer Katrin Leblond believes that clothing and design can be an art that should be accessible to all women. “I believe women can be disruptors,” says Leblond, whose Montreal boutique is full of bold, playful and unique prints and is consistently voted one of the city’s top designers. “I operate in an industry with a distorted perception of value because of fast fashion,” she adds. Most people who buy art like to know the artist, but most people who buy clothes don’t know the seamstress who sewed it or even the person who designed it.
Known for her unique and dynamic designs, Leblond began her career two decades ago as a textile designer. In 2007, she launched her own brand, Catherine Leblond Design, and her own boutique, Boutique Katrin Leblond. Textile artist, the inspired talent of Leblond is present in his creations.
“I love folk art, patterns, flowers and bright colors. I like yellow, orange, pink and turquoise,” explains Leblond, who starts each garment with a brush. “I like to be a visual extrovert in the way I dress. I think that makes up for my shy nature. I don’t have much to say with words, but I have a lot to say with colors and patterns.
Leblond also collaborates with other female artists on printed designs. Last year she worked with Ukrainian artist Daria Hlazatova. Creating across cultural and geographic boundaries, their theme was brotherhood.
“The concept of brotherhood is really important to me. I work with women, I serve women, and almost all of my clients are women,” says Leblond. “Women have a way, across generations, of uplifting each other. We impact each other’s moods, we compliment each other, we cry and we heal together. We share moments of joy and intimacy. All of these things happen all the time in my store.
Growing up in Montreal, Leblond remembers his early drive for creativity, craftsmanship and even entrepreneurship. “I remember having a little stand at the end of my grandmother’s driveway where I sold the stones that were clearly visible in the driveway behind me,” she shares. “I got dressed, put flowers in my hair and sat under an umbrella. People bought them. I loved making money when I was a kid.
Her first foray into producing creative products was making Fimo (a kind of polymer clay), jewelry, not clothes. At 13, Leblond had his own booth at a community Christmas craft sale. “It was funny because when they wanted to make a purchase, people asked me where my relative was and I had to explain to them that it was my stall and they had to pay me,” she recalls.
Studying fine and studio art at art school, she found she had a disconnect with the school’s underlying mission. “It was really difficult for me because they expected us to have a big concept for our artwork,” says Leblond. “I just wanted to do beautiful things. Things I could use, things I could wear.
Leblond’s early work was very fanciful. “I made tops with dragonfly wings and skirts that looked like upside-down tulips,” Leblond explains. “It didn’t sell very well.” Now she tends to make practical, easy-to-wear garments with feminine silhouettes and bold prints. “Things for everyday life and everyday joy,” she adds.
The big joy for Leblond is the design process. “It’s the journey from doodle to garment: a print is developed, colors are changed, scale is tested, and it becomes a magical envelope for a woman’s body,” says Leblond. In fact, she likens the process to cooking. “You can take rotten bananas, eggs, flour, butter, and milk and turn them into chewy, aromatic banana bread or dry, unattractive bread. There are so many steps to getting it right,” she suggests. “I like it because it’s tough and I’m good at it.”
Eighteen months ago, Leblond and everything she has built was put to the test when her store and workshop were hit by a major fire. She lost most of her inventory and had to move overnight. “These moments always make you wonder if you want to carry on,” she shares. Now would have been the perfect time to let go and do something else.
Leblond knew in her heart that she wasn’t done with her business. But she was determined to rebuild in a new way. “I didn’t want to compromise anymore. No need to sell me short anymore. No more choosing cheap materials just to keep things affordable,” she shares. That meant going ahead with organic cotton, colorful linens, and all the quirky prints. It meant starting over. “It meant more work and hustle like a 20-year-old,” she says.
Like a phoenix rising from its ashes, since the fire, Leblond has imagined two collections, built a new store and got back on its feet. And she is inspired to go even further. “I want to be the Marimekko of Canada, a design house that represents originality, artistry and local pride in the textile market,” she says as she launches a wholesale collection for Spring 2023. “I believe there are women who crave creativity – expression and I want them to know they are not alone.