04/28/2012 03:33 EDT | Updated 06/28/2012 05:12 EDT

Montréal Fashion Week's New Home

Eric Tschaeppler

Montréal Fashion Week plants new roots in Griffintown, an organic move from Old Montréal's Le Marché Bonsecours to the massive Arsenal building.

If Le Marché Bonsecours was beginning to feel a little too close for comfort, this fall stylish Montréalers will have much more room to sashay and flaunt their goods. Montréal Fashion Week (in French, Semaine de la Mode Montréal) has found a brand new address at Arsenal, the city's massive new gallery space that some are heralding as the next it-spot for contemporary art.

Arsenal is located in Griffintown -- an up-and-coming industrial shadow between Old Montréal and Little Burgundy -- and spreads her wings over 40,000 square feet of cement. A retrofit into an original ship-manufacturing site (visualize a tiny hangar), the contemporary design is a radical departure from the Neo-classical Marché Bonsecours landmark on cobblestoned rue St-Paul where the biannual fashion fest has unravelled during the past several seasons.

Moving Forward

Groupe Sensation Mode, the organization that drives the biannual event, made the announcement last week on-site to a select group of designers and other industry leaders. To exemplify Arsenal's new fancy acoustics, the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal treated guests to a short but sound performance.

Local fashion star and Canadian icon Denis Gagnon had nothing but positive words to say: "It is the ideal spot for Semaine de la Mode. Toronto is going to be sad to look at Montréal and see that we have a space so magnifique." Besides better parking and improved public access, Gagnon raved about Arsenal's contemporary aesthetic and the "impressive" quality of the lighting and audio.

He also added, "If Montréal wants a place that will attract international attention, this is it. Moving here will completely revive the event with a spectacular energy, and it will be pivotal in giving Montréal the platform it needs to compete with other top fashion cities. I predict a beautiful future for Montréal Fashion Week at Arsenal, one that will be there a long time. "

Jean-François Bélisle, director at Arsenal, was equally ecstatic about the partnership, which he agreed "follows in the footsteps" of Nathalie Bondil, chief curator of the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, who has showcased fashion designers Yves Saint Laurent, Denis Gagnon and Jean Paul Gaultier in grand exhibits. Said Bélisle, "There has always been a very strong tie between the art and fashion worlds. This will be a very physical manifestation of that."

Perfect Match

Jean-François Daviau, co-founder of Groupe Sensation Mode, admitted that the change in venue was inevitable: "We had been on the hunt for a new location for about 18 months. Marché Bonsecours was no longer a good experience. It was jam-packed and, technically, we couldn't improve the quality of the fashion show any further. If I had to build a place for fashion week myself, Arsenal is exactly how I would've built it."

Fashion designer Marie Saint Pierre whose highly anticipated runway shows typically close or open the sartorial event was also positive about the new environment: "Bonsecours was small and not ideal in terms of space. The accessibility was difficult, people had to wait outside and on the staircase."

Philippe Dubuc, another fashion veteran who has not presented on MFW grounds for many seasons, commented: "Arsenal is a very good place to hold fashion week. It's bigger and more modern. Who knows, maybe Dubuc will be opening fashion week in this new space."

Rather conveniently, Arsenal's attributes accommodate all of MFW's unique requirements: a large backstage for makeup application and wardrobe fittings, a podium for photographers and videographers, and a spacious catwalk with adequate spectator seating. In the new digs, for example, the catwalk will be double the size of what it used to be: it will go from eight to 16 feet wide and from 75 to 100 feet long.

Growing Pains

Space, it seems, has always been an issue for the ever-growing MFW. "Every time we moved to a new location it was because we were receiving more people," said Daviau. Fashion old-timers may recall the very first seven editions of MFW at the Centre des Sciences in the Old Port, followed by a single "disastrous" edition at the Just For Laughs museum, about which Daviau joked: "We call it Just For Laughs Fashion Week." Subsequent seasons invited press and media to the Cinéma Impérial on rue de Bleury. By the time Sensation Mode took over MFW, it was by then in its ninth incarnation; they built a tent in front of W Hotel.

But while Arsenal's 22,000-square-foot Main Hall is able to comfortably accommodate larger crowds (1,000-plus), Daviau insisted that Sensation Mode's aim is for quality over quantity: "For sure we want to be able to welcome more people, but what we are working on is more than that. In Montréal, fashion week is a time for our creative forces to unite under a casual yet stimulating ambience. We've done things to encourage this, such as adding conferences and a designer showroom. We'd like to concentrate on making fashion week a fuller experience. Being at Arsenal gives us wings to do that."