Rastaquouère

I am always looking for and attracted to beautifully crafted clothing for men and women. There is something so delightful about garments that are created with true workmanship that takes my breath away and renews my appreciation of fashion as art and not simply as this thing that is. Combine this admiration with my love for children and dare me not to fall in love with Rastaquouère, a Calgary-based haute couture line for children. The moment I laid eyes on designer and owner Marie-Michelle Melotte’s carefully and lovingly handcrafted pieces, I swooned and wished for adult sizes then for a child to dress head to toe in Rastaquouère. Marie-Michelle graciously agreed to answer a few questions for Style Atelier and did so quite eloquently.

Where does the name Rastaquouère come from and what does it mean?

Rastaquouère is a 19th century French word which has a pejorative connotation. It was coined during the Belle Époque to describe exotic looking individuals, usually strangers, who shamelessly exhibited their wealth and loud clothing. I’m all for the rehabilitation of words with an objectionable past and when I was looking for a name for my project “rastaquouère” seemed to be a good fit. I’ve always been a bit of a stranger everywhere I go and people have always been intrigued by my ethnic origins. I liked the ring of the word, its historical political incorrectness , and its resonance with my process of a marginal sort of luxury.

Which designers do you admire and why?

I’m torn between the classics and the iconoclasts! Yves Saint-Laurent and Courrèges for their simple shapes, clean lines, perfect cuts, and impeccable design. Madame Grès, Poiret, and Jacques Fath for the indescribable beauty of their clothes. Hussein Chalayan and the Japanese (Kawakubo Rei, Yohji Yamamoto, Junya Watanabe among others) for challenging the traditional constraints of medium and shape. The theatrical colour schemes of Kenzo and Christian Lacroix. The wonderful and intelligent pied-de-nez of Moschino and of the fringe dwellers—the likes of the late Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood.

What does fashion mean to you?

The word itself unfortunately connotes the current and the trendy which is a marketing ploy and a mass-produced conformist masquerade… all of which is incredibly boring. Too often creativity and process is sacrificed for productivity and output. We often confuse choice and selection. That dress you’re pulling off the prêt-à-porter rack isn’t necessarily a wide-ended choice you’re making—it’s a selection that you’re making amongst the small spectrum that a retailer has afforded you based more on mass throughput than on anything vaguely inspired. As we can’t all afford bespoke tailoring and haute couture, sewing for yourself, altering, and riffling through vintage clothing stores are great substitutes. Fashion is something that is very complex and intimate. Fashion should be about invention, not consumption. As long as you’re thoroughly content with what you’re putting on and presenting to the world, because ultimately, that’s fashion’s two-part contract—individual choice and the reception of the other. No Elle magazine must-have list should contaminate that. The language of fashion is very intriguing to me… what we choose to show and what we don’t, what is meant by items of clothing and what isn’t. I guess I don’t actually know what fashion means to me and maybe that’s a good thing as it leaves plenty of space for invention and re-invention!

Did you study fashion design? How did you get into creating such beautiful clothing for children?

I have a degree in French literature with minors in Spanish and Drama. I’ve always been intrigued by fashion and costume and have always wanted to be a part of that world. I used to fill entire sketchbooks with costume drawings for every play I ever laid my eyes on! I have no formal training in fashion design or clothing construction and everything that I’ve learned in the way of the cloth has been as a dilettante through books, pattern instructions, trial and error, and watching my mother-in-law work her 40 year old cast iron Singer. I used to be incredibly afraid of sewing machines—they were a foreign mechanism to me. I have my mother-in-law to thank for having patiently and painstakingly taught me everything from threading a machine to the techniques of hand embroidery. I’ve found that creating garments for children is much less daunting than creating clothes for adults… it’s a process… I’ll get there someday!

Where does your inspiration come from? 

I don’t know if it’s inspiration as much as it is observation. Being receptive to everything around you can create some pretty fertile material for creation. Sounds like a line from a fluffy self-help book, but “life” is a good muse!

You spent many years in France. How does that time influence your work?

I’ve spent a total of three years living in France (and two in Cyprus) and have strong ties to the country—my husband is French as is my son. French is my first language and I have origins, family and friends there so it’s a pretty big part of me. I’ve been fortunate to have been exposed to those intensely French things such as emphasis on touch and quality, ceaseless innovation, impeccable and uncompromising construction, the historical, microcosmic weight of excellence. Being part of an important hub of Europe also meant being able to sample first hand important fashion, costume, art and textile related exhibitions, museums and merchants.

Your clothing is made of some very exquisite fabrics and entails some very intricate details– very couture.

I like to let the fabric speak for itself, therefore it has to be carefully selected for each individual project. Fabric is the foundation and the catalyst for everything. I don’t like over-manipulation or modifying the natural structure and drape of a fabric. That seems to defeat the purpose. I emphasize natural fibers and rare or precious materials not out of snobbishness but because tactility and texture are very important to me and if I don’t enjoy what I’m touching and sewing with then I can’t ever hope for the garment to turn out properly or for the process to be satisfying.

I’m dying to know—will you expand into women’s and men’s wear?

I like the universe of childhood. It’s whimsical, it’s forgiving, and it’s fleeting. Sewing children’s clothes also requires less fabric so I’m freer to experiment with costly materials without ruin! We’ll see what happens with the children’s line and if it’s successful I just might branch out into the grown-up world!

Where/how can we purchase your children’s clothing?

Rastaquouère e-shop is set to launch Fall of 2011. Items are one-of-a kind and limited in size, but no one else will be wearing the same thing and that’s a definite edge at recess!

Any last words?

Support handmade. “Strike a small blow to the forces of mass production.” (http://www.buyhandmade.org/why-buy-handmade)

Connect. Reconnect. Don’t be afraid of your own creativity!

Rastaquouère owner and designer, Marie-Michelle Melotte. All images courtesy of Rastaquouère.

To see more of Marie-Michelle’s designs and to stay informed on the launch of her e-shop, visit Rastaquouère.

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