This young graduate of the HEAD (school) has just been named among ten finalists to participate in the next competition of the Festival of Hyères. I had discovered her inhabited clothes and all her inner worlds last October. And of her shirting; it was a favourite. – Isabelle Cerboneschi.
She says she made fashion to escape into her imaginary worlds. She says it with the Canadian accent. That’s where she comes from, Marie-Eve Liberty Canada. She comes from Saint-Hubert, a small town located in the suburbs of Montreal, where she returned when her course at the Haute Ecole d’art et de Design (HEAD) in Geneva ended. She just had time to present her collection during the ritual and annual shows and then she flew back a few days later.
Meanwhile, we just had time to meet, at my insistence, because what I had seen on the catwalk, an evening in October, I liked it from the first glance, and even from the tenth. I wanted everything: the long paper-like Florentine marbled shirts with these lines that dilute, the two-colour jeans, the coats that had life in them. Some died before they were even worn, but not their own. Her clothes are inhabited. It happens sometimes. This happens when the person has a universe of their own; it takes the time to explore, instead of going to wander in the other’s, who do not cut the measure.
Marie-Eve Levavalier had shown her entire inner world, like that, on the podium. She had given the public a desirable fashion. Not a graduate who will at best become the costumier of a dance company. No, real desirable fashion, shifted just to the right. She knows how to dose her seeds of madness does Marie-Eve Levavaliier. Maybe it’s the most difficult thing in fashion to measure her madness. It is like so a lightness of being comes to grab us via the revolutionary selection of shirts. Or a broken white coat that would have grazed the years 1970 all the way to the twenty-first century. In short and despite all this, despite all this poetry, all these desires buried in the perfect seams of her clothes, she has not received any prizes. And she’s gone back to Canada.
But when you have talent, one day to another, it is known. A few days ago I learned that she was nominated as a finalist for the 2018 Fashion Contest of the 33rd Hyères Festival to be held from April 26th to 30th. And among the jury members who will judge her, along with ten other finalists, are Haider Ackermann and Tilda Swinton. I emphasise this just to highlight the level of the jury.
I do not know what attracted them to her, but on the other hand I know why her work excited me. Let’s open the quotation marks very largely because by talking, she gives us the keys to her world of clothing.
I. C: When did you come to this desire to sew clothes?
Marie-Eve Liberty: I grew up in a suburb where all the houses are similar, a little cliché. When I was young, I was bored. My grandmother was a seamstress and I learned how to sew when I was five years old. I was changing everything I wore. I always had a love for clothes, an admiration for fashion, but it was a medium that seemed to me untouchable. What happens to me today is a bit unreal, by the way. When I was young, I tried to improve what I had with the means of an edge, as we all do in poor circles.
Fashion is your mode of expression?
Yes, I don’t see myself doing anything else. The garment was my first medium of expression. I was very shy when I was young, very reserved, very sensitive, very fragile. I was afraid of people, even kids my age. My way of expressing myself was to find wacky ways to get dressed. And the more I grew up, the more I affirmed my style. I was aware that I was different in this suburb. I didn’t fit any stereotype. I also knew that by the end before i left, I would have to find a way to be good.
When you look at your collection, the Seventies seem to be one of your imaginary landmarks.
I have not lived them but I would have liked to. I have some vision of those years, maybe because of the photos of my parents, where we see them hyper in love. There was something so beautiful, so free in those years! so new. From a musical point of view too. My parents are musicians. My father made me listen to a very young Franck Zappa that I adore, and all those crazy characters that have existed in this decade. With my collection, I wanted to translate a spirit, the idea I made of those years without having experienced them.
Since your parade in Geneva have you been contacted regarding selling?
Not really. I was written to participate in Showrooms, but as it’s up to us to pay, right now I can’t afford it. Maybe I could market the shirts? A lot of people have asked me to produce them. The leather parts, on the other hand, will be more difficult because I created my own technique of knitting leather, which imitates the jersey knit.
“Come get trippy with us”, why did you give that name to your Master collection?
It came to me instinctively. This is an expression I use with friends. This collection celebrated the many people who surrounded me, my grandfather, a wrestler in the 1920s, my parents both musicians, my friends a little mad. I wanted to honour them, to all these crazy people. It is a collection for a young woman, but also for a less young woman who has kept the soul of a rock star. The one who goes to an opening and who is the first to get drunk at 7:00pm. But she wears a beautiful leather coat and she is not seen… It will be me at 60 years, no doubt (laughter). I told myself a story, I wanted to engage people in my trip of my 70’s.
Do you like living on the thread that links dreams and reality?
I’ve always had a very strong imagination. When I was a child, I was self-hallucinating; I was training for visual distortion. When I went to bed, I would stare at the polka dots wallpaper in my room and feel like everything was moving. I loved that moment. My dreams at night were extremely powerful and ran into my days as well. I had the impression that the line between dreams and reality was very thin. And this line fascinates me. I had made my own world. I didn’t really like reality, I was a little scared. So I locked myself in stories to try to be stronger in the face of this world that terrified me. I created a “pseudo me”, a hyper strong Marie-Eve, hyper-darkening, which was finally the one I became today, strangely. It reassured me very much and it gave me the hope that, in the near future, I would no longer be that fragile, very clumsy little girl who lived in her head, but rather a fairly assertive, strong enough, confident person. And then here I am!
Why did you come to Geneva to study?
I did my bachelor’s degree in Montreal. I did not come from the most reputable school, my portfolio was not strong enough, so I decided to do a master. In the United States it was overpriced. In Europe too, since I was not European. Switzerland was the only country where I could financially afford a Master’s degree. I happen to have been the assistant of Yin Gao for 4 years (who was the head of the fashion industry at the HEAD until 2015, ed.) She was my mentor. I visited the school before registering and found out that the material at hand was amazing! We had access to the workshops of wood, metal, 3d etc I wanted to explore the material and it was for me the best place to do it: as a great game of exploration. I was hoping to get out with a portfolio strong enough to allow me to access my dreams.
And what is your dream?
Like all those who create, we all want to be known one day. I would like to get up every morning, do what I love and be able to live it. That would be great. I’d like to get into a studio, learn. I want to do a lot of different things. But in the long run I do not yet see where I could find my place and flourish. Some parts disturb me in the fashion industry, currently.
What’s bothering you?
Right now I’m tired of seeing the world of luxury use the codes of the Working classexcessively, to sell their clothes at amazing prices. With my collection, I wanted to get away from that aesthetic. My goal was to do something very sophisticated, even though the leather and all the denim I used are recycled. I wanted a pretty chic collection, but accessible. I find it a pity that people do as if it’s cool to be poor. I come from this world. For me, my only means of expression, when I was young, was to make myself believe with my clothes that I still had a little attitude, that I belonged to something. If in addition the elite dress Like us! It shocks me this usurpation of the style of subcultures in fashion, because it shows how much this is a joke. Sportswear is the group of clothes that sells best today, and as a result, everyone does it.
But this was already the case in the years 80’s: when Run-DMC appropriated the clothes of Breakdancers To make their stage outfits, they received a million dollars from Adidas to be their ambassadors…
Yes, I did my thesis on hip-hop. It was dark, very difficult to live in the Bronx in the years 70 and hip-hop was born of resilience. It is a milieu that I respect very much. At the level of the look, they tried to steal rich stuff to try to revamp; a bit by mixing all that with sportswear. But when the elite seize this aesthetic to sell their products, it solves absolutely nothing, socially speaking. On the contrary! This creates even more hype. I think it’s too easy to use these stereotypes… But maybe it’s my little suburban girl side.
Let’s just talk about this little suburban girl: When you were young you used clothes to make something else. Where did you find them?
I was mainly taking my brother’s clothes. The denim skirt of my collection is reminiscent of a skirt that I had made by undoing unravelling the ends. My grandmother, a dressmaker, gave me scraps of fabric, I made a lot of patchworks, I cut a little in everything. When I was adding a piece, I always wondered how It was going to change it.
And what was your style back then?
I think I tried to translate it into my Master collection: The Marcel, the shirt, the jeans… These things are important to me: I have always worn them. The jeans mostly, I cut them so much, cut them and remade them for friends. I’m never satisfied with the new canvas, that’s why I chose used jeans and I undid them in order to build my collection. It was also a way of appropriating their history to write mine.
Images Julien T. Hamon and Raphaëlle Mueller