Winter Diaries | Olivia Leblanc
Text by: Quartz Co.
In conversation with Elise Legault
Photo credit: Cameron Morse, Max Abadian, Pegah Farahmand Mobarekeh
From a rapper donning head-to-toe black, hanging outside the window of a Tesla, to a vibrantly garmented model lying on a conference room table, Olivia Leblanc’s flair can be spotted across magazines and TV screens. The Montreal-based stylist and image consultant has permeated Quebec’s cultural landscape, collaborating with established brands and celebrity darlings such as Aldo, Simons, Eve Gravel, Maripier Morin, Loud, Pierre Lapointe, Dead Obies - and the list goes on. The thirty-something year old is in high demand and through speaking with her at the end of a full day on set, it’s easy to understand why; her lively personality and unwavering professionalism are magnetic. Not only would you want to work with Olivia Leblanc, you’d probably want her as a best friend too.
Our conversation left little doubt that the fashion maven and art devotee takes great pride working with local talent on projects rooted in culture. Leblanc also opened us about her pre-social media beginnings in fashion, Montreal’s style evolution and how owning up to our Nordic roots could set Canadian fashion brands apart.
Was fashion a part of your life from a young age? Can you trace back to the moment it all began for you?
My mom works in visual arts - she’s the director of the gallery Occurence. So, I was introduced to contemporary art at a very young age and I would attend all these events and openings. That really struck my imagination and I started developing a taste for art. My first memory involving fashion is my mom giving me money to go to the dep to buy candy, but I would come back with magazines like American Vogue instead! I didn’t even know English, but the images were just so powerful! This was in the late 80’s, early 90’s. It was THE time for supermodels like Naomi [Campbell], Claudia [Schiffer] and Cindy [Crawford]. I remember this editorial with Nadja [Auermann]…She had her bleached hair and a broken leg in the shot. That picture is engraved in my mind!
When did styling become your clear career path?
That’s the thing, I wasn’t planning on working in fashion! I was interested in cinema and other types of art. When I was in school, I took a job at a fashion boutique because it was easy and it was a hobby of mine. I quickly started to style my clients without even knowing that that’s what I was doing! They kept coming back and asking me for looks for upcoming events or things like that. At the time, the concepts of ‘styling’ and ‘stylist’ weren’t widespread. It wasn’t a cool job or a potential career. We knew of costume designers, but the rest was unknown… So, I was styling without being aware of it. I eventually became a buyer at this store, and then I started designing clothes. Everyone there encouraged me to study Fashion Design, so I did. I graduated with honours, but my teachers all told me that I wouldn’t be a fashion designer. I was so pissed off! How could they say that? I had the best grades! I designed for a year, and I realized that they were right... I missed the contact with people and the cinematic vibe of being on set. I quit my job, and a week later ELLE called me to offer me an assistant stylist position. I said yes, even if I had no clue what the job was. The minute I was on set of a fashion shoot, I knew that’s what I’d been wanting to do all my life! And that summer, I was assisting someone and Herby Moreau asked me if I wanted to style his new TV show. I was just a beginner, but he wanted to try me out - he liked my personality. And that was it! I started like that! (laughs).
Would you consider Montreal an established city in the fields of fashion and styling?
In the past, we were definitely a very important city in fashion and that created a demand for stylists. When you think about it, Aldo, Reitmans, American Apparel, Simons, Le Château, Dynamite, Garage, all these brands are from here. Most of them are designed here. Their buyers are here. And more often than not, local talent is hired to shoot their campaigns here. We were a fashion city. I mean, Chabanel [street] was huge! Everything was made there! Now, with production migrating to China, Bangladesh or India, and big brands like H&M and Zara arriving, people are concerned that there won’t be enough work. But we still have amazing brands! We should be proud of our culture and a big part of it is winter! We talk a lot about Scandinavia and Japan, but seriously, we are Canada! (laughs). We should export ourselves.
Does culture influence you and your work?
Quebec’s culture definitely influences me. I am a huge fan of our music and most of my favorite projects are with musicians. It’s so nice to work with real people that have their vision and their insecurities…These artists influence me a lot. I don’t always have to relate to their music, but I relate to the art and I understand their vision. I love working closely them.
You’re essentially creating a relationship with these artists; you have to understand their vision and then bring your own twist to it through style and fashion. Would it be far-fetched to say that you are storytelling?
Yea, well, I’m building a character. It’s not a costume, but I have to assess: “This guy is 20. This is where he lives. That’s the music he listens to.’’ From that, I build a character. The same applies to fashion editorials, when you are flipping through a magazine; the most striking pictures are usually the ones that seem most real. You don’t feel like there’s a stylist behind the look and you don’t think to yourself “Holy shit, they did a good job!’’.
What would be this season’s winter look and how would you put your spin on it?
I don’t really believe in trends anymore! People ask me what’s in this season, but there are so many trends now. Fashion is so fast; you can’t say that the 70’s are back… All the eras are back right now! But, I feel like for winter, we’ve definitely seen a lot of puffers in the past two years. What’s fun though is that people are claiming colour - finally! Winters can be so long, especially when everyone wears black! So, I’d probably choose a puffer or maybe a really nice wool jacket…I like mixing athletics and designer pieces, so maybe Quartz’s transition jacket under a beautifully tailored wool coat with a baggy pant. I also like pairing masculine and feminine items. That would be my typical winter look. And I’d probably add a beret because I love berets!
How do you enjoy wintertime outside of work?
I enjoy winters the most at my parent’s cottage up North. I can sit down and really take in what’s wonderful about this season… The snowfalls, the frozen lakes - it brings a bit of melancholy and it’s so beautiful. I also love starting nice fires. For me, winter in Canada has to come with a fireplace! In the city, when it’s not too cold, I enjoy walking around. We don’t get to experience the outdoors as much, so when there’s a nice day and we can walk outside, I feel free. The winter light is so different and beautiful. It’s simple and makes me happy.
Creativity plays an important role in your life, where do you draw your inspirations?
Travelling is one of my main sources of inspiration. I like looking at people on the streets. I’ve always done that. There was no Instagram when I started, so I’d go to concerts and look at the people in the crowd. Art is a big inspiration too. I love visiting art exhibits around the world. Music is also huge for me.
I’ve heard that you are also passionate about interior design?
Through the years, interior design naturally became an extension of fashion styling. I became so into it because fashion, at first, was my hobby and then it became my work. I had to find another hobby. I’m different than others in my field because probably 75% of them see fashion as their first passion. Flipping through fashion magazines doesn’t excite me as much as interior design, art, architecture or music. I have to get out of it sometimes. My world is really spread out, but interior design occupies a big part of it. I’ll book a vacation because I found an AirBnb that looked cool and impeccable! When I rent a cottage, I’ll look for a place that was designed by an architect. I’ll go to nice restaurants… Everywhere I go, I look for beauty! It influences my mood. I follow all these designer here in Montreal. I’m a huge fan of my friend Guillaume Ménard and his firm, Ménard Dworkind. I love Zebulon’s work. I also love Kyle Adam Goforth who was just nominated in En Route for his design of Elena. There is so much style here!
We began our conversation by talking about your mother who introduced you to art. You now have a daughter, have you passed on your passion and brought her into your world?
Yes, for sure! My daughter picks up everything around her, like I did. She is so influenced by art and she loves it! There are so many books in the house and sometimes she will just flip through them and will namedrop artists in our conversations! She loves going to the museums - I’ve been bringing her since she was young. In fashion, she really has her own style. We always argue because we don’t have the same taste, it’s a bit of an issue.. It’s funny, but also not funny! (laughs). So yes, for sure. What I like is that she already has her taste. I listen to her opinion and I truly value it.