Photo by Arline Malakian. Courtesy of Lucian Matis.
Lucian Matis‘s Fall 2008 line premieres at L’Oréal Fashion Week on March 18, but the designer is oddly calm: “I’m not nervous at all,” he says in his Bloorcourt Village studio. “It’s almost like I don’t know the show’s coming.” It’s a surprising response from a designer who will be watched closely after having broken through into Canadian consciousness: his work has been showcased on Canada’s Next Top Model and Fashion File, and he was a finalist on the inaugural season of Project Runway Canada.
“The show was pretty accurate,” Matis says of his portrayal on the fashion design competition, “but there’s always editing to make things seem more exciting.” He didn’t even watch the final three episodes of the show: “It was an intense experience. On the day before the final runway show, I worked until 5:30 a.m. It was very secluded—no TV, no newspapers, no internet—and by the end, I felt like I was going crazy.” After the show finished taping, Matis flew to Europe and showed his collection at the invitation of Belgrade Fashion Week before visiting his sister in Italy. “I needed to clear my head,” he says.
After his vacation, Matis began work on his Fall 2008 collection in China: “My inspiration started with the Seventies and prints, but it was impossible to do in Shanghai because the prints were unavailable. That’s when I decided to try a collection completely in black and challenge myself by focusing on pattern-making and finishing.” Thus, the idea for “The Black Collection” was conceived.
Lucian Matis’s first collection on Canada’s Next Top Model.
It wasn’t an easy delivery though. For his current collection—his third professionally—Matis worked fifteen-hour days in a factory near Shanghai for two months where the temperature in the factory below freezing. The designer admits that he hadn’t prepared properly: “I had four or five t-shirts on with another two jackets on top of them because it was that cold. I had to cut the tips off my gloves so I could work.” He found it funny that he was trying to create glamour while “bad Chinese techno music blasted in the background and the bathroom was a hole in the ground.”
Despite the rough working conditions, Matis is very pleased with what he’s come up with: “I wanted to show something unexpected. The pieces are simple, but elegant. I got to use some gorgeous fabrics: cashmere, alpaca wool, and silks.” Once Matis finished the thirty-five piece collection, he rushed back to Toronto. “There are so many great things about Toronto,” he says. “I love the view from the water, the architecture—I’m inspired every time I pass by the ROM Crystal—and the multiculturalism of the city.”
Lucian Matis’s pieces for Project Runway Canada.
Matis, born and raised in Romania, came to Canada with his parents in 1999. He first lived in Kitchener, where his parents had friends, but moved to Toronto to attend Ryerson’s School of Fashion in 2000. With his first apartment at Jarvis and Carlton, Matis fell in love with Toronto: “The social life here is incredible. I returned to Romania when I was 24 and I lasted only three days. I didn’t feel like I belonged there and I had to come back. I missed the fast pace, the convenience. I missed being able to order a pizza at one in the morning.”
In early 2007, Matis’s first professional collection for his eponymous label attracted a national spotlight when it caught the eye of Canada’s Next Top Model. For his Fall 2007 L’Oréal Fashion Week show, the two finalists from the reality show modelled his fashions as their last challenge. Of the collection, Matis says: “My first show was very costumey. There was a lot of drama. I wanted to see how people would react to my aesthetic.”
Matis’s style has been described as “detailed sensuality.” Asked if the phrase fits, Matis shrugs: “I guess I’m detailed. I do like sensuality. I don’t like sexy. I find sensual sexier than sexy, if that makes sense. A woman is much sexier when she is more covered up.” With a smirk, he says: “I love the mystery.” Matis has continued to grow as a designer with each collection: “I’ve gotten more mature to fashion and the fashion world. This industry is one of the most challenging, and I’m lucky to have people who found and supported my work.”
He especially praises Boutique Le Trou and its owner, Marlene Shiff. “Marlene supports local designers,” he says, “and her store is like an incubator. It provides great exposure.” In addition, Matis feels there is support for local designers throughout the city: “From small boutiques to Holt Renfrew to Fashion Week, there are so many avenues.” When asked what Toronto has to offer to the fashion industry, Matis believes the city could become the next New York and compares the infancy of Toronto Fashion Week to the Toronto International Film Festival, a juggernaut that also had humble beginnings: “Look how they started and where they are now. The film festival is where business is done and Fashion Week can become that too.”
As for his own future, Matis doesn’t have any concrete plans yet: “I wouldn’t mind being a multi-billionaire,” he jokes. “Who knows? It could happen.” And if that falls through? “As long as I can create what I want to create,” he concedes, “I’ll be happy.” First, he needs to show his latest collection. “I’ll probably be freaking out the day before,” he says, noting that backstage before a show can also be pandemonium: “There’s 15 minutes to rehearse, I have no budget, I’m worrying about the set, getting the displays ready, dressing the models. I can’t find shoes. Clothes are missing. I think everything’s going to fall apart.”
At least he knows what he’ll be doing after the show: “I’ll be at my afterparty. The next morning, I plan to be quite hungover.”
Photo of dress from “The Black Collection” by Koby Inc Photography. Courtesy of Lucian Matis.