"I guess I've always wanted to make clothes," recalls Canadian designer Renata Morales. "I've been fascinated by them since I can remember." Such a steadfast obsession has led the Mexican-born designer to forge an uncharted path not only in her hometown of Montreal, but in the urban fashion set. Over the years, she's garnered a serious following in her Northern country, thanks much in part to an energetic boutique that acts as equal parts art gallery and fashion refuge. Yet, here in the States the exuberant designer still operates largely under the radar.
Morales's handiwork could best be described as a studied fusion of painting, craft, and some occasional out-there treatments. More likely, it's her eye for fine art that allows her to approach fabric and garments in a more whimsical way—as wearable, moving canvases.
According to the designer, growing up in Mexico, fashion design wasn't a natural path to follow. "Painting seemed more logical," confesses Morales when discussing her split between art and clothes. After initially studying studio art, her interest and talents morphed into theater costumes and then on to an apprenticeship with Sylvie Ouimet, a well-known couturier. The gradual immersion into the wearable led to Morales's first boutique, which opened in Ottawa in 1996.
Music, to me, could be the highest form of art that communicates without time or borders.
—Renata Morales The space quickly became her platform for showing her own very singular point of view as a fashion designer. She later relocated the shop in 2000 to Montreal in the burgeoning Old Montreal neighborhood. It is here where her signature bold patterns, elaborate appliqués, and splashes of paint began to inform the rebel yell of her eponymous label.
Her brazen use of prints and embellishments are counter-balanced by woman-friendly seams and baby-doll-inspired cuts on dresses and ruffled tops. Morales says she is not inspired by a single theme but by a series of thoughts and influences. "Music, to me, could be the highest form of art that communicates without time or borders," she says. The same can be said for her painting and design aesthetic. Morales recently held an exhibition of her artwork entitled Carnet de Reves wherein ghostly abstract sketches are doused in overlapping red, blue, and beige paint, creating the effect of a vibrantly streaked canvas.
The ethereal, dream-like stamp of her paintings is echoed in her current spring collection, as well. Experimentation with pleating, layering, and draping yielded meticulously structured pieces—a fitted tuxedo jacket worn with cigarette pants bears the designer's elaborate doodling while dresses are hewn from a patchwork of original hand-illustrated prints, draped and sewn to a seamless cascading effect. Despite Morales's eclecticism as a designer, she's pleased her work has managed to reach such a broad range of followers. "It is awesome how so many different women can interpret what we've created in their own very personal way," she says. "Whether I think it looks good or not, it always provokes something close to transcendence for me."
Mexican-born designer Renata Morales turns up the volume on the Canadian fashion scene.