PROCESS INTERVIEW WRITTEN BY ROXANNE OUELLET-BERNIER
If the Parisian soil is different from anywhere else, it is most definitely one of well-cultivated art, literature, and of course, fashion. The setting is slightly predictable —at a Crêperie in Montmartre, but Daniel is not phased by such a touristic choice. Time is running short. They are leaving the next day for Milan, to present an ode of Donatella Versace to Donatella herself. “It was part of a project we had on Versace, and I was selected to go to Milan and present it to Donatella! It is a little bit nerve wracking.” Daniel said with clear excitement in their voice.
Originally from Burlington, in the suburbs of Toronto, Daniel grew up in a very queer positive environment. Their parents got separated before they were born, (their dad remarrying another man), but they kept a beautifully sincere friendship. They reminisce of how they would often be brought back together to express their mutual adoration for Madonna. “It was like constantly getting pushback Madonna, like they were going to concerts together, even after the divorce. They were going to the Rebel Heart Tour together, which is kind of funny. My mom loves the gays.”
Their mom, which they refer to as having a big Italian personality, almost like a drag queen, has been a constant source of inspiration in Daniel’s life. Taking the role of a muse, she led them towards fashion, encouraging dressing up, baking and crafts as they were growing up. However, fashion was also something they had to learn to love on their own accord. They spent many of their childhood summers working in their grandfather's shoe warehouse, which led them to hate footwear and, as a result, fashion. They felt like being a bigger kid and queer were already enough of a reason for them to stand out, which steered them towards conformity for most of their child and teenagehood.
It is their entourage of big personalities —of “always being ambushed by weirdos”, as they mentioned fondly —that pushed them to stand out amongst people.
“If you're in a room full of weirdos, how do you speak so loud that you can hear your own voice over the top of everyone else's?”
Having to navigate through their family’s big personalities, as well as coming to terms with their own queerness, led them back towards fashion. It is now a prominent notion in their fashion endeavour. “That speaks to my design right now. It's all about how can you stand now? And it's all about reactions.”
Daniel attended the Toronto Metropolitan University, in which they studied fashion design in the undergraduate program for four years. If the curriculum was rather traditional and technical, it is one of their professors, Danielle Martin, who saw their potential and steered them towards graduate programs, most specifically at Central Saint-Martins. They got accepted into the Graduate Diploma—a one-year program that prepares students for their master’s degree. In London, they learned how to unlearn everything. It was all about experimenting, about making noise, and finding who they were as a designer. “There were no limits where there was art, fashion, and costume. They didn't care. It was just about finding yourself. Being in that space was very inspiring.”
Unquestionably, their graduate collection was the epitome of these precepts. As an ode to their Italian heritage and their reverent appreciation of food and lively get togethers, they presented out-of-proportion silhouettes: one of them as an actual tablet set, dressed up in a gingham tablecloth, while another, draped in flower curtains, has an actual window in the guise of headwear. Inspired by the films of Fellini, they brought their narrative into a theatre setting, where you have no choice but to stand out. “It’s kind of like getting your voice muffled, or not knowing how to stand out, so you become the actual table,” they explained.
Daniel expresses the importance of storytelling in their work. They delved into everyday normalcy, and how it can be distorted through queerness, sculpture or disruption. They are driven by the idea of archetypes of characters, which are often inspired by those close to them, like their friends, their mom, or simply stereotypical Italians. These protagonists are then put into instantly recognizable situations, which sparks conversations around Daniel’s work. “I can talk about myself, which I love doing, but I also get to hear other people, and I love reactions. Whether it’s a good reaction or a bad reaction. A sense of humour is huge to me. I love making people laugh, and I love not making people laugh. I love a bad joke too.”
Disenchanted by the very competitive aspect of Central Saint-Martins, Daniel chose against pursuing the Master’s program in the same establishment. Seeking a more collaborative environment, they opted for the Fashion Design and the Arts MFA at Parsons Paris, where they found the interdisciplinary appoach they needed.They are constantly encouraged to express themselves through different mediums, should it be performance, dance or sculpture.
As part of a couture project, Daniel worked with the eminent Maison Lesage and Palais Galliera, in which, in true French custom, they learned to pay homage to designers and the dedication to their work. While going through these exceptional archives, they were riveted to the work of Madame Grey, and took inspiration from her iconic draping technique. They then brought it into their own universe, into one of their childhood memories of playing soccer and being absolutely catastrophic at it. They imaged a narrative where Madame Grey herself would have been forced into playing soccer— a rite of passage for Italian children— and would have been queer and very bad at the sport. The result is a flamboyant sculptural gown made of AC Milan jerseys, Canadian and Italian Flags, brought together with the draping techniques of Madame Grey.
Daniel’s next project is another homage to their Italian heritage, a retrospective of Gianni and Donatella Versace’s work. Harnessing from Gianni’s cult of supermodels, Daniel made Donatella into the muse herself, blowing her face out of proportion onto a short bodycon dress, framed by abundant locks of blond hair. They delved into the idea of the modern icon while bringing it into an almost kitsch dimension. In a very Daniel way, humour was their answer to the project, and they believe that one should never take themselves too seriously.
Embarking on their final year at Parsons Paris, Daniel reflects on where their fashion education brought them. Although moving abroad is a difficult venture, they believed in the necessity of going out of their comfort zone, which led them to learn about themselves and grow. “I'm one of those people that are motivated by pressure. This is why I think fashion was the right path for me. Being in school has pushed me, and it's pushed me to network and it's pushed me to meet people I wouldn't normally meet, and it's pushed me out of my comfort zone.” And on the corner of our terrasse, their eyes crinkled with mirth, Daniel shared a piece of advice, before they left on their Italian gest. “I think genuineness is really important and that's what I've heard from the industry. They're looking for genuine people. If you are insane as a person, be insane and be true to yourself.”
Originally published in LIGNES DE FUITE Vol.3