Canadian Fashion Connection – The Association of Canadian Couturiers 1954 – 1968

When design piracy began to become a problem, organizations that controlled, protected and promoted original fashion design began to appear. The first and most famous of these was Paris’ Chambre syndicale de la couture, which had its roots in the 1870s but was redefined in 1911 with a more vigilant mandate and membership requirements. By the early 1940s similar organizations had been created in Spain and in the U.S. for New York’s Seventh Avenue high end manufacturers.

Black silk and rayon suit by Rodolphe Liska, c. 1960

Black and brown silk suit by Rodolphe Liska, c. 1960

The effectiveness of the haute couture syndicate was apparent with the revitalization of the Paris couture industry after World War II. Although Canada did not have a strong couture industry, there were enough couturiers and high-end designers that, brought together, could create a similar organization. A source for funding this organization was the Canadian textile industry. Leading fabric manufacturers would supply their yardgoods to Canadian designers and in exchange promote the Canadian designers through semi-annual fashion shows that would travel across Canada and around the world.

In April 1954 the Association of Canadian Couturiers (l’Association des Couturiers Canadiens) (ACC) was formed. The organization was based in Montreal, the seat of the Canadian fashion industry, under president Raoul-Jean Fouré, a Montreal designer since the late 1920s. Other initial members of the association included: Jacques de Montjoye, Germaine et Rene, Marie-France de Paris, France Davies, Bianca Gusmaroli, Jacques Michel, Louis Phillippe de Seve, Federica of Toronto, and Tibor de Nagay. The membership was capped at twenty members, and those wishing to join had to make their living as a designer and then be vetted by existing members.

In September 1954, the Association produced its first all-Canadian couture collection fashion show at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Montreal. The show was repeated in Vancouver and Ottawa before travelling to New York, where it was shown at the Hotel Pierre on December 7, 1954. The Association continued to present semi-annual shows adding more designers including: Rodolphe Liska, Lore Marie Weiner, Angelina Fabro, Di Nardo, Cornelia, Colpron D’Anjou, Lise Gaulin, Louis Beral, Marie Paule, Marcel Martel, and Frances Stewart. The collections were not always well received, garnering complaints of being too plain, too fancy, or too similar to designs already shown in Paris. Designers were frustrated by the limitations of using Canadian-made textiles, which meant a plethora of plain synthetics, and some designers were not fond of being shown alongside other designers whose work they considered of lesser quality, taste, or workmanship. The group disbanded in 1968.

3 thoughts on “Canadian Fashion Connection – The Association of Canadian Couturiers 1954 – 1968

  1. Jonathan!

    I had no idea that Canada had had a “couture” association, what a discovery! Will you be doing further posts on the subject? I’d love to know more. I’d also like to know your thoughts on said Couture Associations. I know that we’ve commented before on the “purist” issue. For example, although the Cooperative de Alta Costura in Spain was widely recognized and they adhered to the Paris directives, can the designs really be considered haute couture? In Spain, we’ve come across the term “Costura Creación”, which were couture-quality designs created outside of the Paris Sindicale.

    • Hi Vera;
      I don’t know much more about the association but its on my “to learn more about” list. There is an article by Alexandra Palmer in the book Fashion: A Canadian Perspective, and some more info online through the Canadian encyclopedia, which I think was written by Cynthia Cooper of the McCord Museum in Montreal. I also found a few period articles through the newspaper archives. What I haven’t found yet is exactly who belonged in which years, obviously some joined and left during the association’s lifetime and I am sure I don’t have all the names of everyone who belonged. From what I have read it sounds like other than the problem of having to use Canadian textiles for their association fashion shows, the members represented a wide range of designers, from high-fashion couturiers to bridal gown and bespoke dressmakers (a lower echelon of couture from the perspective of a high-fashion couturier.) I certainly wouldn’t consider this association to be along the lines of haute couture, although some of the members were capable of competing at that level. It was really a promotional opportunity for Canadian textile manufacturers under the guise of original Canadian fashion design promotion.

      • Thanks for the information, Jonathan. This is all very interesting and I can’t wait to hear more as you discover more details!

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