Chris Gelinas’ resume is seriously stacked. He’s worked for Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler, Balenciaga and Theyskens’ Theory, and he was a finalist for the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund. Not bad for someone who cut his teeth sewing on his grandma’s machine in Windsor, Ont. Nowadays the Canadian designer is based in New York, building his critically acclaimed eponymous label. We caught up with Gelinas on his recent visit to The Room at Hudson’s Bay in Toronto, where his spring collection is being carried for the first time.
Can you remember the moment when you decided you wanted to be a designer?
My grandmother was a seamstress, and my grandfather does a lot of upholstery, so I grew up in their workrooms and I would come home with these crude little bags and pillows I had sewn for my mom, and she very graciously accepted them. I can remember watching Elsa Klensch on CNN when and being totally fixated, and Jeanne Beker and Tim Blanks, too. And magazines: seeing FLARE and not knowing this world but being so transfixed by it. It was always there, but I didn’t quite know it until I decided to go to Marc Jacobs for my first internship. I lied and said that I had a design background and I showed up and learned as I went. It was so magical, watching Marc work. I’ll never forget when the day of the show came and it was just this tidal wave of emotions. That’s when I realized this was how I wanted to spend the rest of my life.
You’ve worked with so many impressive brands. What did it teach you?
I’ve taken different things from each experience. At Marc, it was that old-school sense of craft and creation. At Proenza Schouler it was watching Jack and Lazaro put different elements together in such a cool way to capture that energy and youth of their client. Balenciaga was the most formative experience, the highest level of design and creation and an unwavering dedication to always pushing it forward. Then working with Olivier [Theyskens] was such a nice extension from Balenciaga because it was a very European way of design.
How did you decide you wanted to break out on your own?
I think I reached a point where I had been working for Olivier for almost three years and I knew I’d always continue learning, but I knew I was ready to go off on my own and maybe make my own mistakes and hopefully my own successes. And Olivier gave me his full support, and he’s still very supportive of what I’m doing.
You won a Peroni Young Designer Award, you were a finalist for the LVMH Fashion Prize and most recently you were a 2015 CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund finalist. Did you expect to get this kind of recognition?
It’s funny how many things have happened in such a short period of time. It’s only been two and a half years, and winning the Peroni award the very first season and then making it to the top 10 for the LVMH prize was huge. The Woolmark prize was so exciting because it has such a heritage. The CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund was huge, they really spend a lot of time filtering and vetting who they see as the next 10. It’s amazing getting that blessing, having Vogue say you are not only one to watch, but one that they want to help and nurture.
What kind of woman do you design for?
I want to bring a dialogue back between the designer and the client, which I think has been lacking these days. Sometimes it can get really bogged down with the business and industry and it’s been so nice to have that direct client relationship again here at The Room. The real underlying element is this love of dressing, and it’s been so fun to discover these women in Toronto.
How do you feel about trends and fast fashion?
There are a lot of designers who say fast fashion is eroding things, and while it has changed the perception of what quality is, I think there is definitely a place for it, and it’s for those quick trends. I personally feel that there is too much stuff in the world, so I don’t want to put more stuff in the world. I think things have gotten too fast in every respect, and we need to slow down and appreciate things. It’s our responsibility as designers to re-educate consumers as to what it means to have well-made clothes that will not just last a season but 10 seasons, 20 seasons. That’s what my collection is about. But I also love my American Apparel T-shirts and that’s what I live in. There’s just a necessity for each at different points in your day and points in your life.
What’s next for you?
The CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund was a four-month whirlwind, so it’s exciting to be back in my element here with the product and the clients where I feel much more comfortable. I’m very excited for fall and the momentum is building, but it’s really building on my terms, which is important. The collection is growing, and being here today, kicking off a relationship with The Room that I hope to be very long-lasting, is super exciting.