Georges Lévesque was a cult designer in Canadian fashion circles noted for his buoyant, gypsy-chic creations and bold, bohemian sense of style. His upscale boutique, Scandale, is an institution on Montreal’s St. Lawrence Boulevard that has catered to French, American and Canadian celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Diane Dufresne, Pascale Bussiéres, Céline Dion, Julie le Breton and Carole Laure.
Lévesque was at work at his computer designing costumes for the large-scale equestrian show, Cavilia, on Aug. 23, when he died of an apparent heart attack.
“He was a magician. Whatever he touched was transformed into something beautiful. His mix of fabrics and colour was truly amazing,” said his business associate and former life companion, Marie-Josée Gagnon. “He hadn’t been ill at all. He was under some stress as we all are when we are in throes of creation, but his death came as a total shock.
“He had inherent good taste, a great appreciation of beauty. I’ve never seen a natural talent like his. He was a life force, a fountain of creativity.”
George Lévesque, the son of a garage mechanic, was born in Quebec City on Sept. 25, 1951, but the family moved to Montreal in the early 1960s and he and his three siblings grew up in Pointe Aux Trembles, a blue-collar neighbourhood at the Eastern tip of the island.
As a teenager, Lévesque started acting with a professional children’s theatre troupe. Unhappy with the costumes he was given to wear, he insisted he could do better. To prove the point his first creation was stitched together from his mother’s curtains.
He was a natural entertainer, a chansonnier and a dancer who made his debut with the contemporary troupe, Arabesque.
He and his creative partner, Michele Hamel, with whom he was working when he died, opened his first clothing store, Pur Hazard, in 1975. He had his first show two years later.
Like most artists, he was a creative talent, but not much of a businessman. Four years after he opened Scandale in 1981, he and Gagnon joined forces and under her direction and it became a success.
Actress Carole Laure, a long-time friend, was one of the first celebrities to champion his line of clothing. “He was an original, a great creator and a beautiful human being who was always there for his friends. All the artists would flock to his store. We worked together, and he dressed me in shows and in films. I was the envy of Paris whenever I was away and wore his dresses there.”
One needed a degree of confidence to wear his colourful, free-flowing garments. Couturière Joy Alleyne, who brought Lévesque’s designs to life and sewed for 35 years for him, said his signature twist dresses were an expression of movement. “He’d drape cloth on a dummy, spin the dummy to see how the fabric would look as it billowed, and then come up with a design,” she said. “I had to get into his head and transform his ideas into a dress. He believed clothes should fit well on a woman, and shouldn’t be used as a disguise.”
Lévesque also continued to design critically acclaimed costumes for the theatre. He worked on productions of Don Juan, Scheherazade and designed outfits for Danse Cité.
About three dozen of his dresses, which represented 30 years of his work, lined a catwalk at the funeral home, and a carpet of rose petals filled the salon where friends gathered on Aug. 31 for a memorial service. Many spoke of Lévesque as being a “quietly seductive, but caring hedonist,” and as a generous soul who wanted to make sure others enjoyed life’s pleasures as much as he did.
“He was the coolest guy, he was the definition of cool for his talent, his warmth and his generosity,” said stylist Dominique Vien. “He was inspired by dance, by theatre, by all aspects of life, and especially inspired by women. He was brilliant that way, the height of cool.”
International event designer Dick Walsh described Lévesque as “the fashion soul” of Montreal. “The authenticity of his work was unbelievable. He was so confident, he never compromised, which is so rare now.”
His last design collection was presented two years ago. “He had a very identifiable style which was distinguished by his use of colour, his patchworks, and by his attention to detail,” said Denis Desro, Elle magazine’s style editor. “His creations were defined by his own avant-garde personal sense of style. He relied on his instincts, All his life he was able to create without being a slave to the whims of a manufacturer, or being beholden to the dictates of the clothing industry. He refused to compromise and followed his own instincts. For that reason alone, I think, his style will endure.”
Lévesque leaves his son, Félix, and an extended family.
Special to The Globe and Mail