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Tavan & MittoJimmy Hamelin

Cherchez lafemme.

If it is at all possible to distill the profusion of highly creative looks that permeated the 23rd edition of Semaine Mode Montréal into a single catchphrase, that might be it.

The spring 2013 collections presented last week at The Arsenal, a former shipyard turned new contemporary art space in the city's rapidly gentrifying southwestern downtown, were flirty, refined and ultra-feminine – fashion in search of sexy, confident women.

Lace and brocade were everywhere, appearing as the all-over material on short shorts by the popular design duo Tavan & Mitto and as dramatic embellishment on full-length pastel evening gowns by up-and-coming Duy.

Other designers, including Mélissa Nepton, Iris Setlakwe and the husband and– wife team behind the burgeoning Martin Lim label, Danielle Martin and Pao Lim, took lace's suggestion of transparency one step further, using softly flowing layers of sheer silk to create dresses that slide seductively over the female form within.

Even men's wear had a feminine edge. Newcomer Pedram Karimi, for instance, presented large-weave knitted tunics for guys, while the more established designer Travis Taddeo offered up low-slung bikini bottoms held together at the hips with ring-shaped hardware, a look that wouldn't be out of place at Victoria's Secret if it wasn't for the boys.

While much of the clothing on display was dramatic if not overtly theatrical, the Nepton show, presented in collaboration with Hush Puppies, was a stand-out for its wearability.

Channelling Coco Chanel in her Deauville period, the designer, four months pregnant, showcased beach wraps and loose-fitting dresses subtly accented with both horizontal and vertical stripes in such sea-inspired hues as nautical blue, sand brown and sunset orange.

At Unttld, on the other hand, the design team of Simon Bélanger and José Manuel St-Jacques lent the peek-a-boo trend a hint of danger: Their see-through, silk-kimono-inspired robes were as black as bat wings and as enveloping as storm clouds, while plisse pleats gave the softness of their fabrics weight and texture.

Their muse (as depicted in a rear-screen film montage)

was a warrior who emerged at the end of the show in a shining floor-length skirt of copper lamé – her victory prize. Expect to see more of this dynamic new label: Holt Renfrew buyers in the front row have already scheduled a meeting.

Also seen with some frequency throughout the week was the peplum, that flouncy bit of retro forties costuming designed to soften and flatter a woman's figure.

The ruffled detail showed up during Semaine Mode on streamlined vests at Duy and, more surprisingly, on zip-back unisex fleece tunics at Denis Gagnon.

Gagnon's latest collection was masterfully androgynous:

Peplums were worn by men in heels, by women in sneakers and by others, you could say, in between.

(Sporting full-on neon eyeshadow with out-to-there false lashes, the local drag artist Mado was the first to strut down the catwalk in his stilettos; he/she was clad in a pair of black hot pants with a matching cropped jacket having a scalloped back made from a technofabric sculpted to look as if it were tuliping around the body, exaggerating lines and curves.)

Although the Gagnon show took the cherchez lafemme theme to obvious extremes, it wasn't flippant.

The Quebec designer's ability to create shape and volume out of even lowly sweatshirt material showed him to be a master couturier taking Canadian fashion in fresh and surprising directions.

Elsewhere during the week, colour had a larger presence. Emerald green, orange sherbet, azure, royal blue, raspberry red, buttercup yellow, gold, silver and copper are just some of the hues that will be brightening up the spring 2013 fashion landscape.

Delicious pops of colour even showed up at Marie Saint Pierre, a designer best known for her artful, free-flowing black dresses.

For next season, Saint Pierre's dresses are still black, but with Expressionistic dribbles of white and cherry pink spilling over the bodices. The designer, who is celebrating her 25th season this year, presented a sample of one in an installation centred on the new line of softly sculpted furniture pieces she will be selling in her Montreal boutique and online.

Called Habitat, the new home-decor line is a natural progression for a designer who has described her clothes as habitats for the female body.

"I always create with the idea of making women feel good about themselves,"

Saint Pierre said. "I believe in using design to enhance well-being."

Three to watch

A number of novice efforts shone during Semaine Mode 2012. At 29, Jocelyn Picard, who started creating handcrocheted pieces for Denis Gagnon years ago and now works under the name Lyn, has seen his pieces featured in Italian Vogue and worn by the electro-pop singer Grimes. After showing four of his dresses in a Fashion Week installation he called Softwear Hardware, he is now off to fashion school in Britain to continue learning, as he says, "how to crochet the impossible." Chicoutimi native Betina Lou, meanwhile, stood out with her first show (above left) by presenting feminine yet easy-to-wear pieces made from eco-friendly materials such as organic cotton (her eyelet dresses) and high-quality wool (for her knitwear). Ukraine-born Anastasia Lomonova, finally, trained as a painter before launching her own women'swear line in 2007 at the age of 23. For her runway show, Lomonova created a jumpsuit made of head-to-toe fringe that covered even the face (above right). It could only be described as art for the body.