Meet Marie-Ève Lecavalier, the Canadian Designer Shortlisted for the LVMH Prize

How a self-described “emo kid” from the suburbs of Montreal made it to the world stage.

If the name Marie-Eve Lecavalier doesn’t yet ring a bell, here’s your chance to get acquainted.

Last year, the 30-year-old Canadian designer took home the top prizeat the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography while still an intern for Raf Simons in Antwerp. She used the cash winnings from the prize to found her namesake label, Lecavalier, which launched in 2018, and before the line had even hit it’s first birthday, she beat out 1,700 applicants (the most the foundation had ever received) to become shortlisted for the 2019 LVMH Prize. Her deceptively highbrow designs are sold by SSENSE and she just collaborated with Simons on a capsule collection of slinky separates inspired by, in her own words, “a weird woman sitting next to a pool and getting drunk at 11 in the morning.”

As someone who grew up the working class Montreal suburb of Saint-Hubert, Quebec, Lecavalier never envisioned fashion design as a viable career option; she assumed fashion was reserved for snooty rich people and was unattainable to someone of her background. (Lecavalier’s mother worked as a secretary and her father was an elementary school teacher.) In high school, she was an “emo kid” who hung out with skateboarders and some of h r earliest experiences with sewing involved patching holes in her friends shredded clothing. But her imagination stretched far beyond her existence and she longed for escape.

Photography Courtesy of Simons

After high school, Lecavalier studied fashion design at UQAM, where she learned foundational technical skills, but she longed to expand her horizons as a designer. “In Quebec education we have this thing of keeping everything neutral or kind of masking it and not being too personal, but actually if you’re a good designer you really go personal,” she says. She headed to Geneva for her masters degree at Haute Ecole d’Art et Design de Genève (HEAD), where she learned how to overcome her hesitations about creating personal work and mine her autobiography as a jumping off point for creativity. The result was Come Get Trippy With Me, the sophisticated prize-winning collection at Hyeres she says was inspired by a memory of being “five years old, making myself hallucinate.” (It’s now available online at SSENSE.)

“I try to make a homage of where I come from, without being ashamed of it,”she says. “I like to make pieces that have been marginalized with the working class.  I was kind of ashamed of [my background] when I was a bit younger, especially in the fashion industry, which is so elite. But right now, the fashion elite are appropriating working class garments, which I think is really ridiculous.”

Lecavelier gathers anecdotes from her personal history, and much like Rumplestilkskin’s ability to spin straw into gold,  takes all of these weird references and spins them like Rumplestiltskin’s straw into gold into highly elevated, refined and sophisticated collections. Though “Come Get Trippy With Me” was inspired by her youthful brush with Frank Zappa-era psychedelia, the result is garments more likely to we worn by Phoebe Philo worshippers than hardcore Deadheads.

Being shortlisted for the LVMH Prize was an “overwhelming” experience, according to Lecavalier. “It’s still a bit surreal. I’m really surprised, everything is going quite fast.” And though she didn’t quite make the cut to the list of finalists, securing the nomination within her label’s first year of business is still an impressive feat.

Now she faces the inevitable decision all Canadian designers must make of whether to keep her business headquarted at home or to set up shop elsewhere. “For me it’s a disappointment in a way, I came back to Montreal to [be part of] an industry, to work with people. Then you realize that people here are just really closed-minded. I think at some point if you want to be international, you have to move out.” Though Lecavalier has already been featured in leading publications like WWDand the New York Times, she disappointedly can’t recall a single feature about her work ever published by a regional outlet in Quebec.

Lecavalier has had a banner year, but the down-to-earth designer isn’t worried about maintaining momentum or getting ahead of the hype. Instead, all she wants is to do a good job. “The goal for me is just to work really hard and get a really good final product and continue my mark in this industry,” she says.