Inside Mikael Derderian’s Forbidden Paradise
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Canadian fashion label Mikael D. unlocks the true meaning of fashion
Imagine this: a woman needs a gown for an event and finds herself skimming the racks of her favourite boutique. As her stylist holds up a rainbow of options, the internal tug-of-war between the devil and angel on her shoulder ensues.
Mikael Derderian, the sole designer behind Canadian fashion house Mikael D. (previously with Pavoni), knows the fashion versus function scenario by heart. While many designers struggle to balance those two vital elements of women’s fashion and often end up sacrificing a garment’s wearability for the sake of creating a spectacle, Derderian has found a formula for marrying the two.
It’s all about perspective: a gown is like a blank canvas and a designer is the artist. When Derderian puts pen to paper, he holds himself back. He could let his imagination explode onto the sketchpad, creating an ultra-trendy, ultra-artsy collection. But he doesn’t because over-the-top, high-fashion creations like that, as pretty as they are to see strutting down the runway or gracing the cover of a magazine, are completely unwearable by real-life women.
It’s weeks before World MasterCard Fashion Week, where Derderian’s SS16 collection “Forbidden Paradise” will make its Toronto debut when the Canadian fashion designer calls from his New York City studio (the Mikael D. brand’s headquarters is in Montreal). “My strength is the way I’ve restricted myself when designing, restricted to making clothes that women can actually imagine themselves wearing. That’s been the most important point in my career, in my esthetic, in my vision.”
But there’s a glorious catch: Derderian’s version of wearability is different from what we’re used to. To the fashion-savvy, the terms “practical” and “functional” are often synonymous with dull, safe and even boring, but Derderian has completely reinvented their meaning. This much is obvious while sifting through the galleries of his past collections. The designs are immensely beautiful — the kind of beautiful that tugs on one’s heartstrings, draws sighs and has every woman remembering her forgotten romance with self-confidence.
Born in Beirut, Lebanon, Derderian’s parents owned a fashion workshop where he grew up amidst a whirlwind of patterns, fabrics and garments. It was there that he brought his first skirt to life. “I was on the sewing machine when I was five years old,” says Derderian. “I couldn’t even reach the pedals.”
The family came to Montreal during the outbreak of war, and Derderian was quick to adapt to the North American lifestyle. When he was a teenager, he designed for his friends. At 17, he was designing for major performances and taking on commissions from local elites.
But when the time came to pick a path, Derderian’s parents discouraged him from pursuing fashion. “They were concerned about the future of the business, which drove me into fields like science and medicine, business and marketing,” says Derderian, who speaks five languages. “I eventually graduated from marketing and entered a job in fashion. And that’s when I realized it was my calling, and that I had to go back and do what I loved to do.”
He’s now the star of the annual Fashion Week ferry-go-round, his poignant pieces stealing the show in many of fashion’s capital cities. He says the proudest moment of his career thus far was in 2011, when he stepped off the plane and into his very first Paris Fashion Week. Meanwhile, six years later, he’s gushing that his favourite moment of this year’s Mode à Paris was having the brand picked up by Harrods — “definitely a milestone for any Canadian designer,” he says. His SS15 collection is expected to appear in the luxury department store in January 2016.
“Forbidden Paradise” is Mikael D.’s latest wearable commentary on femininity. Derderian didn’t source his inspiration in the trend forecasts; rather, he found his spark in nature, specifically in florals. Some pieces toy with embroidery, cut-outs, high-lows, soft textiles, strong colours or, in many cases, all of the above. He also found a muse in the architecture of Zaha Hadid, which explains the collection’s use of curvature, from svelte cut-outs to rolling silhouettes.
“[Fashion] is always a fight between past and present, future and tradition. And that’s the same way here,” says Derderian, whose designs have been donned by Jennifer Lopez, Julia Roberts, Ariana Grande and a whole sky of other starlets. “Forbidden Paradise” is a contrast even in words. While the collection has a sort of faux-pas sexual connotation, at the same time it’s very romantic and flowy. It’s those two energies coming together in one presentation.”
As for his own personal style? Derderian’s answer might come as a surprise. “I’m a very casual guy, believe it or not,” he says. “I’m not a very ‘fashion’ kind of person. I like comfort with a bit of an edge.”
Night has fallen on David Pecaut Square. It’s time for the last show of WMCFW, and even the VIP line is bewilderingly long. We’re all here for Mikael D., one of the most highly anticipated shows of the week — the grand finale.
As the crowd of 900 files into the sensually lit runway, fashion moguls find their seats: Cailli and Sam Beckerman, Jay Strut, Alexander Liang, Chloe Wilde and Dwayne De Rosario, to name a few. Everyone’s expecting quite the show. Mikael D.’s runways are always more of a dramatic performance, a carefully practised dance, than a fashion presentation. For his FW15-16 collection, for example, he produced an Asian-inspired runway that kicked off with drummers, professional dancers and a crescendo of music. Toronto is not disappointed this time around.
The lights dim to almost complete darkness, and Sia’s “California Dreamin’” plays in the background as the models file out. Derderian’s comment about twining the past with the present comes immediately into effect: old-time lace and embroidery, classic silhouettes and antique-y hues mesh with futuristic shimmer and inventive accents. Piece after piece, the collection epitomizes Derderian’s desire to dress his clients into a riveting new persona: their best self.
At the end of the show, while the audience claps and comments breathlessly to one another, Mikael Derderian steps out wearing a sharp denim shirt and trousers — comfort with an edge. As he takes his bow, then the hand of one of his models and walks them backstage, his audience is captivated: Derderian’s answer to fashion is so ordinary, it’s extraordinary. It’s simply about designing for the people. And in doing so, he’s discovered the forbidden paradise of women’s fashion: the synergy of style’s two sides, fantasy and reality.
photo by Kathleen Caulderwood
Photos taken at the Four Seasons Toronto