Buzz is not something that New York’s up and coming fashion designer Chris Gelinas’s young career in the industry lacks. Shortly after presenting his debut womenswear collection under the label CG at Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week during the Spring/Summer 2014 season, the Canadian-born designer snagged the 2013 MADE for Peroni Young Designer Award. And just like that, straight out of the gate, the Parsons alum became fashion’s new “it boy.”
The prize not only granted him winnings totalling at $40,000, but reserved him a show slot at MADE Fashion Week in New York for the Fall 2014 season. With the confirmation of his place in a lineup known for churning out some of the city’s most promising new talents, Gelinas had also secured an upward spike in his personal stock. “Being in the Milk Made family gives an emerging brand like CG a huge leg up,” says the designer. “For that I am very grateful.
When admiring the CG collections, it’s possible to trace the linage of the craftsmanship behind the pieces, the thoughtful attention to detail evident in each piece. The expert care enveloping the CG line points to the lessons learnt and the technique developed early in Gelinas career while working at lofty fashion houses including Balenciaga, Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler and Theyskens’ Theory, where he was employed as first assistant to designer Olivier Theyskens.
As a budding label, the evolution of CG is at an exciting start with room to etch a singular identity and grow a signature style. From SS14’s concentration on feminine, structured pieces — cutout frocks, billowy tea dresses and structured, zip-detailed leather jackets were standouts in the collection — to his recent Fall/Winter 2014 collection’s sense of “vintage futurism,” as the designer describes it, Gelinas shows signs at being at the beginning of a whimsical exploration in fashion, steadily led by technique.
Confirmation of his promise comes of late in the form of one of 12 coveted spots on the shortlist for the inaugural LVMH prize — a group chosen from applications sent in by over a thousand designers from countries the world around. And it’s no wonder why fashion’s newest prize should be so sought after; it comes with a the chance to work for one year at any one of the esteemed houses in the LVMH conglomerate and a cash prize of 300,000 Euros.
“Just being nominated is such an honour,” gushes Gelinas. “Being placed in the company of the other nominees is great, because everyone offers such a different and personal point of view through their style.
It’s clear, even with only two collections under his belt, Gelinas is the New York designer to watch. Below, we talk to the designer about his start in the business, the inspiration that leads his creative vison and his glistening future in the industry.
What inspired your career in fashion? You’ve sited your grandparents as inspirations for your design career, what did you take from them to start your own career?
Growing up in the work rooms and basements of my grandmother, a dressmaker and my grandfather, a furniture maker and upholsterer, I was always surrounded by the craft of making things with your hands. I was always fascinated by their work rooms, like another world of tools and fabrics, and the idea that I could make these flat materials come to life was always so intriguing.
So it almost seems natural that you got into the fashion industry, then?
I didn’t make any connection to this world and a possible career in fashion when I was young, but looking back now, I can see how I was always surrounded by craft and construction.
Have you experience a moment, even one recently amongst all your fresh accomplishments, where it became clear that a fashion-related career was the only path for you?
I’m not sure that there was a singular moment; I think I’ve always known that I need to be involved in this industry in some capacity. I’ve had lots of different experiences within fashion, working in PR, as a buyer and now a designer. Even as I left one role, I always transitioned to another relating to fashion in some way.
Are there any work philosophies or design traits that you’ve carried over from your time at Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler, Balenciaga and Theyskens’ Theory?
Each experience I had with these designers undoubtedly left a mark on me and influenced the way I design today. I have learned different things from each experience, and it is impossible to compare one to the next…and I learn new things every day which all hopefully build to make a stronger vision for what’s next.
How does your own vision differ from the fashion houses you’ve worked at?
CG is about fusing innovation and craft with classic femininity. There isn’t such a conscious effort to be different from other brands, this seems to take shape organically during the development each season. Vision is such an innate thing, these clothes are a reaction to different ideas and directions and are truly what I think my woman needs or wants. I respect so much the vision of the houses I have world for in the past, but I don’t think about them in regards to my own work.
Are there any other designers or even artists outside of fashion that inspire you?
I am such a visual person it is sometimes impossible to look at anything without some reaction or idea. I love good design, and I am always in awe of industrial designers or product designers. I think good design answers questions we didn’t know we had and can enrich even the most utilitarian experience; like even something like a water glass, with a certain, shape, weight, proportion, colour — it just feels different in your hand, and you may like it even if you don’t know why. I find inspiration in so many things: architecture, furniture, textiles, modern and contemporary art, music…everything really.
Your SS14 collection is free-flowing and ultra feminine while still structured — we love the balance you’ve struck. What was your vision for this particular collection.
This collection was about exploring these two sides of a woman: strong and armour-like and something more delicate…fragile even. It was really the idea of protection and the subsequent restraint that can bring versus the vulnerability of [being] carefree.
Since the launch of your SS14 collection, you’ve been crowned by the fashion press as “the next big thing;” what do you make of all the buzz? Is it overwhelming at all being only two seasons into your line, perhaps a little nerve-racking even?
Well, it’s very flattering, of course. It feels good to be recognized for doing something you’re passionate about and have put a lot of time and effort into, so on that end, it is amazing. Things have been moving quickly, and at times is can be stressful, but mostly, I am just thankful to be where I am in my life and career and trying to enjoy everything as it comes. Even the word “buzz” sounds fleeting, which it is, so I am focusing on what I love: the clothes.
I think that’s a good way of looking at it…though we doubt the praise surround you will be fleeting in any way. You won the MADE for Peroni Young Designer Award last year. Was that something of a career altering moment?
Definitely. Being recognized by those in your field whom you really respect is an amazing thing. It was quite literally an altering moment, because it afforded me some amazing resources from both Milk and Peroni, which have helped further my growth and development in these early stages.
The award comes with a confirmed slot at MADE Fashion Week. How was it showing your FW14 collection there? What was the atmosphere like?
In New York, I think the biggest hurdle for an emerging brand is visibility, and showing at MADE Fashion Week adds credibility and validation, not to mention the best logistics and production experience! The atmosphere is super supportive, Rassi, Jenne and the whole Milk Made team want you to succeed, and I can’t thank them enough!
About your latest collection, what inspired the designs for Fall/Winter?
This collection really started with an idea of weightlessness, the comfort of nostalgia with the pressure to move forward. I loved the feel of vintage futurism [from] the late ‘50s/early ‘60s [like the designs of] Andre Courreges. There is something ergonomic and industrial about some of the techniques, but still very human and feminine.
You’ve described your work as contrasting pioneering techniques with the classic conventions of luxury and femininity. What draws you to this aesthetic?
I really think the future of design is more about “how” than “what.” How we do things, how it’s constructed, how can classic ideas or conventions be modernized or reinterpreted for a woman today. Questioning all aspects of making clothes is what pushes my aesthetic. Maybe it’s unconventional materials, a new process, or an old world craft or technique reimagined. The mix of all these things is what I hope makes up the foundation for CG.
In terms of your label’s aesthetic, who is someone you think best suits it, a celebrity you would like to dress, perhaps?
I am most attracted to strong women, who have substance. I like the idea of the CG woman using fashion as just one of her many forms of expression. I love Carey Mulligan. She has a classic, but very modern feel to her style and approach to wearing clothes.
She’s a great one! You’re still a very young label, what direction — creatively and business-wise — do you see the CG line moving in?
Quality over quantity is the CG M.O. I would like to grow my business with a strong foundation of quality and craft, longevity versus a rapid trajectory. There is enough stuff in the world, I hope I can propose new ideas with integrity and value.
Last question: Is there any area — creative or otherwise — outside of designing clothing that you’d like to explore in the future?
Maybe in my next life I will own a flower shop, but for now, I’ll stick to clothes.Published May 31, 2014