Alain Croteau was born into the family that started the retail chain later known as l’Aubainerie. After a very brief stint in the family business, he left and began creating his own fashion. Croteau was self-taught and claimed to have learned clothing construction by taking garments apart and transforming them. Throughout his life, he was associated with cult fashion that was highly original, often based on collaboration, and that appealed to a select few trendsetters. In the early 1970s he opened “Y tout croche” and, with Michèle Hamel, “Le Cirque,” a vintage clothing shop on Prince Arthur Street.
Around 1975, Croteau and Hamel opened Beige en ville at 75 Prince Arthur East. (Hamel went on to open Pur Hasard the following year with Georges Lévesque.) In 1978, Croteau was identified as one of a new generation of up-and-coming individualistic designers along with Jone Baker, Judith Dallegret, Michèle Hamel, Georges Lévesque, and Jean-Claude Poitras. Croteau’s clothing and design philosophy always defied easy categorization. That year a fashion journalist singled out a striped jersey dress, novel for its very loose and relaxed silhouette, and a reversible plaid coat with jagged edges as noteworthy pieces.
In December 1979, Croteau opened his next venture, Assez, a play on words with his initials (AC), announcing, “Too much is not Assez (enough).” (Trop c’est pas ASSEZ.) Located on St. Lawrence near Prince Arthur, it was described as a “space-place for objects, people, parties and clothes” where he wanted “things to happen.” It offered a new experience to shoppers familiar with Montreal’s trendier shopping districts, and an “uneasy” one to shopping mall and department store veterans.
The décor included bare floors with “found-object mats,” lighting filtered through plastic curtains and neon tubing, chairs covered with oversized sheets, and a changing room fashioned from a ring of hanging fabric panels.
Iona Monahan described how “isolated groups of clothes, thrown into anti-sell attitudes, send out no messages to those looking for easy fashion solutions.” She indicated that many of the clothes were poorly made but in a style familiar to the Soho, New Wave and Neo Punk idiom, and that several represented pure fashion excess, which showed creative sparks, ideas, directions and possibilities. She described Croteau as the leader of a “charmed, self-protected inner circle of emerging or unknown talents” whose work featured in the shop, along with his own label Beige en Ville. Croteau produced clothing with fabrics embroidered or woven by Pascale Galipeau, or from weavers Charles Lamy, Isabelle Leduc, and François Alacoque.
When Assez closed in the early 1980s, Croteau continued to produce clothing out of his apartment with his eponymous label until a few months before his death. The stores Rose Nanane and Scandale were known to carry his clothing in these later years. Croteau was in a camp of young designers that Monahan described as fashion cult leaders, fiercely independent, often working solo or in facilities with minimal overhead to be able to produce clothing generally seen as “flyé,” pushing the envelope and defying labels.
Monahan, Iona. “A loft full of anti-fashion: ASSEZ is enough,” Montreal Gazette, Postmedia Network, February 5, 1980, pp 52-53.
Kimball, Elizabeth. “The Freedom Generation,” Ottawa Citizen, Michelle Richardson, March 4, 1978, 120.