In 1938, Françoise Bernier, a recent teachers college graduate, harboured what was then a bold ambition: she wanted to dress the women of Quebec City in original creations. After getting a job at Jeanne Rancourt’s Upper Town dressmaking salon, she created her first wedding dress. The same year, she enrolled in the Cotnoir Capponi school of fashion design in Montreal.
For two years, she followed an intensive course of study in design, pattern-making and cutting, and met talented individuals who would go on to achieve great renown, like designer Arnold Scaasi, who worked in New York City.
Declining job offers in Montreal, she returned home to Quebec City and opened a dressmaking shop in her family home, at that time located in the neighbourhood of Limoilou. In spite of the government restrictions of the war years, she attracted a large clientele. In May 1944, Jean Fortin, recognized as Quebec City’s leading fashion designer, invited her to work in his de l’Église Street studio in Lower Town. Having built a reputation, Françoise Bernier wanted to have her own studio. Soon threatened with losing his associate, Jean Fortin agreed to let her work under her own label. In 1950, she began renting her existing workspace from Fortin and producing creations under her own name. This arrangement lasted until the Salon Jean Fortin closed in 1970. At that point, she moved her business to the workshop set up in her Upper Town residence.
As of 2004, she was still serving clients who had been loyal to her for generations, notably by designing original wedding dresses.
Christiane Noël, Dicomode
Cynthia Cooper, McCord Museum