Completely self-taught, Marie-Antoinette Rouillard began producing custom clothing at a very young age. In addition to her exceptional technical expertise, she had the strong personality needed to impose her original views. When her customers would ask her to make reproductions of European models, she always found a way to modify the pattern so it better reflected her vision.
During the 1940s, she worked for a time with the legendary Marie-Paule, who used the young couturier’s talents to bring some especially daring ideas to life. After setting up her own salon in the 1950s, Rouillard, who used the label Marie Antoinette, was admitted to the Association of Canadian Couturiers. She went on to take part in the Association’s group fashion shows until closing her salon in 1966. Like the other Association members, she rose to the challenge of creating haute couture pieces using fabrics from Canadian manufacturers. Though this could be a constraint, the designer often made it work to her advantage. Since manufacturers imposed no limits on the quantities of fabric made available to Association members, in 1955 she created a stunning ball gown whose design required several metres of crinoline.
She was fond of daring outfits that flattered the female form, always with an impeccable sense of chic.
In 1960, she used a fabric commonly used to make bath mats to create an outrageously humorous dress, even by today’s standards. After closing her salon, she continued to make custom clothing, usually filling orders by visiting her clients at home. For a time, she even went back to work for Marie-Paule. When Marie-Paule closed her salon in 1973, Marie-Antoinette joined the costume department of the Theatre du Rideau Vert, where she worked with cutter Erika Hoffer for master costume designer François Barbeau. In 1977, she was recruited by College Marie-Victorin, where she taught in the fashion design program for 11 years. She retired in 1988, ending a career that skilfully combined discipline and flair.
Cynthia Cooper, McCord Museum