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Serge et Réal

Serge Sénécal (Born in Montréal, 1941)
Réal Bastien (Born in Montréal, 1942)

Designer

1962 - 2014

Ensemble, Serge et Réal, 1977. Gift of Senator Nicole Eaton, M2014.69.2.1 © McCord Museum

Serge Sénécal and Réal Bastien, the founders of Serge & Réal, met at the École des métiers commerciaux de Montréal when they were students there from 1959 to 1961, under the direction of Gérard Le Testut. They then moved to Paris to train in couture. Alongside Yves Saint Laurent and Madame Carven, they learned to work with fabric and proportion, while also becoming familiar with the workings of a couture salon.

Upon returning to Quebec, they began working in the Radio-Canada costume department, followed by stints at the Théâtre Club, the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde and the Théâtre du Rideau Vert. At the same time, they created stage costumes for a number of popular musical stars who also ordered clothing for their personal wardrobes.

Their first collection for the general public debuted at the Windsor Hotel in 1964. They presented 30 original creations at this first fashion show, and sold the entire collection. In 1966, their submission for the hostess uniform competition organized by the Quebec Pavilion for Expo 67 was selected over eight other designs.

Encouraged by this experience and with a desire to refine their skills, they returned to Paris in 1968 for more training at the houses of Patou and Philippe Venet. Having fully mastered the art of couture, they came home to Montreal a year later. They took part in several group fashion shows with other designers while creating ready-to-wear collections for Montreal manufacturer Josef, which were sold at Holt Renfrew and Dupuis Frères.

FASHIONING EXPO 67 • Serge et Réal

Serge et Réal, interview conducted for Fashioning Expo 67 exhibition, October 2016 © McCord Museum

The early 1970s were not a good time for couture, and Serge and Réal decided to put their workshop on hold and only fill orders for a select clientele. For several years, Réal worked in the costume departments of the Stratford Festival and the Opéra du Québec, while Serge, intrigued by the marketing side of fashion, became the assistant of Lily Simon, the owner of a prestigious Montreal import store that catered to a well-dressed clientele. However, the desire to run their own couture house prevailed and, despite the challenging market, in 1973 they opened a salon called Les Trois à Montréal on Côte-des-Neiges Road with their friend Charles Raveau as manager. This partnership only lasted a few years. The new undertaking required a different organizational model.

They no longer made clothing upon request; instead, they presented a small collection to their clients and then made these garments to measure, in a smaller scale version of the European couture tradition.

In their salon, Serge and Réal dressed stars like Pauline Julien, Renée Claude and Ginette Reno, and personalities like the Honourable Jeanne Sauvé, Mila Mulroney and Jacqueline Desmarais. Previously based on Sherbrooke Street, in 1987 they decided to move to Greene Avenue—a location they maintained until retiring in 2014—and add a boutique to their atelier. They continued to present collections to their clients, but created bridal gowns and wedding outfits upon request.

In 1996, Mrs. Desmarais invited them to her Palm Beach home so they could present a clothing collection to her American friends. It was a great success. They quickly outgrew their client’s living room and had to find a workspace.

From November to early April, they would shuttle between Montreal and Palm Beach and present three different collections—holiday, early spring and spring-summer—comprising some one hundred pieces.

Orders were filled in Montreal and final alterations were made in Palm Beach. Clients would receive their new clothing in less than three weeks. The fall collection, which also included approximately one hundred models, was presented in Montreal, New York City and Boston in early June and delivered in September.

In the early 2000s, the Montreal atelier had a staff of 23, complemented by another two employees in Palm Beach. The work done by Serge and Réal was in the French haute couture tradition, with artisanal techniques and impeccable construction and fit. Their collections included dresses and suits of all styles suitable for day wear, cocktails, dinner, or evening.

Tailored in luxurious fabrics imported from Italy or Switzerland, their garments were known for their elegance and simplicity. Although both worked on designing the collections and selecting the fabrics, Réal was in charge of the technical side while Serge focussed on customer service and public relations. Excellence was always the guiding principle of the house. The product of meticulous craftsmanship, the clothing was initially labelled Serge & Réal, then Trois atelier couture, and finally Serge & Réal Montréal and Serge & Réal Palm Beach.

The couturiers were often asked to present their collections at benefit events. For example, in 1988, Marie-Paule Nolin asked Serge and Réal to present a fashion show of their creations at a McCord Museum tribute evening in her honour. She felt that their clothing perfectly suited the spirit of the collections she had produced over the course of her career. The duo also supported the fashion industry by getting involved in competitions to promote excellence. From 1990 to 1996, they co-chaired the jury for the Concours international des jeunes créateurs de mode in Paris and were jury members for the Fondation de la mode de Montréal.

With no assistance from the government or manufacturers, Serge and Réal have always worked independently, surrounding themselves with an extraordinary team. Passionate about their profession, these perfectionists created worked in true partnership, while their tenacity enabled them to build one of Quebec’s most prestigious salons. They have always attributed their success to their loyal clientele. Serge et Réal was a unique couture house in Montreal, successful for over 40 years.

Sources

Charest, Nicole. «Du costume à la haute couture», Perspectives, 27, July 1964, p. 14-15.

Ouellette, Lise. «Serge et Réal, couturiers montréalais», La Tribune, 22 April 1967.

Ruer, Juliette. «Serge et Réal duo dandy», Elle Québec, no 26, October 1991.

«Serge et Réal. La récompense de 20 ans de travail», La Presse, 9 November 1982.

«Serge et Réal : un duo passionné d’élégance et de savoir-faire», La Presse, 12 November 1991, C3.

Eva Friede. « Couture Kings Retire. » The Gazette, 23 January 2014.

Publication date

01/10/2004

Author

Françoise Dulac, Dicomode

Editor

Cynthia Cooper, Musée McCord

Last edited on
01/02/2019 Suggest an edit

© McCord Museum 2019