Harricana: Mariouche, the Conqueror:

Thrust into the limelight at age of 19 by an international fashion competition, Mariouche Gagné, then a student at Collège LaSalle, swept  the Jeunes Créateurs de Mode  Paris fashion competition with a white coat inspired by the polar bear and an Inuit legend. Three years later, while studying for a master’s in design management at Milan’s Domus Academy, a reversible ski suit with accessories taken from her mother’s fur coat earned her second prize in the Fur Council of Canada Jeunes Créateurs competition. The recycling concept was born. The brand’s DNA had been formed. Québec’s Mariouche Gagné has been making a name for herself for the past 20 years with her recycled eco-chic furs. Today, she is busy lining up one project after another. Tomorrow, the world.

The wall of fur in the restaurant Laurie Raphaël at Hôtel Le Germain Montréal, that’s her. The fox fur–lined aviator hats and the much-loved mink bags dangling from elegant, fashionable arms, that’s her too. Since as far back as anyone can remember, Mariouche Gagné, now 42, has never followed the crowd. “I grew up in the countryside—I love the smell of nature all around me. And when I started out in fashion, I really didn’t think it was for me. I wanted to change the world instead,” confesses the designer. Now her firm—Harricana—boasts some 20 employees and has recycled and turned more than 80,000 fur coats into fashionable clothing and accessories, saving close to one million animals over 20 years.

 Harricana and its Écoluxe® label embody the designer’s deeply held values. “I’m all for luxury, not to be a snob, but for passing on our heritage with fur coats handed down from mother to daughter, that I bring up to date.  Now it’s the same thing for wedding dresses, silk, and leather. All my creations have an almost industrial design side to them. I love the fact that they’re useful, however chic the material they are made out of may be. I love making a coat reversible, turning a bag into a muff. I draw my inspiration from our wide-open spaces, the First Nations, the wonderful clean lines of Inuit art and esthetics.” If proof were needed, look no further than the dazzling pictures of singer/songwriter Elisapie Isaac—both muse and friend—in the 2012–2013 winter catalogue.

Mariouche is at home in her studio-slash-workshop in Montréal,  a recent addition to the Economuseum Trail. She has distribution in over 15 different countries and has ambitious plans for the future. Her newest collaboration is the Rossignol Harricana ski collection, for men and women, set to hit the international market in Fall 2013. “I’d already worked on Jean-Charles de Castelbajac’s collection for Rossignol,” she says. “This time it’s my creations, thirty-odd very technical pieces bringing together thick sheepskin and metallic, moonlike materials, for example. I imagined a French ski champion and an Inuit meeting and falling in love in the Far North and the outfits they would come up with if they swapped clothes.” The collection was presented in Val-d’Isère last December, at the ISPO show in Munich and at Montréal Fashion Week, all to rave reviews.

Projects lie scattered across her drafting table, like the November launch of Harricana perfume, developed with Monsillage. And after opening a new section at Signatures Québécoises—the new showcase for local brands in Église Saint-Roch in Québec City—and the revamping of her online boutique, it will be time to gear up for the Christmas market in Toronto’s Distillery District.

 Mariouche, ever the responsible citizen, hosted a fundraising evening for Ondinnok last fall. It is a theatre built around the idea of reconquering the imaginary land of the Aboriginals. She is also working on a new project with another major foundation.

And yet none of this can steal Mariouche away from her two darlings, Zoé, 5, and Oscar, 3 ½. With an eye on her children, she looks forward to Harricana becoming the world’s premier eco luxury brand. Mariouche Gagné is well on her way, and just like Rivière Harricana in Abitibi, there is no stopping her!