When Mabel Palomino, president and creative director of Manina World, met Sonia Leclair, the unconventional designer behind the fashion label Anomal Couture, a symbiotic relationship was instantly born. Mabel was on the lookout for striking costumes to dress female artists and characters at some of Montreal’s finest luxury events. Sonia was searching for a creative challenge to give free reign to her imagination. Their collaboration has produced a collection of custom outfits, markedly different from anything previously seen in the local event industry.
Sonia is one of those rare individuals who has always known her purpose in life. As a silent young child, there was no doubt in her mind that her strong artistic impulses would be expressed through fashion. She has been sewing ever since. “My parents were hardworking individuals in the trucking and hotel industries,” said Sonia. “Even though they didn’t make a living as artists, they were not afraid for me and didn’t force me to follow their paths. They were fiercely supportive of my choices and I can’t thank them enough.”
While pursuing fashion and stage costume design studies at College Lasalle in Montreal, Sonia made the bold move to start her label, Anomal Couture, and began crafting bespoke dresses for weddings (not wedding dresses – but rescuing bridesmaids and the like from embarrassing fashion statements). “I was always Inspired by fantasy and the Montreal nightlife,” explained Sonia. “I wanted my clothes to convey a sense of fun and extravagance. I didn’t care much for trends and what other people were doing.”
In 2004, Sonia launched the first Anomal Couture collection. Images of her striking designs flew across the web. Here was a young designer sending to the runway models who looked like fashionable super heroes (or “sheroes”). Her clothes oozed power, sexiness, and unusual lines, befitting edgy international rock stars. She would’ve been at home in Paris, New York, and Milan.
However, although the art was sensational, the business side struggled. “Major Quebec department stores and boutiques thought that my clothes were too off-the-beaten path and hard to manufacture,” recalled Sonia. “I had to knock on countless doors until I finally obtained my first orders from three small boutiques, including Masquerade. I started dressing some celebrities and was lending piles of clothes to fashion stylists for photo shoots, but wasn’t getting paid much. Even wealthy clients wanted clothes for free!”
Sonia self-financed all her runway shows and collections. She was sewing with her hands every monthly order from the few retailers who supported her label, and was only collecting payments upon delivery. The big stores continued to reject her. “It all came to a breaking point in 2011, the day I went to meet the bankruptcy trustee because of the heavy debt load I had accumulated,” shared Sonia, with blunt honesty. “I walked out of that office and made a decision that changed my life.”
Sonia kept her label name and never filed for bankruptcy. Instead, she refocused her entire business on creating custom-designed clothes for high-profile (paying!) clients and spectacular show pieces, and on renting outfits from her studio. “In one year, all my debts were paid,” stated Sonia. “What had been my weakness in commercial fashion, had become my strength in the bespoke world.”
Still, Anomal is not a label for everyone. Sonia designs for a type of woman that she defines as la femme Anomal. “The Anomal woman is strong. She forges ahead without fear and assumes her sexuality and femininity for herself, not for men or others,” explained Sonia. “She loves to takes risks. She is provocative. She is a born star.”
Sonia’s style shines at its brightest through all her collaborations with Manina World, where she is called upon to push the boundaries of show costumes, navigating a fine line between haute couture and breathtaking spectacle. “My work is eclectic, instinctual, un-trendy. It is an ode to powerful women and femininity,” added Sonia. “With Manina I get to do what I do best: dress super women.”
Today, between creating showpieces and running her atelier, Sonia gives back to the next generation by teaching classes at College Lasalle on all subjects related to the fashion industry. Before concluding the conversation, she shared a valuable insight into the way her creative mind works. “My designs are triggered by imaginary stories. I love to invent scenarios in my head, which I translate, sometimes without rhyme or reason, into clothing,” described Sonia. “I imagine Miles Davies meeting Nina Simone on a rainy night at a cozy bar in Tokyo, circa 1970, for example. That visual becomes my guide and pattern.”
It is an essential piece of intelligence for anyone seeking to collaborate with Sonia and Anomal. Give her a story and let her go wild. As an unconventional artist of international caliber, she couldn’t ask for anything more rewarding.