An Illustrated Guide to Fashion, History, & Hubert Lenoir

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Remember when every indie band dressed like Mumford and Sons and the festival scene looked like a sepia tinted trip back to Green Gables? It wasn’t that long ago, and it’s likely this look will live forever as the go-to hipster aesthetic trope of the last decade.

Thankfully, we’re coming into the ’20s with a new understanding of fashion, history, and each other. More and more we are using our personal appearance as a means of artistic expression, and, thanks to everything from Instagram to Lady Gaga, people are getting bolder with their choices. Most importantly, we’re divorcing ourselves from traditional notions of dress, dispensing with gender limitations, and changing the social landscape on this front by turning out our best looks whenever the opportunity arises.

Hubert Lenoir is the kind of person who uses those opportunities to his full advantage … It’s autumn, 2018, and I’m watching music videos with a close friend when he insists that we look up Lenoir’s performance on La Voix (the French version of the reality television show The Voice). Having never heard his music before, this made for an interesting introduction.

The first thing I notice, besides the fantastic saxophone hook in Fille De Personne II, is how amazingly Lenoir is dressed. He’s wearing over-sized grey coveralls, open at the chest, cinched at the waist, and adorned with a couple of simple, low draping gold chains. From the neck-up, he’s like a Patrick Nagel painting with dark curly hair in a high, ’80s style coif, and a bold hoop in one ear.

Drawing of Hubert Lenoir in a black jumpsuit against a purple background, singing into a microphone.

There’s something about the unisex nature of the jumpsuit that has always appealed to me. The jumpsuit had it's beginnings as...well, a suit...for jumping. But soon enough the Air Force parachuter look was catching on, and several trades and professions adopted some form of the garment as their uniform. It didn't take long for the world of fashion to catch up and by the 1930s designers like Schiaparelli were already parading couture jumpsuits down the runway. In 1970, the Biba look that would come to dominate most of the decade established the one-piece as a wardrobe staple for both men and women and it has remained a mainstay ever since. In a jumpsuit, you’re always walking the line between utilitarian and chic, man and woman, work and play.

I keep gushing about this femme version of Alien’s Ripley strutting around like Mick Jagger. “Just wait!” my friend urges, excitedly prepping me for some epic moment I’ll surely gag over … Finally, at the end of the song, Lenoir tears open the seam on the side of his pant leg revealing an ejaculating (yup) Fleur de Lis tattoo on his now exposed butt cheek.

As an Anglophone, the exact punch of this moment is lost on me, but I’m assured that, in Quebec, this action has every wholesome, conservative, prime-time-loving baby boomer in an uproar. That being my favourite demographic to piss off, I applaud Lenoir and soon find myself obsessively listening to Darlène in the months to follow.

The more I see of Lenoir, the more it becomes apparent that his approach to fashion mirrors his song writing prowess. Able to draw from myriad sources, a wealth of knowledgeable references surface in Lenoir’s work, but his sound and style remain uniquely his own and never stray into derivative territory.

On his Instagram page, you can get a glimpse of his ironic and cheeky sensibilities with a nod to the norm-core-by-way-of-Balenciaga street wear trend that is of the current zeitgeist. On stage he expands his approach, offering up everything from club kid couture to K-pop.

Take his appearance on the ADISQ awards as a launching point. Walking the line somewhere between South African zef and pagan sun goddess, Lenoir takes the stage to accept his award for Song of the Year and, before you have time to soak up all the intricacies of his outfit, he is promptly deep-throating the statuette in front of the entire audience and live television cameras.

A drawing of Hubert Lenoir in a white robe, colourful garments that make him look like a god or goddess.

This outfit reminds me of the iconic Madonna look from the ’84 MTV VMA’s ... after she dropped 4 hits of acid and beat up the American flag.

As excitingly controversial as this display is, I can’t help but be transfixed by his clothing, rapidly taking inventory of everything he is wearing: something like Jerry Seinfeld’s puffy shirt, several heavy gold chains, Coolio hair, half of an Anthrax graphic tee that says “I AM THE LAW,” mismatched hoop earrings, a multi-layered Edwardian-style lace skirt, and celestial-looking makeup that serves as the cherry on top of this absolutely demented fashion parfait.

This is the creation of an impossibly limitless imagination. Lenoir has got his sights set on shaking up the status-quo, and he has the know-how and tenacity to back his defiance.

Fast-forward to present day, and I’m a full-fledged Lenoir fanboy, scouring the internet to find looks and appearances I might have missed. A more recent spot on France’s panel show, Quotidian, finds its way to me and I’m completely floored. As Empire Records’ Gina would say, it’s “Sinead O’Rebellion!”

With a shaved head and goth/grunge makeup and jewelry, Hubert Lenoir emerges topless in slim-cut Adidas sport pants. An enormous, completely sheer, 19th century, bubble-gum pink gown is draped over everything, billowing around him on the floor like a cloud of cotton candy. It's like a genderfucked Scarlet O'Hara via Viktor and Rolf.

A drawing of Hubert Lenoir in black track pants and a see-through, high-necked, floor-length pink gown.

Transparent fabrics are my new obsession. That feeling of being covered and exposed at the same time is always provocative and exciting. From organzas and chiffons to athletic mesh and tulle there are infinite ways to achieve a semi-concealed look. As of late, several designers have been playing with sheer fabrics and historical silhouettes. In addition to Viktor and Rolf's buzz worthy contribution, 2018 saw Galliano showing a series of see-through petticoats and in 2019 he followed up with an impressive prairie-era Americana collection that leaned heavily on translucence. Gaultier and Marc Jacobs, also in 2019, celebrated transparency through their high-concept avant grade and kitsch creations that played with proportion, colour, and humour, much like Lenoir does with his look.

And, what makes it all so enjoyable is that, even though Lenoir is provocative with his style, he does it with a wink and a smirk, knowing never to take the endeavour too seriously. It’s an approach to entertainment that is flirtatious and fun, exploring new territory while remaining grounded in an adoration for the past.

When I listen to Darlène I hear the influences of Marc Bolan, Elton John, Bowie, early Madonna, Prince ... all artists who have been trendsetters and icons themselves in the world of fashion.

Lenoir, manages to both follow in that tradition and keep tradition itself at an arm’s length, maintaining his contemporary originality by drawing inspiration from select parts of the past while giving a middle finger to the rest.

A drawing of Hubert Lenoir in a greyish suit, combat boots, his face painted green.

Hubert Lenoir as David Byrne as a Club Kid. Fucking with the drab, masculine business suit is really a right of passage for performance artists. Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepner used it to masculinize themselves and provoke the conservative norm. Bowie took it, feminized it, and spat it back in our faces. Grace Jones, K.D Lang and, of course, David Byrne have all had turns tweaking the Wall Street standard and turning it on it's head. Lenoir's Juno look was perfectly off-putting in all the right ways. A++

Maty Ralph