It was 2 p.m. I was waiting for him at the Palm Court of the Ritz Carlton. To be honest, I was a bit nervous. I was expecting Dick Walsh, one of the most important creative gurus Montreal has ever known. I’m sure he can’t fit all his achievements in one C.V, but long story short: he did windows for Dior, Shieshedo, Valentino; He produced Celine Dion’s wedding, the amazing balls of many museums (like Guggenheim) and charity organizations, he launched Carine Roitfield’s magazine, he did the Grammy’s… And the list goes on… and on. Yep, you can tell I had done my research. I knew his bio so well , but nothing can ever prepare you to meet someone who has such a tremendous influence in the world of design and lifestyle.
The revolving door of the lobby opened and he appeared… he looked very dapper in his double-breasted suit, his funky green and blue velvet loafers… and of course, his great smile that makes you feel instantly comfortable! And that’s the thing about Dick Walsh; Smart, witty but never pretentious. He was very generous, talking about his career; his vision of Montreal’s design and fashion scene… He even shared some of his design secrets (yup, you might want to read until the end!)
Just like any giants, it only comes natural to start by asking: Where and how did it all start?
Dick: I was 17 and I was looking for a summer job. Eaton was opening in Quebec city, and I really wanted to work there but I was underage. I guess I can confess this now, I slightly bumped my age up while applying and they took me. So like any beginners, I started by opening boxes. I was fortunate enough to be handed what were to be used in the store’s windows. After opening all the boxes, I pulled out the wigs, the mannequins and the accessories… And I had no idea what to do with them. I instinctively dressed the mannequins and used the accessories around them in a way I liked. Next day, Eatons’ GM saw my work and he loved it. Six Months later, I moved to Montreal. They’ve put me in charge of all the windows and I was working with over 40 employees.
During 3 years, Dick created the most amazing windows For Eatons. He Perfected his art and changed the face of Montreal. The secret of his success?
Dick: One of the first thing I did when I arrived in Montreal was to ask for the windows to be lighted-up at night. Back then, downtown was the place to be. All the best clubs where there. So at 3 am. when the clubs closed, everyone stopped in front of the windows. At one point, we had to put ropes in front of them because they were so many people looking at them. I was also asked to make them a little less provocative, because they had a certain sexual undertone to them. Maybe that’s why Karl Lagerfeld is still one of the biggest fans of my Eaton windows.”
He swiped some photos from his iPhone to show me some examples. The first thought that came across my mind is how windows displays are an art form that needs to be brought back, in all international fashion scenes. Looking at his previous work, I found it interesting how it’s a mix between interior design, photography and cinema. They were like a scene, it always seems to be a story there. It makes you want to pause, reflect, savor and dig into what you see. Paul Klee once said: ”Art doesn’t represent what we see but teaches us how to see”. It’s like a call to stop from walking, to take a break from your routine, to take the time, a moment to really appreciate what you see.
What was your ah-ha moment? When did he know exactly what he wanted to do?
Dick: I never really decide on anything. I’m not career-oriented so all what happened to me wasn’t part of a plan. I just never said no. Like the time when I was still working for Eaton, Famous MUA Serge Lutens suggested I should go to Japan with him for a Shisheido project. I just followed him. For someone who comes from a little town, Donakota, it was amazing. Then, I went to Paris. Then other cities. other projects… I just really never said no.
Then you became an event-planner…
Dick: That was another outcome of not being able to say no. In 1996, I was working for Elle Quebec as a creative director. I got a phone call, they wanted me to to do Celine Dion’s wedding. I never ever did any events, except fashion shows. It was the first time I planned an event A to Z… Actually, now more than ever, I realize it’s really because I have always been open to new opportunities. I always said yes to new projects. I’ve never had any insecurities about my job or trying something new… I’d just jumped right into it. At the end of the day, I’m not a surgeon. If I make a mistake, nobody will die… so I might as well go for it.
What is your secret to great design?
Dick: Lighting. I like simplicity in my home. I don’t like to have many objects, but lighting is the key. Even when you don’t have the budget, you can have a great set-up with the right lighting. I did an event here, in Montreal, last year at L’Auberge Saint-Gabriel. We had no budget but we created a great concept: The models were on Black cubes and we’ve put a nice dramatic spotlight on them. It was gorgeous! At home, I have different lights for different mood. But I found a great little lamp, here in Montreal: It’s a minimal strip of led light but it produces a great halo. I bought a bunch of them, so I have them everywhere at home now!
What’s next for you now?
Dick: I want to go back to my roots and do more windows. I’m moving to New York, as I’ll be collaborating with MAC Cosmetics for Henry Bendel & Saks. But I would love to come back to Montreal. I find it very sad that many talented people leave the city, because there is only so much you can do. I keep bumping into so many Quebecers, working in the industry, either in Paris or New York. People blame it on money, they say there is no budget but I don’t agree. I think it’s more about taking risks and being more outgoing. Because otherwise, you can do a lot without much!
What would be then your advice to the next generation?
Dick: We simply need the new generation and the government to get involved to make the city alive again. In the 80s, everybody would come to Montreal! I remember there were some crazy parties with Fellini, Picasso’s family and others legends. We didn’t to get out to the world, the world was coming to us. But people forgot what it used to be, they need to know the city’s history, what we came from, and what we can do to make the city great again. People wait for opportunities, but they forgot they can create their own opportunities.
There was it. A wonderful afternoon with Dick Walsh. He made me proud to be and feel Montrealer. Our Quebec moto is ‘Je Me Souviens’. Let it always be a reminder that Montreal is the city where all dream can come true. All opportunities can be a success. Our DNA can lead many industries. Talent & creativity is part of our heritage and our future.