Artful endeavour

Dream collaboration among fashionable friends leads to wearable works of art

By Janet Wilson

Photography by Richard Tardif

Luc Martineau, former lawyer and Federal Court judge, was game to join forces on an art-fashion project with his good friend, photographer Richard Tardif.

When well-known Ottawa photographer Richard Tardif had a bright idea for an artsy fashion project, he called up a few of his talented friends, who didn’t hesitate to jump onboard.

So, what happens when you gather a renowned fashion designer, a visual artist and a milliner? An awe-inspiring collaboration that involved handpainting two couture dresses and hats, which will be showcased at a spring fashion show in Ottawa.

“It was all Richard’s idea,” chuckles Luc Martineau, a retired federal court judge and abstract artist. “He had the vision to bring everyone together to create something special and we were all game to do it.”

Luc painted on dresses, designed by fashion designer Frank Sukhoo and worn by model Alexandra-Maria Misu, at his studio at the Lachine Canal artists’ complex.

On this day, designer Frank Sukhoo’s boutique in the  ByWard Market, Sukhoo Sukhoo Khooture, is a hive of activity. The dream team has arrived for the big reveal of Luc’s artwork on two of Frank’s original silk gowns, designed specifically for the project. Luc worked on the dresses at his studio in Montreal’s Lachine Canal neighbourhood and also painted on two whimsical straw hats created by Madeleine Cormier of Chapeaux de Madeleine.

Three models from Angie’s Models and Talent Inc. (AMTI) are beautifully made up, thanks to the skilled hands of Angie Semple, national director of education and artistry at Dior, and hairstylist Denis Ethier. Richard is in his element, capturing the scene as the glamorous models take their turn being photographed behind an elegant, oversized gold frame positioned in the centre of Frank’s showroom.

Model Sarah Vockeroth is in a floor-length silk gown created for the project by Frank Sukhoo. On this dress, Luc used myriad art techniques, including spray paint and paint markers.

“When I first saw Frank’s original dresses, I approached them like I would a blank canvas and used my own artwork as inspiration. We brought art to life,” says Luc, whose signature appears on the bottom of both dresses, like it does on his artwork.

Inspired by nature, wildlife and music, Luc paints in a range of mediums, including watercolour, pastel, oil and acrylic and even used spray paint and paint markers for this project. “I wanted it to look like liquid—for the fabric to bleed and the paint to spread, like a watercolour. It adds a bit of drama. It’s a lot of fun to mix different mediums.”

Art in Motion: Richard Tardif captured Luc as he painted on a gown worn by Alexandra-Maria Misu.

Luc ( takes pleasure in showcasing the many delightful abstract details on the dresses and hidden surprises tucked into the folds, on the bodices and along the trim. There are glimpses of nature, a bright blue sky, whimsical birds, peacock feathers, a lush tropical jungle and hints of female figures, at times standing and walking. The colourful designs feature heavy brushstrokes bursting in bright, joyful hues of yellow and red with touches of blue.

The Dream Team: (l to r) Madeleine Cormier of Chapeaux de Madeleine; visual artist Luc Martineau; AMTI models Sarah Vockeroth, Angèle Cissé and Kateryna Krykunova; Angie Semple, director of education and artistry, Dior Canada; hairstylist Denis Ethier; and Frank Sukhoo of Sukhoo Sukhoo Khooture.

Painting is a source of meditation for the married father of four, and a way to find inner peace. “Each brushstroke is like an emotion. Even when I worked as a lawyer and arbitrator, I loved to paint. It’s been a passion of mine for 40 years,” says Luc, who is represented in Ottawa by the Alpha & Omega Art Gallery.

Featuring a swirling petal design in dreamy pastel colours, the floral hat is all about making a chic statement.

Renowned for his wit, style and generosity when it comes to giving back to many charitable causes, including Cornerstone Housing for Women and EcoEquitable, Frank ( didn’t hesitate when Richard came knocking. The longtime couturier, who also teaches at the Richard Robinson Fashion Design Academy, has an enviable client list of politicians, diplomats and socialites.

While the white silk dresses he designed for this project vary in length and cut, each boast sexy, lowcut bodices. While the one-of-a-kind pieces can’t be washed, Frank says the dresses make individual statements that bridge fashion and art.

Madeleine, whose studio is located inside Frank’s boutique (, created two eclectic hats, manipulating the natural straw and hand-rolling one long piece to make an eye-catching turban and another larger hat that features swirls resembling a flower’s petals.

This wide-brim creation by Madeleine Cormier is a standout. Luc’s techniques here included airbrush, oil paint and an oil stick.

“I wanted statement hats with plenty of attitude,” says Madeleine, who was pleased with Luc’s artwork, which combined the use of an oil stick and airbrushing techniques over the course of a few days.

Richard ( says the icing on the cake for his project is that the two painted dresses will be worn on the runway at AMTI’s spring talent showcase at the Canadian War Museum in May.

“I chose the best people for this project. Frank and Madeleine are so gracious [with] their time and with Luc in the mix, we really were able to offer a new twist to art and fashion,” says Richard, a retired associate chief administrator of the federal court.

Luc Martineau, a former longtime lawyer and Federal Court judge, was game to join forces on an art-fashion project with his good friend, photographer Richard Tardif. Luc painted on two dresses designed by Ottawa fashion designer Frank Sukhoo at his studio at the Lachine Canal artists’ complex. Richard captured Luc in action as he painted the back of a long gown, worn by model Alexandra-Maria Misu.