Arts

This hyper-futuristic Montreal fashion designer is behind some of Lil Nas X's wildest looks

Emile Racine is blending spiky rave wear with clothing inspired by speed skating and 3D printing

Emile Racine is blending spiky rave wear with clothing inspired by speed skating

Lil Nas X smiles while wearing a black and green leather outfit covered in half-metre long spikes.
Rapper and singer Lil Nas X wearing creations by Montreal designer Emile Racine. (Boris Halas)

Emile Racine can pinpoint the moment his life changed: May 22, 2021. That was the day rapper Lil Nas X wore a pair of the Montreal designer's distinctive, sculptural, spiky shoes on the Season 46 finale of Saturday Night Live. Those shoes would soon become an iconic staple of the brand.

Prior to this, Racine had been part of a mentorship programme at Montreal fashion and design talent incubator Lignes de Fuite studying under designer Milan Tanedjikov. 

"I learned how to build a whole collection and design full looks," he says. "Just before it ended, and I could [complete] the collection, COVID happened."

By the end of 2021, Racine found himself in LA, creating pieces for the likes of Lil Texas, Dorian Electra and Princess Gollum, while overseeing a team of interns he hired to assist with the production and design. He would also continue working with Lil Nas X, dressing him for everything from an appearance on the Eric Andre Show to a Vitamin Water commercial.

The idea for Racine's cyber-styled shoes and spiked apparel began back in 2017 when he went on an exchange to Spain while studying industrial design at the Université de Montréal. He says his time in Europe inspired him to experiment more.

A man stands, wearing a black outfit covered in chrome spikes and geometric shapes.
Pieces from Emile Racine's new collection, Do Not Touch. (Pablo Stained Negative)

"Montreal is more technical — it's still artistic but you respond to the clients needs," he says. "[In Spain],It was more oriented on conceptual ideas and more [focused] on artistic research, that freedom was that we could do basically any project we wanted."

While in Europe, he also spent time in Berlin and Milan. The Berlin rave scene was a big inspiration for his designs. 

"Rave music was really a big thing that started my brand," he says."When I did my first project, it was inspired by techno group [Drexyia's] tracks."

While many designers in Montreal's fashion scene are inspired by rave culture, Racine goes beyond the gaudy Y2K tropes that are often seen in the city's fashion scene. Racine's work pays homage to a different, darker aspect of the rave scene, with its spikes, irregular shapes and use of chrome-like material. 

Racine 3D prints many elements of his designs. It's a method he found after much trial and error. Early on, he tried molding shoe platforms with resin before settling on 3D printing. 'Modular' is a word Racine consistently uses when describing his work. The designs are meant to be multifaceted, to allow both Racine and buyers to be able to redesign it by removing or moving a part of the product. Similarly, many of his designs incorporate components from previous pieces, allowing him to rework his past creations into new collections. 

"Nothing is ever really from scratch," he says. "I make a variation and then it evolves into becoming something very different. I'm always building from the previous collection."

A futuristic wristguard in black, white and chrome.
A piece from the Funnybones collection by Montreal designer Emile Racine. (Boris Halas)

Even though the process reuses previous molds and components, his inspiration constantly changes. While started out being inspired by the rave scene, he now draws inspiration from sports, particularly speed skating. 

That inspiration comes from Racine's other job: designing skates for Olympians at Montreal's Apex Racing Skates. The designer himself began ice skating at the age of 9 and has loved it ever since. Living close to the Apex warehouse, he began to build a relationship with the company that eventually led him to a part-time job at the space. 

"I started working with them in September doing research and the fabrication of custom boots," he says. 

His connection to skating, and sports, can be seen in his October 2023 collection, Funnybones. The collection brought the brand back to its roots, focusing less on clothing and more on footwear and accessories. Each design is named after a part of the human body, from the Cervical Choker to the Patella Protector.

Dorian Electra wears futuristic, vaguely athletic-pad inspired clothes in black and white with red and green trim.
Hyperpop artist Dorian Electra wearing designs from Montreal designer Emile Racine. (Boris Halas)

"It starts from a simple assembly system, which I'll then use to make different variations [for] different parts of the body," he says. "I try to make one design and have it be integrated in multiple different accessories."

For his latest collection — called Do Not Touch — the designer plans to "close the loop," by creating a re-imagining of his core designs, from the spikes to the molded pieces. The collection comes out this month. Racine still plans to keep to his signature style but this time, he will use a more grungy, rusty look.

He also plans to collaborate with Apex, integrating a skate collection inspired by the structure of the Olympic skate. On top of that, he plans to delve into pendant designs and vases that have the iconic Racine spikes. But he's also quick to acknowledge that all his plans are subject to change.

"It's whatever happens," he says."I have a lot of choice with artists I want to work with, so it's nice to have this freedom."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rhea Singh is a Toronto-based arts and culture writer and lifelong Natasha Lyonne fan. She has bylines in Hoser, Xtra, Liminul and Chatelaine.

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