Interview – Pretend Play

Pretend Play by Rosalie Lemay, multidisciplinary artist.


How did Cougar come about and how would you describe it in a few words?

It all started when I was younger, in the early 2000s.  I was a teenager with an appetite to be different. I quickly learned to express myself through clothes. Music, movies and nightlife pushed me to distinguish myself aesthetically. I understood very quickly that I was going to stand out from the crowd. We didn’t have a lot of money at home, so designer pieces weren’t really an option for me. I started thrift shopping at a very young age, around the age of 14. That’s when my creativity really took off. Finding cheap stuff and styling it my own way was really a thrill, a challenge I loved to take on. With time, I learned by myself different techniques of sewing, pattern making, textile painting, etc.

I started wearing my own creations in bars and clubs in Montreal. My element was really nightlife, especially the after-hours that reigned over the city at that time. The “crowd”, my friends and clients were always asking me where my clothes came from, if I could make pieces for them. This inspired me and so I started to make clothes for others, unique pieces and personalized orders. In 2014, for my 30th birthday, I sent a wish into the universe: I wanted to be part of the fashion world.

I finally knew what I wanted to do outside of clubs and bars. One month later, my wish was granted. I opened my Coolkoala boutique on the third floor of the Citystyles store on St. Catherine Street West. I really started by the end lol!  After eight months, I decided to close the doors and concentrate on selling online. I quickly peaked in Montreal and my desire to go international took me immediately. I then began to focus on my brand more than on my boutique, where I sold vintage and various designers, in addition to my own creations. It was time to put myself in the forefront.

From there was born Coolkoala, since renamed Pretend Play, a brand with a punk, anarchist aesthetic, definitely different and entertaining. Organized chaos!

Tell me about your creative process? 

I grew up in vintage, so I really create from what I find. I am not able to create from a white canvas. It’s easier for me with materials that have already had experience, history, stories to tell. The recycling side comes from my empathy, whether it is for other humans, animals or the planet. I really “feel” energies a lot and my creative process depends (a little too much maybe) on my emotions. My creations are really timeless; I don’t design collections for seasons or occasions. I really go with what I find as materials, with the feeling. If I feel like doing Halloween during the summer, then I do it. It’s also a big part of me, rather anarchist, to do things purely against laws or “ways of doing things”.  I really have to do the opposite of the “right” thing all the time, it’s stronger than me ; maybe that’s why all my processes, creative or not, start at the end ! I always want to take the harder path, the path alone, upside down.

What are your influences at the moment?

COVID-19, the voice of the oppressed and a fast-forward summer.

What is the signature piece of the brand?

I would say my Oni backpack or my caps!

How would you describe the Pretend Play woman & man?

Pretend Play is non-binary and open to all. The people who most identify with it are definitely people who often feel marginalized by society, who feel forgotten or overlooked.

What is your best memory related to fashion?

My mother in her stilt walker dresses and old circus clown costumes.

As a brand, how do you tackle the challenges of COVID?

I’m still trying to overcome the obstacles, so we’ll talk again after the second or third wave (laughs).

On a different note… which book is your bedside table at the moment?

“The Anarchist Cookbook” by William Powell, the manga series “Death Note” by Tsugumi Ōba and an illustration book “Tom of Finland” by Touko Valio Laaksonen.

Which song are you listening to over and over?

I listen to far too many of them to name just one… To simplify my answer, I will list the albums I have listened to in the last week: “Dieux du Québec” (DDQ) by Les Anticipateurs, “13th Floor” by Haviah Mighty and “Chromatica” by Lady Gaga.

Which televison series have you been binge watching? 

X-Files !

Your current favourite food recipe?

If I could order vegan burgers from Mimi & Jones every day!

And a movie that inspires you?

To summarize myself as a person and understand my art: “Akira” directed by Katsuhiro Ōtomo, “Showgirls” directed by Paul Verhoeven and “Tank Girl” directed by Rachel Talalay.

Andrew McNally

When asked what it is that I do for work, I like to joke that I am a fashion hybrid. I am lucky enough to work in various ways within this industry which I am passionate about. I am a fashion columnist at Journal de Montreal for which I write for different columns, including Mode de stars (Fashion of the Stars) and Dans la garde-robe de… (A Glimpse In His.Her Closet…). I also do image consulting for several performers and actors in the Quebec entertainment industry. In addition, I work behind the scenes as an Artistic Director at many fashion events and fashion shows. The rest of my time is spent teaching fashion at LaSalle College.