A Man of Many Talents
One doesn’t usually associate high design with rural Saskatchewan, but Jean-Claude LeBlanc has never been one to fall into stereotypes. Having moved to Vancouver in the 90’s, the serial entrepreneur has tackled everything from real estate development to launching his own clothing label Blanc & Noir. His latest venture is the design studio JCL, which focuses on high concept homewares. We recently caught up with Jean-Claude to discuss this latest endeavor, and his previous projects that have led him here.
Roden Gray: Could you tell us a bit about your background?
Jean-Claude: I grew up in Saskatchewan. I'm mostly self taught with a post-secondary stint in pattern making, sewing, Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator, Autocad, and various business courses. I've been making clothing, crafting and restoring furniture, and building houses for a long time.
RG: What prompted you to move to Vancouver?
JC: A close friend had just moved to Vancouver from Whistler and got a job working in construction. He needed a roommate and said if I moved down that he could get me a job with his company. I had visited a few times and loved the ocean and mountains. The winter weather in Saskatchewan is no joke either, so that definitely influenced my decision.
RG: We're obviously biased towards Gastown here at RG, what neighbourhood in Vancouver are you most attracted to?
JC: I enjoy them all. On any given day I'm jogging in Stanley Park, shopping in Gastown, or meeting with colleagues in Railtown. I also spend a lot of time in East Vancouver. My marble studio, millworkers, and metal smiths are all there and it's in great proximity to downtown.
RG: What got you started in design?
JC: I've always liked liked fashion and architecture. I used to read Wallpaper* and Arena magazine back in Saskatchewan, but I had never seen any desinger clothes or nice furniture in-person. I had heard about this store in Calgary called Fritz Lang (owned by Campbell McDougall from Darklands Berlin) that were selling Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten. I drove up there with a friend one weekend and was blown away. The store was concrete, the hangers had their logos sandblasted into the wood, and the space smelled like the best fragrance ever. I tried on the clothes for hours, everything fit perfectly. That was my first experience with fashion and architecture and I was immediately hooked.
RG: What you draw on for inspiration?
JC: I think a lot about my upbringing in rural Saskatchewan. While I was growing up there I was taught to build things with my hands, and I developed a love for natural materials since that's all there was around. I'm also very inspired by Japanese and Parisian culture. Having visited both places many times, I'm consistently intrigued by the style, craftsmanship and history.
RG: You recently designed a Enzo Mari "Sedia 1" chair for the Presentation House Gallery auction. What prompted you to use the famed perfecto jacket as a starting point?
JC: I like taking inspiration from other disciplines and apply them in a different context with the hope of coming up with something interesting — that looks good of course.
RG: Could you talk a bit about the process of designing your home with Peter Cardew?
JC: I was referred to Peter from Nancy Bendsten at Inform Interiors. I had spoken to a few firms but when this old British man drove up in a Volkswagen and had just come from his morning ritual open water swim, I knew he was the man for the job. Originally planned as a small renovation, the scope of the project grew as I learned more about Peter's work and philosophy. We sent nine months on the design, and everyday of which I either spoke to him or the project architect David Scott on the phone, or visited his office. Construction took another fourteen months after that, and every day I was on-site in the early morning to review the work for the day with John Mason, the contractor. I loved every moment of the experience and learned so much, not only from Peter and his office but also from John who is a master builder and formally trained architect.
RG: Yes, you can definitely see an architectural focus in your work, especially with your latest project. What is it about the Rem Koolhaus Casa De Musica building that prompted you to design a vase informed by it?
JC: I simply wanted a marble vase to put a succulent in on my bedside table and I really like the shape of that building.
RG: Other than Rem Koolhaus and Peter Cardew, who are some other architects that interest you?
RG: What other products are you developing for JCL?
JC: I'm slip casting the Core Vase's shape and doing them in a terra cotta, black stone, and porcelain, We're also doing a floor base candlestick made out of brass that's in development.
RG: What are the similarities or differences you've found between designing fashion and furniture?
JC: To me it's the same. I've been making things my whole life. Growing up in rural Saskatchewan you just made things — if you needed a garden shed you just made one.
RG:You used to DJ back in the day. How did you get into it and what kind of music were you into?
JC: Yeah, I was huge into DJing, that was a while ago. I started out playing house music in 96’. From there I got into break beats, and then into original breaks — you know like all these original funk beats and such. From there, I got into hip-hop because of all the samples. You know, I just started with house and broke it down backwards into hip-hop. My good friend Mat the Alien taught me how to scratch and he inspired me to dig more. Now my taste is everywhere because of that. Had I never gotten into the DJ culture, I don't even know what I would be listening to now. When I was younger it was a lot of Suicidal Tendencies and Beastie boys
RG: As a serial entrepreneur, and having done everything from real estate to fashion design, out of all of your endeavours which one are you most proud of?
JC: My next project!