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The Wonderful World of Ethné Grimes-de Vienne

A glimpse into the life of Montreal’s ‘it girl’ during the 80s and 90s.

A glimpse into the life of Montreal’s ‘it girl’ during the 80s and 90s.

NameEthné Grimes-de VienneBirthFebruary 21, 1956BirthplacePort of Spain, TrinidadEthnic OriginTrinidadianOccupationsModel, Spice Merchant, AuthorWebsitespicetrekkers.comShare
English version
Fact checked by Charmaine Gooden
Proofread and copy edited by Carol Martin

Born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, Ethné Grimes-de Vienne grew up surrounded by the ever changing worlds of fashion. She remembers friends of her mother – a civil servant and fashion hobbyist – traipsing through the house, coming in for fittings, dropping off fabrics, or casually flipping through fashion magazines, determining their desired looks.

Early Life and Career

Ethné feels fortunate to have a mother like Lorna, as well as the upbringing that she provided, as both proved fundamental to her life, her style and her lifelong appreciation of fashion.

Beyond sewing outfits featured magazines from the patterns she made herself, Lorna would modify the styles in an effort to compliment the individual; by moving a bow here or dropping the waistline there. “She was adamant about the precision of the fit, as well as about the neatness and efficacy of the finish, but more importantly, she was uncompromising when it came to fashioning things that suited the wearer” says Ethné. 

This understanding and mindfulness of clothing and style eventually translated to her job on the runway. “If I was trying to hide the bad cut of a coat, I would put my hand in the pocket of the pant underneath, for example, because that would potentially hide the flaws of how the ugly, badly made coat would fall,” she explains.

“But, on the other hand, don’t expect me to turn left or right automatically, or to even pivot at all – despite the implicit chorography of any show – especially if it would impact precisely what I’m trying to camouflage about the coat!” jokes Ethné.

After graduating from college, Ethné found herself at a crossroad, she spontaneously enrolled in a modelling course which eventually led to the career that had been pitched to her since adolescence.

However, before the course was over, Ethné’s 18-year modelling career officially kicked off.  Her first appearance on a runway was for the newly established Fashion Designers Association in Québec in 1978.

Her status in the industry was further anchored when legendary fashion editor, Iona Monahan chose to regularly feature her in the pages of the Montreal Gazette.

Photographer: Boudewijn Notenboom

Breaking Barriers

Ethné’s unique approach to her modelling career was that of an interpreter of sorts. A link of sorts between designers, stylists, show runners and the public.

Her style differed from that of her colleagues, and at the time “was not one that was accessed by most young women of any race.”

The idea that “you [could] be the interpreter of someone else’s dream or even your own, for that matter, could potentially [give] women and especially young women of color, a hell of a lot of power – maybe even too much power.”

Ethné always worked to simply “sell the damn clothes” and her style and walk were applauded by designers and the public alike.

Her status in the industry was further anchored when legendary fashion editor, Iona Monahan – recipient of two Order of Canada honours – regularly featured her in the pages of the Montreal Gazette, then considered one of the bastions of local and international fashion reporting.

“Of course, I knew that I was treated differently, maybe because I was taller, or skinnier, blacker, or maybe even because I didn’t have much hair!” says Ethné.

“In fact, I applaud being treated differently, after all, each and every one of us is a unique, singular individual,” she adds. “There should, however clearly be an important and implicit distinction between being treated differently and being treated equally!”



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Photographer: John Mahoney

Influence and Legacy

In spite of the many challenges that modelling oftentimes presented, Ethné remained focused.

“It was a wonderful profession that provided me with many advantages and a great deal of independence. It also afforded me a wonderful lifestyle that enabled me to enjoy a fulfilling life, embark on other business adventures, travel extensively and meet amazing, talented people, from all over the world; what’s not to love?”

Ethné eventually moved on from her career in fashion to owning and operating Épices de Cru, a spice company she founded with her husband Philippe de Vienne. She has co-authored five books on spices and spice hunting and is a Taste Canada laureate.

When contacted for this interview, she was relaxing at home with a glass of wine, dressed in a royal blue Salwar or traditional drop crotch slacks, from Urfa,Turkey, paired with a hand dyed, block print indigo top she bought in Shanghai.

It’s obvious that fashion’s role in Ethné’s life continues to be as relevant today as it has always been.

I applaud being treated differently, after all, each and every one of us is a unique individual. There is however a clear, implicit and important distinction between being treated differently and being treated as an equal!

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