Anne-Marie Losique’s epiphany came to her while she was watching a gaggle of adult film stars cavorting about the French Riviera. It was 1999, and Losique, then the host of a popular Quebec TV show largely based on celebrity interviews, was on location in Cannes. One day she stumbled upon Hot d’Or, the adult film award festival that bills itself the Cannes of porn. What astonished her wasn’t the flesh parade per se, but the near Cannes-level attention it garnered. “When I saw all the media from the world there, that it was at the same time as Cannes, I said, ‘Putain, there is really something to say about this,’ ” Losique recalled recently over lunch at Da Emma, the chic Italian eatery located in the same Montreal building as her offices. “That’s where the idea for Sex Shop came from.”
Sex Shop, which ran from 2001 to 2005, was thoroughly wretched, according to critics. (“Anne-Marie Losique recycles soft-core porno,” sniffed Le Devoir.) It didn’t matter: nearly 500,000 viewers—about six per cent of Quebec’s population—tuned in every Saturday night at 11:30 p.m. to watch her mélange of interviews with men and women in the adult entertainment industry and the sex trade, faux-risqué documentaries on sex toys and swinger couples and scenes from soft-focus smut movies. She continued to interview mainstream stars like Robin Williams and Penelope Cruz; she just also happened to produce a very popular sex show.
Following Sex Shop, Losique’s career shifted gears. She starred in a string of reality TV programs, Strip Club and Pole Position, among others, stumbling half-naked onto her co-stars. Then there was Bimbo, a 2006 “mockumentary” series, in which Losique directed photo shoots and parties in the suburbs of Montreal while carrying on an on-camera affair with a female cohort. Yet, as of this month, she isn’t just Quebec’s first bona fide vedette de sexe. She is also one of the few female television station owners in the country.
Vanessa TV, which launched in October, is “the first francophone chain devoted to adult entertainment,” according to the PR spiel. For $14.99 a month, Losique brings French Canadians across the country what Canada’s broadcast regulator CRTC labels a station devoted to “charm, sensuality, eroticism and sexuality.” The difference between Vanessa and, say, the Playboy channel is the content: most of Vanessa’s is made in Canada. (An English version launches next fall.)
Losique is, inevitably, front and centre in the promotion of the channel. (Yes, her lips provided the kiss that is Vanessa’s logo. Yes, that is a grainy close-up of her posterior on a billboard overlooking Montreal’s Champlain Bridge.) She is a master of self-promotion, something that has made her a target. Her book Confessions Sauvages contains 144 glossy pages of photos of Losique and a handful of nubile companions pawing one another all over the Quebec countryside; it reached No. 13 on the bestseller list. After Losique’s recent appearance on the popular talk show Tout le monde en parle to promote the book, feminist Céline Duval wrote a letter to La Presse, accusing Losique of “reducing women to sexual objects to make money.”
“I’m sure she has never read the book or watched any of my programs,” Losique said at the time. “How many girls don’t have access to education? Women’s rights are still precarious in the world, so an attack like this makes me mad. We are lucky to express ourselves anyway we want.”
Several hours later, she appeared on live prime-time TV to talk about sex, promote her book and network and deliver an eloquent, impassioned broadside to contemporary feminist thought, all while wearing rhinestone-encrusted lingerie.
Losique’s pursuit of an adult television station dates back to 2006, when she first applied to the CRTC. “There’s a niche there that hasn’t been tapped in Canada,” she says. “And it’s a market that corresponds to what I do.” Television Sex Shop Inc., the production house she set up with then-boyfriend Marc Trudeau, was seeking to air explicit content throughout the day. When the CRTC refused, Losique and Trudeau rejigged the request. They would offer eroticism by day, explicit sexuality by night, with a televised warning when the latter began. CRTC granted them a licence last year. (She and Trudeau have since broken up, but they continue to work together.)
The CanCon—more than 50 per cent of Vanessa TV’s content, far more than the 22 per cent CRTC-dictated minimum—is part of the strategy. Losique is pragmatic in her patriotism. “We want to sell the signal to France, and it won’t go anywhere if our content is all from outside of Quebec. The same goes for the States. They already have the Playboy channel, so there wouldn’t be any interest if we were just selling American content. It has to be from here.”
The issue of content ownership, too, is important. Long before Vanessa, she and Trudeau started Image Diffusion International, which produces and distributes practically everything she has done to date. Translation: Losique isn’t only on-camera talent. She is usually the producer and often the director as well. IDI has run the gamut from high- to middle- to low-brow, from 3950, a talk show on which guests discuss world events over a wine-soaked dinner, to Vie Rurale, a Québécois take on Paris Hilton’s The Simple Life, to Pole Position Québec, where Losique and a panel of judges find the best stripper in the province. “You’re not just a sexy slut,” remarked comedian Jean-François Mercier to Losique in September, by way of compliment.
“I’m not that character,” Losique said as she gobbled a prosciutto and melon appetizer. “The stupid girl who had everything done for her by her father and didn’t know how to string two words together? [But] I like the character. It’s actually protected me a fair bit.”
She is surprisingly tightlipped about herself, an odd trait for a woman who has made overexposure a going concern. A “monument to impenetrability,” as La Presse columnist Nathalie Petrowski wrote in 2000, Losique has a laundry list of questions she is inevitably asked. Chief among them: her age, her upbringing, the plastic surgery she may or may not have had. Questions about her father, Serge Losique, founder and president of the renowned Montreal World Film Festival, is probably her least favourite. “My career has nothing to do with my relationship with my father,” she says, adding the two haven’t been close for years. “It’s always the same goddamn questions, and always in that order,” Losique says. “People don’t listen.”
What little she does divulge is always undated, if only to stymie guesses as to her age. (She’s 45, according to a recent La Presse article.) The youngest of three children born to Serge and Mimi Losique, she studied at College St-Jean-de-Brébeuf in Montreal and theatre at Université Paris-Sorbonne; the latter is where she picked up her French-from-France accent, as well as her tendency to reference the likes of Renoir and the French pop art movement when speaking about her own work. She was the last person on earth to interview Marcello Mastroianni. Her mother died of cancer last year; Confessions Sauvages is dedicated to her.
Others in Quebec’s cloistered TV and film industries, she says, tend to look at her askew. “At the same time, people are really polite. No one insults me when I’m out in public. I can get drunk and dance on tables.” But the myth of the 24-hour party girl who is willing to do just about anything for kicks is in part deception. Losique has mastered the art of showing just enough of her own skin while others around her bare—and do—much more.
Still, Losique says she’s growing weary of all the exposure. Vanessa TV, she says, is going to be her ticket to retirement. “In five years, mark my words, I’m going to disappear,” she sighs. “I’m going to hang up my G-string.” She might even adopt a child next year, which if anything would forcibly limit her time spent spilling out of limousines.
In the meantime, she seems content to ruffle feathers. Appearing on Ici et là, the live talk show, Losique, in a shimmering pink teddy, explained her earlier swipe at the feminist movement. “There are women who write me to ask how I have such freedom to do what I do, because they feel judged by other women,” she said. “I can’t believe women do this to themselves, after all they suffered. It’s violence, and I think we need to react to it.” Then, when the show wrapped, she bounded down the hall, loose garter belts bouncing at her side, to have her TV makeup removed, and her going-out makeup applied.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story referred to Serge and Mimi Losique as having been divorced. This was incorrect.