An array of brands from Montreal are making waves in international fashion, and the UK is top of their destination wish list. Drapers took a trip to the French Canadian city to meet six brands from across the city’s fashion spectrum.
The luxe leather trendsetter: Lamarque
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The Chabanel area of Montreal, renowned as the city’s garment district, is home to the offices of women’s leather brand Lamarque. Founded in 2012 by a third generation of Quebecois leather tanners, the brand takes a contemporary approach to feminine designs, underpinned by a focus on heritage and material quality.
The brand’s signature style has been shaped by its creative director, Montreal Native Ifigenia Papadimitrio. At the brand’s bright, open-plan offices in Chabanel, she describes the Lamarque customer as “an elegant, sophisticated, well-travelled career woman who wants to keep up with the trends”.
Core styles include Donna, a classic cropped biker jacket and Kiyoshi – a more rock ’n’ roll, distressed jacket. Others include sleeve-detail jackets and waterfall collars in an array of seasonal tones, from cobalt to blush.
For spring 19, key items include cropped biker jackets in lilac and bubblegum pink, a coated suede blouson in a soft rose tone and floral-embroidered biker jackets.
Half of the collection comprises jackets. Other styles, including a range of innovative stretch leather trousers and pencil skirts, are designed to complement and enhance the outerwear offer.
Papadimitriou notes that the variety of the collection is integral to creating a loyal customer base: “Typically, our customers will come to us to buy a classic style [such as the Donna biker]. When they enjoy that piece, they come back for something with a bit more novelty – a leather jacket to suit every occasion, for example.”
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Each style in the range is buttery soft, and has precise finishes, such as embossed studs and pocket detailing. Prices are at the premium end: leather jackets wholesale in Canada at between C$250 and C$295.50 (£145.70 and £172).
Leather is sourced from tanneries in India, where garments are also manufactured, and Lamarque works closely with its suppliers to ensure quality standards. Papadimitriou calls it a “family” relationship, and notes that the brand relies on the close relationship it cultivates with its suppliers.
In response to demand from younger customers, Lamarque has also launched a playful sister line called Piper & Jane, which is slightly more experimental in style and lower in price – jackets retail between C$115 and C$175 (£67 and £102).
The brand has one flagship store in Montreal and is currently stocked in around 350 location in the US and Canada, including Saks Fifth Avenue and Revolve. Around 90% of its business is from wholesale, and the rest comes via its ecommerce site and store. Although it is currently only available in North America, the brand is eyeing European expansion, and Italy and the UK are at the top of the list for future growth.
The denim disruptor: Naked & Famous
Naked & Famous is a denim “anti-brand”. Founded in 2008 by Brandon Svarc, it is run from an unassuming office above his father’s workwear garment-manufacturing business and pitches itself as a counterculture alternative to mass market fashion and denim brands.
Svarc describes his business as a “straightforward concept, but very different from the industry at large”. It is anti-celebrity, anti-marketing and anti-trend, and was founded as a reaction against LA denim brands, which often rely on multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns.
Naked & Famous does not advertise, or give freebies to influencers or celebrities, and instead invests in product, an approach that has won it a legion of followers devoted to its denim.
All garments are assembled in two factories in Canada – one is on the top floor of the head office building and the second, in a small town called Stornoway, two hours away.
Naked & Famous uses raw, untreated selvedge denim from Japan, and Svarc is evangelical about the quality of their materials. The team focuses on quality and detail with the aim of appealing to “denim-head” aficionados and regular consumers alike.
“If you cut me, I’d bleed blue,” jokes Svarc. Even the newly installed floor tiles in the head office are made from Japanese denim.
The brand creates both men’s and women’s styles, but men’s accounts for 85% of sales. Wholesale prices range from US$60 to US$70 (£45 to £53.20), and the brand currently has around 200 stockists worldwide, including UK menswear independent Stuarts London.
In November, it is set to venture into retail, opening its first own store in New York. Svarc notes that the decision was based partly on the struggling department store business in the US. He is also keen to ensure the brand can showcase its full ethos in an environment where he has control.
Despite its international reach and reputation, everything about the business is still closely controlled by Svarc and his team of 25 in the head office: “We’re a big, little brand,” he grins.
The luxe swim pioneer: Shan
Founded in 1985 by Chantal Levesque, luxury swim and resortwear brand Shan began life catering to Quebec locals heading for warmer climes, in a city where the temperatures can dip well below -30°C.
It has a total of 600 points of sale in 32 countries globally, including eight own stores in North America. Its only UK stockists is luxury department store Harrods, which has stocked it for the past 20 years.
Around half of Shan’s business is international – Russia is a key market – and half comes from North America. Currently 60% of sales are wholesale, and the remaining 40% comes from own stores and online.
Shan prides itself on creating “couture” swimwear, and wholesale prices range from around US$100 (£76) for smaller separates such as triangle bikini tops to US$300 (£228.70) for a printed silk kaftan.
Items use innovative Italian fabrics, and are hand-crafted and -finished. They are designed to be both comfortable and practical. For example, silk is treated with a wash to ensure it is crease resistant and washable, and styles are designed to provide hidden support and structure.
“I want to be sure our customers can easily wear all our clothes,” explains Levesque. “I want to provide the solution to all the customers’ problems.”
To maintain standards, the business has a unique set-up. Jean-Francois Sigouin, vice-president, explains that the business is 100% Quebecois, and every aspect is located under the same roof. The head office in Laval, just outside Montreal, houses every single aspect of the business. Shan has owned the building since 2008, and in addition to design, marketing and administration functions, the ground floor of the building also houses the brand’s factory and warehouse. The entire manufacturing process, from pattern cutting to finishing takes place in house.
“As long as I am involved in the company, manufacturing will always be here,” says Levesque. “It allows us to ensure the factory respects the women who work there, providing them with a good job, with good conditions and a good salary. I am very proud to manufacture in Quebec.”
Most of Shan’s sales come from womenswear, and roughly 25% of store sales are menswear. Shan’s current focus is on growing its women’s ready-to-wear, resort collection, which currently makes up half of the range, with a series of super-casual, luxurious beach separates. For spring 19, highlights include printed kimonos, loose black shift dresses and lace co-ords.
The power woman’s wardrobe: Judith & Charles
Chic, smart, feminine tailoring is the signature of Quebecois womenswear brand Judith & Charles, which has carved itself a niche as the go-to brand for elegant clothing with a fashionable twist.
“Our main goal is to provide working women with beautiful tailoring and a slight menswear vibe,” explains co-owner and creative director Judith Richardson. “We use the best possible fabrics, and comfort is key.”
Headed up by French-born Charles Le Pierrés and Canadian native Richardson, the duo’s journey to began with a chance meeting in the Dominican Republic. The encounter led to the pair signing up to run the North American licence for French clothing company Teenflo, which was known for its womenswear tailoring.
Over the course of 10 years, they developed the brand for the Canadian market, slowly taking more and more control over design, eventually separating from Teenflo – which has since shut up shop completely – and rebranding to Judith & Charles nine years ago.
Today, Judith & Charles provides a premium offer. Key items for spring 19 include a matt satin utility jumpsuit, cotton-base plaid overcoat, a soft, cobalt blue trouser suit and a reworking of a tuxedo dress, which became an overnight sensation for the brand when it was worn by Meghan Markle to an official event in August.
“We’ve never seen anything like it. She wore it at 1pm, and by 2pm the website had gone nuts,” says Le Pierrés. “We have recut the dress three times since then.”
Retail prices range from C$325 (£189.50) for trousers to C$2,000 (£1,165.90) for a leather coat, and dresses are around C$450 (£262) – C$600 (£349.80). Wholesale prices vary depending on the region, but, for the Canadian market, it works on a 52% mark-up.
The brand has 11 stores in Canada, which also stock third-party brands such as 3X1 denim, Jane Carr scarves and Claire V, and also trades from its ecommerce site, which is recording double digit growth season on season. It also has around 100 wholesale accounts in the US, Canada and Australia – including US retailer Nordstrom – and is focusing on growing this aspect of the business internationally.
The new outerwear player: Søsken
Canada is known for its big brands in the outerwear market – Canada Goose, Nobis and Moose Knuckles are some of the country’s best-known fashion exports. Womenswear brand Søsken’s approach to the category is to provide an outerwear collection that is practical, but also has a fashionable and stylish aesthetic.
The brand is a division of outerwear group AJG Apparel, which runs several private-label brands and is headed up by president Brahm Rosenberg.
Søsken was founded in 2015 under the creative direction of well-known Canadian designer Marisa Minicucci, whose career spans almost 30 years, including an eponymous brand in the 1990s.
Instead of being a “coat brand”, Minicucci and Rosenberg instead say that the brand creates “outfit completers”.
“Basic dresses and jumpers will always be available - what completes the outfit is the important thing,” says Rosenberg. “Outerwear is what gives the first impression.”
Søsken takes inspiration from Scandinavian style, but its outerwear focus gives it a Canadian twist. The collection comprises layering separates, from draped duster coats, to puffa jackets, raincoats, blazers and trench coats.
Minicucci describes the brand’s DNA as focusing on a multitude of fabrics and silhouettes through the collection – “so a woman can find many things within the collection for any season”.
It is stocked in around 300 doors in the US and Canada, including at Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, and also sells via its own transactional website.
Products retail from US$395 (£300) for a lighter jacket to US$995 (£756) for a heavier, puffa style. The brand’s “sweet spot” comes between US$495 and US$695 (£376 and £559), and it typically works on a 60% mark-up.
It has recently signed with M&L Harris Agencies as a UK distributor.
The creator of opulent occasionwear: Di Carlo Couture
Two days before the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – in May, Antoinette Di Carlo, founder of Di Carlo couture, launched her debut ready-to-wear collection on her ecommerce site.
As the world watched, Markle’s friend, stylist Jessica Mulroney – whose twin sons were pageboys bride – exited a car at the steps of St George’s chapel, dressed in custom Di Carlo couture. The new website was ready and waiting to satisfy the interest of a vast new wave of royally inclined shoppers – and a close replica of Mulroney’s dress was available on the site from the instant she appeared in front of the cameras.
Di Carlo couture was founded in the Little Italy district of Montreal in 2010, and has previously focused mainly on couture evening and bridal gowns, which are made in house by the brand’s design team. Di Carlo describes her work as “feminine, intricate and detail oriented”, and core styles are adorned with intricate beading and detailing.
Ready-to-wear has always been part of Di Carlo’s plans, and the new, small collection of separates and dresses is designed to be an everyday interpretation of Di Carlo’s signature aesthetic. Tapered trousers and a fit-and-flare skirt are highlights, along with a slinky halter top, and the “Jessica” dress is a particular hit.
The range launched with an international ecommerce site and does not currently wholesale, although she plans to in the future. Styles retail for between C$195 (£113.70) for a silk camisole to C$795 (£463.50) for a dress. To meet demand, Di Carlo outsourced production, but the line is still created in Quebec.
Although the ready-to-wear launch is still fresh, Di Carlo has grand plans for the expansion of the business, and is considering working with agents in the UK to grow both the bridal and ready-to-wear lines.