There are all kinds of shoppers and if retail therapy is high on your things-to-do list in Montreal, this quick-and-easy women’s fashion primer will you guide in the right direction…
Label Lovers: Go straight to Holt Renfrew whose VP of Fashion Direction, Barbara Atkin, scours the world’s best runways to bring you the best of the best: Alexander Wang, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Armani et al. You can also experience little capsules of heaven in their shop-in-shop boutiques by Prada and Gucci. Then I suggest heading to La Maison Ogilvy. The old school-style department store carries more chichi labels like Burberry, Aquascutum and Gerard Darel. There is also a candy-store corner for Michael Kors accessories, and an entire wing devoted to Louis Vuitton. You can get a preview of their spring and summer 2012 collections here. Both Holt’s and Ogilvy’s, I should mention, have A+ beauty counters: Chanel, M.A.C, Bobbi Brown – *sigh* – and the list goes on.
There are also smaller multi-brand boutiques to peruse all over the city; there are the very intimate Les Createurs, Henriette L., Reborn, (all very edgy – think JPG, Wanatabe, Owens and Demeulemeester) and the larger boutiques such as Ssense, TNT and Stylexchange. If this is your beat, I’d also stop by Quai 417 where you’ll find cutting-edge collections you probably won’t see anywhere else, including Montréal’s next big thing UNTTLD.
Local Designers: More on Montréal’s hotbed of homegrown fashion: Some important names to know are Philippe Dubuc and Barilà who both sell their contemporary fashions at Québec department store La Maison Simons (go to the second floor), which is centrally located on Sainte-Catherine Street West, a bustling thoroughfare downtown. Other big, cutting-edge designers have their own addresses: I’m partial to Marie Saint Pierre, Helmer and Denis Gagnon (who also sells a few looks by up-and-comer Anastasia Lomonova, who does fantastical RTW evening gowns, and out-of-this-world crocheted pieces by LYN). My gal pal Renata Morales, who creates wonders for a little Montréal band called Arcade Fire, has an atelier not too far from Gagnon, but it’s appointment only.
Designer Iris Setlakwe also opened an eponymous store on Laurier Avenue, a great spot for more mature, lady looks. Somewhat of a Québec icon, Harricana sells recycled fur pieces: her aviator hats are everywhere in winter. In her massive shop, which also includes a public workshop, you’ll also find lovely looks from Melissa Nepton and Valérie Dumaine.
More accessible and for the younger fashion-maven is Bodybag, a boutique which is a little uptown (I’m mean in location), but you’ll be able to hit the vintage shops while you’re there (keep reading). There are also a few must-see spots that favour our own: Les Étoffes, Unicorn (look for one of my fave local labels Travis Taddeo), Un île en Amérique and Delano. For a closer look at Montréal fashion, be sure to visit Mode Montréal, a devoted website.
Vintage Finds: Speaking of second hand, used clothing pretty much defines the esthetic of Montréal’s hipster scene. The Plateau and Mile End working class ‘hoods are loaded with yesterday’s goods just waiting for you to breath your sartorial savvy into a stylish afterlife- here’s a great map of vintage hotspots. If you’re hardcore, get thee to Little Shoppe in Parc Ex, E.R.A. Vintage in Little Burgundy or Sharyn Scott in Westmount (where the rich ladies are known to dump their runway frocks).
Shopping Areas: If you’re looking for more of a traditional retail experience, Montréal is home to the Underground City, which is more precisely a universe, all of it conveniently subterranean and accessible by metro (read: good for a subzero, rainy or humid day). Most of the shops here our American friends will recognize from their home turfs, but the ambience is decidedly Montreal with many chains being based right here: Jacob, Bedo, Aldo, La Vie en Rose, Dynamite and Garage.
There are also some choice outdoor nooks on Greene Avenue, Crescent Street (above de Maisonneuve), Saint-Laurent (between Sherbrooke and Prince Arthur in the nightclubby zone), Laurier West, Saint-Paul and super deals in Chabanel where manufacturers open up their warehouses on weekends.
If it’s a nice day, I suggest taking a stroll along French-speaking Saint-Denis for its quaint boutiques in brownstone buildings or on Sainte-Catherine, as mentioned above, which is the closest thing we have to NYC’s Times Square. Not that I think it strives to be that grand, but I say so to give you an idea of the big, in-your-face consumerism. Here you’ll find the global giants: Apple, Adidas, The Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Lululemon, Guess and, coming this summer, Sephora and Armani Exchange. My go-to spot for shoes (after Aldo and Locale) is here, Browns. Need more info on accessories? First, check out this post on Charlotte Hosten. Second, check out my blurb on Hot Spots for Jewellery.
Fashion Events: Twice a year deal-hunters roll up their sleeves to brave La Braderie where big and small designers sell last year’s stuff or dead stock at extremely low prices. Should you be keen on attending Montréal Fashion Week (we call it Semaine de la mode), you’ll be happy to know that some of the shows are open to the public. Go here to get more info.
Similarly, at the end of August, the Festival Mode & Design Montréal is open to all and showcased smack dab in the middle of the city on McGill Avenue. It’s a stationary parade of local designers, retailer previews (what you see on the runway is in the stores) and – not for the weak at heart – discount shopping relays. Check it out. Bargain shopping enthusiasts will also want to check out this great list of sweet deals!