TORONTO — After spending 14 years refining its upscale fast-fashion business, Montreal’s Maska Mode is venturing into the volatile U.S. market in 2015.
The privately owned, family-run retailer — which currently operates 25 stores across Canada — will make its first foray into the U.S. via Boston, New York and Chicago. Launches are expected as early as the first half of 2015 and will roll out as the company continues its expansion into Western Canada, where Maska Mode opened its first boutiques in Vancouver and Calgary in November 2014.
“We have yet to determine how many stores we will launch in the U.S. or when, precisely. But this company is incredibly agile,” co-owner Rebecca Cohen said. “Our strategy, as always, is to open fewer locations in great cities and do that in upscale little neighborhoods. That approach has served us very well in Canada.”
The company’s edge in the Canadian market is its ability to deliver high-end, Italian-made brands such as Rinascimento, Gil Santucci, Imperial Fashion and Space on a three-week turnaround throughout the year. It hopes that this fusion of speed, substantive fashion quality and North American exclusivity will appeal to U.S. consumers as well.
“Canada isn’t the U.S. But people looking for the latest fashion trends are everywhere,” said Cohen’s mother, Liliane Cohen, Maska Mode’s founder and co-owner.
“This company isn’t Zara, which does fast fashion in a very commercial way,” the 55-year-old retailer explained. “What we do is bring elegant, sexy brands to women who know fashion. They could be 20 years old or 60. But they know what quality is and they want it quickly. That’s what we built this business on and we will remain true to that philosophy in the U.S. market.”
Prior to launching Maska Mode in 2001, Liliane Cohen operated another boutique in Montreal but had become frustrated with the way her distributors failed to service the needs of her customers. “After three or four seasons I called it quits with our distributors,” she said. “At the time I remember opening up fashion magazines and seeing all the latest looks and colors of the season. But I wasn’t receiving that from my suppliers. That’s when I started traveling to Italy to find brands that supported my idea of high-end fast fashion.”
Liliane Cohen began to import upscale Italian fashions that fit most body types and wallets. For example, price points for dresses currently range between $189 and $550. She also focused on importing many styles but in limited sizes. “Our customers know that when they buy something with us they will never see it on another woman when they attend an important dinner or other special event. This trust is what we now hope to gain from U.S. consumers,” she said.
Maska Mode currently operates five freestanding Rinascimento boutiques in Quebec under its corporate umbrella, as well as four Imperial Fashion locations in that province and two Rinascimento stores in Toronto.
What drives the business is the Cohens’ ability to work fast fashion to their advantage. “Every three weeks my mother travels to Italy. By the time we get the merchandise into our stores we’ve only two days left before the whole process begins again,” said Rebecca Cohen. “It’s a grueling process, but you have to work fast fashion to make a success of it. That fundamental principle won’t change as we enter the tough U.S. market.”