MONTREAL — It seems only natural that New York-based French designer Catherine Malandrino would choose Montreal as the site of her first Canadian flagship in the heart of the Golden Square Mile on Sherbrooke Street West, so named for Canada’s business elite who lived there between the 1850s and 1930s.
The two-story graystone where she has set up shop once housed Zilli, the French luxury men’s wear brand that occupied the site for a short time. But Malandrino expects to be around for a long time.
“I find Montreal a natural link between Europe and New York, and there are a lot of people from Montreal who shop at my stores in New York,” she said, explaining her decision to choose Montreal over the more affluent and larger Toronto for her 2,500-square-foot store.
Malandrino founded her brand in 1998, and it was acquired by Bluestar Alliance last August. There are three stores in the U.S. and a handful in the Middle East. Her financial backer in Montreal is Joe Hiess, president of CM Collections Inc., a licensee that owns and operates Malandrino boutiques. A Montreal native, Hiess brought Ralph Lauren and Yves Saint Laurent to this city decades ago, before leaving for New York — he returns home on weekends.
“My role is to build a distribution base, and we plan to add another store here before opening in Toronto,” said Hiess, who described the store as “theater retailing” with an emphasis on quality, not quantity. “We don’t want to overwhelm customers with too many choices. Instead, we want to show them variety.”
The first floor is an open concept similar to a New York art gallery, explained Malandrino, long and narrow with a Parisian look of round sofas and yellow glass.
“It’s very spacious with white walls and high ceilings,” she said. “The second floor will house a showroom for wholesale clients.”
The boutique, which opened Tuesday, carries 60 different styles, including items similar to those in her New York stores, but made for colder weather and at the same prices, said the designer. Silk jumpsuits start at $395, and a leather dress inset with tulle is priced at $495.
At the high end, there’s her Black Label line of tie-front gowns for $990 in an array of colors, including fuchsia, olive green and black. For the more daring shopper, there is a soft leather rocker biker jacket for $1,500. The store also carries shoes and accessories. The company did not offer a sales projection for the store.