“More is more,’’ says Castle Ho, a Montreal girl boss who is building a fashion empire on the Main.
She’s talking about her thoroughly girly retail philosophy, which has indeed translated into more of everything.
The entrepreneur just opened her fifth boutique – La Petite Garçonne Chapitre 2, which is her fourth outpost on St. Laurent Blvd., a few doors from Boutique 1861. That follows her foray into young women’s fashion on Ste. Catherine St. W. in 2008 with Razberry (since closed) and Boutique 1861 (still there).
Now, the business has 100 employees, including 30 or 40 working in the booming online division, up from just three when it launched three years ago.
The stores are charming, all ruffles and tulle and lace for the Marie Antoinette-inspired Boutique 1861 stores, and even more froth for Boudoir 1861, a bridal boutique. At the La Petite Garçonne stores, cute-as-buttons everyday attire is stocked.
The stores are decorated in shabby chic splendour: a chandelier here, Victorian settee there, and peeling ornate mirrors everywhere. Meanwhile, the warehouses and offices adjacent and upstairs are vintage heaven, with peeling painted brick walls, gilt frames, fringed lampshades and a priceless view of the Main from the arched windows of the classic structure between Prince Arthur and Pine.
When she launched the business, the fashion design graduate said, the trend was toward casual dressing. “We’re trying to bring back glam. We want to encourage our clients to have fun and dress up.”
And while there certainly is a place for casual wear – jeans, more masculine styles, Chanel inspirations – she didn’t want those items detracting from the frill of her original boutiques. Thus, she opened Petite Garçonne, which quickly had to expand to a second floor. Not that there’s anything really masculine about those stores, stocked with baubles and pottery, candles and plenty of pink accessories.
The core customer, Ho says, is 17 to 35, and items are mostly affordably priced – say $50 to $150 for a dress. But bridal and special event dresses can run up to $600. I spotted a blazer for $70 – and a Mackage coat for $590.
Ho and her fiancé partner intend to keep the business small and manageable. They have rejected offers for franchises and don’t intend to open in other cities.
“For the moment, we want to stay exclusive” to Montreal, Ho said. “We want to be unique, one of a kind.”
Boutique 1861 is located at 3670 St. Laurent Blvd., with La Petite Garçonne. Chapitre 2, and Boudoir 1861 nearby on St. Laurent. The original 1861 is 1861 Ste. Catherine St. W.