Catherine Malandrino Montreal StoreMONTREAL – Catherine Malandrino may well become your new best friend — or at least the designer of your best fashion friends.

The New York-based French designer has just set up shop in a stately greystone in the heart of the Golden Square Mile, bringing a jolt of fresh fashion for Montreal, as well as inspiration and bons mots for those lost in today’s style circus.

“Today, above all, clothing has to be a woman’s best friend, her accomplice,” Malandrino said.

Why Montreal?

“It is a perfect bridge between Paris and New York — my two loves,’’ she said. “If was effortless for me to expand into a city that has already integrated both cultures.’’

Slim, chic, lovely and unwilling to reveal her age, Malandrino wore a daring lace peplum top and matching leggings to meet and greet media the day before the shop opened Tuesday. “I am revealing a lot of myself and my femininity at the same time as being covered,’’ she said.

“I like to suggest to women to dare with their femininity, to consider femininity as a strength and not as a weakness.”

It’s not that she wants to stand out, she said. It’s about being memorable at the same time as refined.

A graduate of Esmod fashion school in Paris, Malandrino worked with Ungaro, Feraud and Et Vous in Paris, before helping Diane Von Furstenberg relaunch her brand in the U.S. In 1998, she founded her own brand, which recently was acquired by Bluestar Alliance. With three stores in the U.S. and a handful in the Middle East, international expansion is on the horizon. Part of the Montreal placement is also Joe Hiess, president of CM Collections Inc., a licensee which owns and operates Malandrino boutiques. Hiess is a Montrealer who brought Ralph Lauren and Yves Saint Laurent to this city decades ago, before leaving for New York.

Tuesday night, Malandrino — in an orange silk dress — Heiss and Bluestar partners hosted a launch party for a few hundred chic Montrealers, including Nadia Saputo, Geneviève Borne, Mitsou Gélinas, Nancy Bloomfield, Bernadette Rusgal, Thierry Loriot and Ruby Brown.

The two-storey space — upstairs will be the showroom — is airy and bright, with glossy white surfaces accented with the electricfying yellow that is Malandrino’s signature. The prime location was once home to menswear store Brisson, then to ultra luxe brand Zilli and recently, to a series of pop-up shops.

Malandrino’s contemporary yellow label and higher-end black label are in store, as will be shoes and accessories. Among the finds: easy cascade tie-front gowns at $990 in colours from olive to fuchsia and black, silk jumpsuits at $395, and a leather dress inset with tulle, $495. All are light and luxurious, with knits and wools often made lighter with lace or pointelle treatment.

Even her cashermere sweaters reveal a bit of skin with lace insets.

A soft as butter leather and grommet motorcycle jacket, $1,500, is also light and easy to move. It’s got that touch of rock ’n’ roll, she notes, because “today we need to get the rhthym, the rock and roll and rhythm with a spot of being audacious.”


Asked how one can make fashion one’s friend, Malandrino responded:

First, choose clothes that will be in your wardrobe for a long time. They have to have timelessnes first in their cut and in their quality of fabric and construction.

Second, choose quality in terms of ease of style. It’s not about wearing the style of the moment, but wearing clothes that suit you for who you are in the long run.

Most of all, clothes should be effortless, she says.

“It’s not about fashion, it’s about style,’’ she says.

If you don’t know who you are?

“Then you should be a little bit daring. You know that you are a woman. Make it a strength. You don’t need a men’s jacket to be a strong woman.”

Like Von Furstenberg, Malandrino puts dresses at the centre of her collection — “because they are the epitome of simplicity.”

The jumpsuit is also a must.

With separates, you cut the silhouette and have a lot more things to consider, like proportion, for instance, she says.

“Have one piece that fits, not too tight. There must be something effortless about the piece. You have a friend with you, that supports you in who you are, not transforming you and not making you uncomfortable in your movement.’’

And yes, French women do have that chic gene, according to Malandrino.

She learned from her mother and many French women that there are items they will love long-term. “When they love a piece, it is in their wardrobe forever.”

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