SDTC Interviews the Owner of E.R.A. Vintage
“all about style, not about brands”
By Jennifer Charlebois
ERA Vintage Wear is not your average second-hand shop. Nestled among antique stores and artsy restos on Montreal’s up and coming Notre-Dame West, ERA is a vintage gallery, featuring artistic varieties of carefully chosen, gently-used nostalgic and fashionable pieces. Within the bright, airy space, between the polished wooden floors and high ceilings, racks of colour-coded clothing and accessories seem to whisper the mysteries of parties past. Feathered hats, crocodile purses, vintage slips, layers of chiffon, and delicate details like glass beaded appliqués and silk crinolines abound.
“I made this shop the way I like shopping, lots of light, lots of mirror, lots of space, lots of choices,” says owner and stylist Elaine Léveillé.
Items are carefully arranged in terms of colors and textures, and displays “tend to follow current trends and runway presentation”. The shop features a mixture of natural and gallery lighting to reflect the true colours of the garments “so there aren’t any surprises,” as well as generous dressing rooms with large mirrors, and comfortable ‘boyfriend’ sofas, “in case you bring your entourage along to shop.”
With a natural eye for aesthetics, Léveillé’s passion was cultivated at an early age, “Essentially I have been collecting vintage since I was 8 years old. My mom was restoring antiques and I would pick clothes, while she would evaluate furniture. I still have pieces from way back then.”
Léveillé, who has background in architecture, and a Masters in Painting & Drawing from Concordia, spent several years representing Quebec designers at Toronto’s Fashion Week. She has worked with the likes of Montreal fashion heavy-hitters such as Denis Gagnon, Yves-Jean Lacasse, Eve Gravel, Renata Morales, and Tavan & Mitto, as well as contemporary art consultant Thérèse Dion. However, after several years of working in the fashion and public relations industry, in 2005 Léveillé took a hiatus. She had begun to feel unsatisfied artistically by the fashion world.
“It didn’t answer to the core of my being, the language I knew was not being addressed, my intellect not spoken to” she says. As a result she returned to the studio. “I got up one morning and I chose to open ERA Vintage Wear: Literally. Now, I can work on photo shoots when I want to, I can direct them if I want to, I can pick the clothes ( curate like art work), I do the windows ( stages), merchandising (continuous composition), and I have people coming in and out of here from all walks of life, like a gallery!”
Each piece is painstakingly handpicked, dry cleaned, and free of the usual suspects – scents of body odor, food, cigarette smoke or moth balls, mysterious stains, deodorant mark, mildew and oxidation. In addition, Léveillé and her in-store seamstress (a haute-couture specialist) alter the garments as necessary, to repair, remodel, update a style, or customise/tailor a piece to a client.
“Occasionally I will remodel a garment that would benefit from a make-over without tagging myself a designer. …I see my work in remodelling the piece more as a stylist. [My seamstress and I] have made many joyful girls fulfill their dream in my shop and that is my favourite part of my work. It is like playing Barbie, or dress-up. It also answers to my urge to create.”
Aside from fiercely loyal regular clientele, ERA’s high fashion appeal has not escaped the radar of those “in the know.” Léveillé’s carefully selected and creative pieces have been featured in several avant-garde and artistic editorial spreads in high fashion glossies such as ZINK Canada and Montreal’s own [Dressed to] Kill Magazine, Clin D’oeil, and Naked Eye Magazine.
I was lucky enough to speak with Léveillé, and bask in the enthusiastic whirlwind that is her knowledge, her experience, her endless energy and her passion for art, creativity and above all, vintage fashion.
SheDoesTheCity.com: How do you find and choose the items to showcase in your store?
Elaine Léveillé: I get paid as an appraiser the same way the antique dealers around me do. Various acquaintance get in contact with me, send me to a destination, I do my recommendation; I handpick every single piece that makes it past the door in this shop. There are a lot of aspects to my decision as to what makes the cut! You’d be surprised.
SDTC: Since you only have one of each item, what do you do in terms of stocking your store with different sizes?
EL: I carry 0-14 and I believe it works out just fine.
SDTC: What are some of the brands you carry?
EL: I have been surrounded by clothes for too long to know better. I don’t need a label to know about the fabric, the confection, the uniqueness, the iconic potential and quality of a garment. The motto of ERA Vintage Wear is: IT’s not about brand, it’s about STYLE. So do not come here to look for brands or label, you will be highly disappointed. I carry labels accidentally…
SDTC: What is the secret to pulling off a fabulous vintage style?
EL: Not to look retro, but to look like you have character! That you are wearing something no one else has.
SDTC: I noticed on both your Myspace page and your Facebook page, you have very sophisticated, fashion-forward editorial shots of models in your clothes, and artistic compositions of purses, shoes, and seasonal delights. It’s almost like flipping through a fashion magazine. Tell me a little bit about these photo shoots as promotional items, and how they came about.
EL: Well, if I have no time to paint you can be sure I can compensate with photography and merchandising! et Voilà! I enjoy composing with anything: clothes, bodies, accessories, furniture, mannequins, it doesn’t matter what it is…in the end it is all about aesthetics.
SDTC: I understand that you’ve had some very high-profile clients in the past, such as Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Cate Blanchett. Are the rumours true? What type of person is an ERA vintage client?
EL: I can confirm the rumours and I could name drop further but it wouldn’t change a thing because my vision of the shop is OBAMA-ISH: I started this shop with a democratic attitude, not about labels but style! Price range is wide here and so is style! So, yes, I have some very high profile clients, but I don’t favour them over my regular girls and everyone knows that. Anyone that has been in my shop when there is a mix of different clients knows that I am heart and soul regardless. [If] you are buying a $68.00 dress or one that is $860.00, it doesn’t matter to me, as long as everyone finds something they like and gets along.
I also attempt to quantify the amount of attention I give to the client between not too much and not too little…I won’t tell you it looks great if it doesn’t…I’d rather not sell than to send someone out of my shop looking ridiculous, or I will suggest something that will suit their body type or taste better.
SDTC: Outside of these amazing fashion forward women, what movie star/socialite/model/famous person, alive or dead, would you like to dress?
EL: Only one name comes to my mind: Daphne Guinness. [To put it simply]: SHE GETS IT.
This interview has been condensed.
E.R.A Vintage Wear
1800 Notre-Dame St. W.
Check out ERA VINTAGE WEAR on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Montreal-QC/ERA-VINTAGE-WEAR/175318270133