by Jennifer Charlebois

Unless you’ve been living in a hole for the past nine years, chances are you are familiar with Lola & Emily, the quaint and charming quintessential St. Laurent boutique, and veritable stomping ground for fashionistas from all over Montreal, and beyond.

Catering to women between the ages of 20-50 with “many different whims and personalities”, the relaxed apartment-style boutique offers a variety of quirky and classic brands, including Montreal’s own Ca Va de Soi (think soft Egyptian cottons, merino wool, and cashmere), Free People (trendy, whimsical, boho style), Nougat (for sophisticated ladies), Tolani (of the Missoni-esque scarves), Velvet, and accessories from Mogil, The 2 Bandits (a little bling for your booties?) Voluspa candles, Bloch Shoes, and a variety of options from Designers Remix Collection, among others. Pairing basics and staples with unique one-of-a-kind accents, Lola & Emily is a retailer where all products are for sale, even the impressive armoires that house fetching goodies such as luxurious bath products, vintage shoes, hip jewellery and finishing-touch accessories.

Unfortunately, with the departure of creative director Sally Scott, who has left the busy hustle and bustle of city life to live a la campagne, the in-house LnE line has ceased production. However, Marnie Blanshay continues to nurture her original creative vision in this small boutique, with big ideas.

Constantly updating and remerchandising, this hoppin’ magasin is always in motion, and always true to the premise of offering a wide variety of limited styles, and a mixture of trendy (Lola) and timeless (Emily) pieces: everything a woman needs for a “well-edited wardrobe”.

Blanshay also recently introduced the Lola & Emily blog to the store’s website, a fun and fashionable feature, updated by employees. Along with highlighting their “favorite things, both in store and out” and offering honest “insight, ideas and frustrations about small businesses”, the blog also showcases chic new trends, fashionable celebrities, new merchandise, and links to favorite style website such as Design Sponge, Le Blog de Betty, Garance Doré, and of course, The Sartorialist. It’s a veritable style guide in itself. In addition, Lola & Emily blogueuses, ever with their thumbs on the pulse of what’s hot in Montreal, reference several local Montreal blogs including Lake Jane, Une Parisienne à Montréal, A la Mode Montreal, and Montreal In Style. The 100 mile fashion diet – I like it. Even if snowdrifts or miles of the 401 lay between you and the Main, you can still access the Lola & Emily aura from the comfort of your own home.

I don’t know of one Lola & Emily shopper in Montreal or Toronto who doesn’t list this amazing fashion mecca as one of their absolute, must-see, go-to boutiques. I also can’t imagine I’m the only fan who harbours a little, tiny, envious voice in the back of my mind that sometimes says “Damn, I wish I had thought of something like that”. I had the chance to interview the gracious and creative Ms. Blanshay recently, to gain a little perspective on what it’s all about.

SheDoesTheCity: Let’s start at the beginning. How did you come up with the Lola & Emily concept?

Marnie Blanshay: I came up with the idea for the store while I was sitting on my friend’s rooftop in Jodhpur, India. I was traveling at the time, and trying to figure out what I was going to do when I went home. And I started thinking about opening a store, and what it would look like; what I would carry; what it would be called. I actually have all of this in a journal… the name “Lola & Emily”… and the original idea that it would be set up like an apartment. Lola & Emily were roommates/best friends/sisters, each had a slightly different style. Emily was more classic. Lola a little more fashion forward and whimsical. I wanted it to feel like you were hanging out at your best friend’s apartment.

Of course, the concept has certainly been diluted. At a certain point any business needs to adapt to the market… we sell more clothes and accessories, so we have lost a bit of the apartment feeling. But I think that the original spirit of Lola & Emily remains. It’s a welcoming environment to shop in: the girls at the store are nice, the changing rooms are big, it’s comfortable and accessible.

SDTC: How would you define Montreal style, and Lola & Emily’s place in it?

MB: Montreal style is eclectic. Like any fashionable city, there is a mix of everything, but I feel like there’s a lot of individual style, and when you look around, you could just as easily be in New York, Paris or London… which is saying a lot for a city the size of Montreal.

It’s funny because I often hear Lola & Emily’s style described as “girly”. And I guess it is to a certain degree… lots of dresses and the environment itself is certainly feminine. But when I think of the girls who work in the store, they’re a mix… much more “rock and roll”, maybe a little rougher – in a good way- and I think that says a lot about what you can find in the store, and ultimately who we cater to. You can just as easily find a 26 year old Plateau girl buying Nudie skinny jeans (a bit of a cult fave) as you can find a 40-something French vedette buying a dress for a press conference. It sounds a bit cheesy, but we have never pretended that we dictate fashion at Lola & Emily – we simply try and offer a mix of individual items that will work back to our customers’ diverse styles.

SDTC: What is the best part of your job?

MB: There are a LOT of parts of my job that I love, and they vary from day-to-day, month-to-month… year-to-year even. At the end of the day, I do love being my own boss, however there are days when I hate that as well!. I love the girls who work in the store, and have from day one. They have always been such a great mix of personalities and styles… responsible, respectful and really just lovely. Many of them have come and gone and come back over the years, or stayed for a really long time. I am proud of that… it makes me think that I am doing something right. And I guess most of all, I love seeing people enjoy a purchase or experience at the store. I mean, honestly, retail therapy is not a joke. Something as small as buying a $10 candle can make someone’s day, and that’s a really fun part of the job.

SDTC: What kind of advice could you offer young women that would like to pursue the same line of work?

MB: I would say that getting as much experience as you can is important. I was lucky because I worked for a retail company before, and was able to see a lot of the behind-the-scenes work: buying, merchandising, and planning. I mean, regardless of what your personal fashion choices and styles are, the entire industry functions on the same principle. So don’t underestimate the things you can learn from a place that might not exactly scream “fashion” to you!

SDTC: On your blog (September 18, 2009 “The Inner Workings of Lola & Emily”), you mention the kind of unglamorous “inner workings” of the fashion industry. For those of us who are unfamiliar, what type of work goes into owning and operating Lola & Emily?

MB: I do specifically remember one experience… we have amassed quite a collection of boxes in the basement of the store… it’s terrible. So every so often, I just have to bite the bullet and do a major clean out. I spent about an hour moving all of the boxes out for recycling… hundreds of them. And then it started raining. And continued raining all day. But recycling never came. The City Inspector came though, and told me that I had to get rid of the boxes until the next week. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to pick up wet cardboard, but bringing the boxes back into the store was simply not an option. So I had to load hundreds of wet, filthy dirty boxes into my car, in the pouring rain, and bring them to the Eco Centre. It was exactly as I was doing that that I said to one of the girls at the store “WOW. This is it. The glamorous world of fashion….”

At the end of the day, Lola & Emily is a business. So there are things that go along with small business that are unglamorous, even though it’s “fashion”. You know, accounting… not so glam! And ultimately, there are seasons that are less inspiring than others, so buying sometimes is not quite as fun as some people might imagine it to be. I sometimes start to lose perspective. I’ll be walking up and down aisle after aisle of clothes at a trade show in New York City, simply unable to get excited about THAT particular skirt versus THIS particular skirt… but thankfully you almost always come across one or two lines, or items or shapes that inspire you.

SDTC: How do you find creating a Lola & Emily blog has impacted your business, if at all?

MB: The blog has been so much fun. Amanda (my colleague) really takes care of it on a day-to-day basis. It’s interesting because it allows us to feature things that we have in the store, but also random things, trends, restaurants, bars – it really reflects the “Lola & Emily” personality. And it’s interactive, which is amazing. We are still working on how to really take advantage of it – ideally we would like as much input from our customers as we can get. I’m not sure it has impacted our business as of yet, but ultimately the goal is to use it for really specific marketing and let our customers benefit. Hopefully that will help us see an impact on business!

SDTC: If you could dress any person, alive or dead, who would it be? OR which celebrity would you be most excited to see shopping in your store?

MB: I’m not going to lie, I think we would probably love to see one of the Olsen twins shop in the store – or better yet, both. Only because they just really represent a unique style, whether you love it or hate it.

We’ve definitely had a few celebrities in the store over the years, and in true Montreal fashion, we just pretend they’re regular people… so, you know, by that logic, ALL our customers are like celebrities… (you gotta try and compliment your customers any chance you can… golden rule)

SDTC: What are your top picks for Spring 2010?

MB: [From what I’ve seen]…Spring 2010 [isn’t going to be] a particularly crazy trend season. Some seasons there are two or three really important trends that are easy to pinpoint, like the blazer, the skinny pant, the oversized top. Spring 2010 is really just a continuation of trends we have seen in the past. I did notice that we were particularly excited about skirts, which is a new thing. Historically we simply haven’t sold skirts that well, but we were seeing so many cute styles through the different collections that we couldn’t resist. Also, we are definitely still feeling stripes, but I’m not sure we were ever actually out on stripes.

Lola & Emily
3475 St Laurent
Montréal, Quebec

M-W 11am-6pm
Th-F 11am-9pm
Sat 11am-5pm
Sun 12-5pm