When you walk up the stairs and into Boutique Razberry, it feels as though you’ve stepped into the boudoir that every girl dreams about. Victorian-inspired furniture acts as shelving for colourful printed scarves and peep-toe heels. Handbags and belts spill out of antique luggage and glass-encased cabinets house sparkling jewelery and trinkets. You immediately forget that the street outside is home to sex shops and tattoo parlours, panhandlers and drug addicts.
Located on Ste. Catherine Street between St. Marc and St. Mathieu Street, Razberry is in the part of town known as Shaughnessy Village. The stretch of western downtown spreading east from Cabot Square at Atwater Avenue to Guy Street, has been in a state of neglect for more than two decades. The abandoned remains of the Seville Theatre on Ste. Catherine and Chomedey Sts., which has been vacant since 1985, lends the neighborhood an eerie and depressing quality.
The block that houses the Seville Theatre has been owned by private company Claridge Properties Ltd. since 2002. In 2008, they proposed building three residential towers. The plan was to have the buildings function as student housing, a project which would’ve brought life to the area.
But two years later, no actions have been taken. The uncertainty around the future of the neighbourhood deters people from investing in property. And despite the close proximity of institutions such as Dawson College, LaSalle College, Concordia University, the Montreal Children’s Hospital and Place Alexis Nihon, the area has become better known for its drug dealers and homeless.
Castle Ho is one of the newest shop owners in Shaughnessy Village. She opened Razberry in 2008 and Boutique 1861 two doors down just last year. She admits she was taking a risk when choosing the area but says she knew she could depend on students from Concordia, Dawson and nearby Lasalle College for sales. “After two years we’re slowly building up clientele. It’ll take time to make the area popular, but more people are discovering it every day,” she says.
Ho aims to offer her clients clothing they can’t find at the mall. If you’re looking for basics, Ho suggests heading to Gap instead. The shop’s biggest seller is dresses and they come in every length, cut, colour and print imaginable. Ho, a former fashion designer, and her staff are extremely helpful when it comes to helping you pick out the right item. This spring, expect to see lots of lace, neutrals and feminine dresses in muted tones. Dresses sell for between $40 and $110 and tops average at $40.
The store stocks many different clothing lines, from boutique staples like Yumi and BB Dakota, to handmade wares from Korea. Razberry is also the only retailer in Quebec to carry Tarina Tarantino’s popular jewelery collection. The designer, who is currently doing a collaboration with Sephora, is famous for her whimsical and quirky bobbles which make reference to many pop culture staples like Hello Kitty, Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.
Ho’s newer store, 1861, is Razberry’s older and slightly more sophisticated sister. The shop’s decor has a distinctively vintage vibe to it while still remaining fresh and modern. The clothes have a romantic timeless feel and evoke eras past. Ho says she noticed an infatuation with both 1920s and 1950s fashion and decided to give her clients what they wanted. However, all the items have a twist that makes them clearly contemporary: a seafoam brocade dress has origami pleating, while a leather perfecto motorcycle jacket is made in a soft nude colour. Although there are some higher priced couture items for $200 or $300, you can easily find an event dress for under $150.
1861 also prides itself on selling pieces from many local designers. One of the lines carried is Coccolily, by designer Naana Tennachie Yankey, which recently showed at Montreal Fashion Week. Yankey creates body-concious cocktail dresses featuring lots of lace, cut-out details and bows. Her dresses manage to be edgy and girly at the same time.
Another big seller at 1861 is elaborate statement jewellery by Montrealer Charlotte Hosten. Her fantastical silk ornaments are not only designed, but handmade in the city, which explains the price tag of $200 to $300.
Further west is Boutique FLY. In 2001 it became the first clothing store in the area since 1985. Owner Arianna Rabinovitch says she chose the location because of its close proximity to the heart of the city and lower rent. She points out the cement handprints she and her partner made in the entryway almost 10 years ago and explains the store has come a long way since it opened.
“We used to sell higher end lines,” Rabinovitch says, “but then we realized that our main market was students who wanted well made, but more affordable pieces.”
Rabinovitch says that though her clients aren’t extremely label conscious, they’re very aware of current trends. This season she has lots of bright colours like coral and turquoise alongside basic pieces in heather grey and other neutrals. The boutique stocks casual staples as well as some dressier looks. Pieces range from $35 to $189. A white eyelet Fornarina dress and a long cream coloured blazer by a local organic clothing brand Covet, were particularly beautiful.
Rabinovitch says Covet is her favourite line in the store. Founded in 2004, the brand’s mission, as described on their website is “achieving fusion and balance between true fashion and awareness of the world in which we live.” Their Spring 2010 collection consists of relaxed basics in tangerine, pale grey and nautical stripes.
At FLY you can also find designs by Montreal’s own Ã‰ve Gravel, a young designer whose innovative ideas and flawless cuts have made her one of the city’s greatest talents and a staple at Montreal Fashion Week. FLY even stocks student designs on consignment. “It’s important to support your community,” says Rabinovitch. “You want to keep your dollars at home.”
The store carries strappy Chinese Laundry heels and wedges along with a variety of other accessories. To encourage students to shop, FLY offers a 10 per cent student discount on all regular priced items.
FLY is currently holding their monthly sample sale where they bring in higher end discounted stock. One of the lines they have samples from is BarilÃ , a relatively new addition to the Montreal fashion scene. Known for their dramatic prints and vivid colours, the spring/summer collection includes plenty of rompers, wrap dresses and casual pants. The sale is on until April.
One block over at 2123 Ste. Catherine St., Richard Morris owns Boutique Blu Berry. Since 2007, Morris has been outfitting trendy Montreal girls with both everyday and evening clothes. Morris is a strong supporter of local fashion and sells mainly Montreal-based brands. You can find clothes by Coco & Tashi, Lady Dutch, Diesel, Dex and Style Fax. The store presently has an entire section of liquidation items for $25 and their regular price offerings retail from $30 to $100.
Morris says although the street is busier in the summer, during the colder months he can’t rely on foot traffic alone. This forces him to use a lot of advertising to reach potential clients.
Rabinovitch thinks that if plans to create student housing in the area were to go through, it would make a huge impact on the future of the neighbourhood.
Morris agrees and says the public should be putting pressure on the city to clean up the area. “The old theatre is such an eyesore,” he says, “tourists come into town and the first thing they see is this ghetto neighbourhood.”
In other North American cities there are laws in place that tax landowners heavily if they leave their buildings empty for long periods of time. Montreal, however, has no such restrictions. “The area has been in limbo for a decade,” Morris says, “everyone is banking on eventual development.”
“People should be forcing the city to take action on these empty buildings,” he says. “The whole landscape will change. This area could be the SoHo of Montreal,”
Despite Shaughnessy Village’s negative image and the somewhat derelict surroundings, there are many fashion-forward stores that are definitely worth exploring on your next break from class. After all, Morris has got a point &- as consumers, the future of the neighborhood is in our hands too.
Boutique Razberry: 1841 Ste. Catherine St. (514) 670-6110
Boutique 1861: 1861 Ste. Catherine St. (514) 908-1861
Boutique FLY: 1970 Ste. Catherine St. (514) 846-6888
Blu Berry: 2123 Ste. Catherine St. (514) 315-9884