On the corner of Notre Dame W. St. and St-Martin St. is a quaint vintage shop with window mannequins so stylish and chic, you can’t help but be lured in. The high ceiling and bright natural light flatter the colour-coordinated racks of garments hanging from beams. Owner Elaine Léveillé says the system goes beyond colour, it’s about texture, patterns and rhythm.
“I copied it from my closet,” said Léveillé. “Always by colour, so that when I look for something, it’s there. If I want to do different combinations because trends have changed, then I know where to look and what to put together.”
Léveillé is the sassy and fashionable owner of ERA Vintage Wear, a shop that is as inviting and vibrant as its proprietor. In the midst of the garment racks are pristine white couches and an end table with fashion magazines; a lounge area Léveillé insists on having.
“I meet different kinds of women all the time,” says Léveillé of her clientele of trendy bloggers and quirky older ladies. “That why we have the couches here. There’s a lot of chatting.”
Her welcoming atmosphere and high fashion reputation have travelled beyond Montreal and created intrigue among stylish celebrities such as Michelle Williams, Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore and Jean-Paul Gauthier. As flattered as she is, Léveillé has a very modest attitude towards her high-profile clients. Rather than cater solely to the rich and famous and stock her store with labels, Léveillé is concerned with quality and appreciates customers who just “get it.”
“If I wanted my shop to be all about labels, it would be very easy for me to do,” she said. “But I would be so bored you’d find me asleep in the corner of my changing room.”
Aside from her motherly duties, Léveillé’s business and fashion schedule keeps her too busy to even think of napping in her store. She dry-cleans, disinfects, alters and repairs every piece of garment and accessory she hand-picks from parties-passed. Though the store may be filled with vintage-wear of every decade from the ‘20s to the mid-‘80s (Léveillé hates the cheap fabrication since), she remodels pieces to compliment current trends.
“I’ll take something and make it completely different,” said Léveillé. “When I look at a piece and I know it has potential, I can undo it because it’s sewn well. Sometimes I make something crappy look good, but it’s a question of quality.”
Léveillé has had a keen eye for vintage wear since the age of eight. As a child, Léveillé would join her mother antique furniture shopping. While she waited for her mother to pick out the pieces with restoration potential, Léveillé would venture about and come back with puffy dresses and lace gloves. She quickly learned that if she simply asked for these clothes no one else wanted, they would be hers to keep.
“By the time I was 14, my room was literally a closet,” she said. “I had racks and dressers full of clothes.”
Though Léveillé was not always a shop owner, she always surrounded herself with art and fashion. With a master’s degree from Concordia in painting and drawing, Léveillé spent many years in public relations for Montreal designers like Eve Gravel, Denis Gagnon and Tavan & Mitto.
She soon grew tired of chasing after her money and “hustling and bustling” for others. In November 2004, over a glass of cognac with a friend, Léveillé had an epiphany that led her to ERA.
“I remember saying that it would just be so much easier if I had a vintage shop where I would do things and move on, and if people needed me, they knew where to find me,” said Léveillé. “As soon as I voiced it, I knew exactly what I was about to do.”
Since then, Léveillé spent seven years building and beautifying her shop. Her very own installation where she can dress to her mood, be creative, play dress-up, and share her love for fashion and vintage wisdom.
“For me, getting dressed is not about trend, it’s about style,” said Léveillé. “It’s timeless. You could have style and just readapt it, retune it.