Montreal stories: part one

by Karen Alberg Grossman

Founded in 1985 by Chantal Levesque, SHAN is a renowned manufacturer, distributor and retailer of couture swimwear, resortwear, lingerie and high-end accessories. With offices and workshops in Laval, near Montreal, the label boasts an international distribution that includes more than 600 prestigious points of sale in more than 32 countries and eight flagship stores. Notable clients include Le Printemps in Paris, Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City, Harrods in London and Tsum in Moscow. Here, we chat with the company’s designer/founder about her recent launch of menswear.

A little background please. 

My mother was a haute couture dressmaker and I always loved sewing with her. Growing up, I noticed early on that the swimsuit market, which was typically European, wasn’t adapted to North American consumers. I therefore decided, in 1985, to launch my own swimwear company. It was important for me to create not just swimsuits, but functional fashion pieces. 

What do you feel separates your brand from the competition?

SHAN controls 100% of its design and production – which is 100% Canadian. Therefore, we have the liberty to adapt our products based on our customers’ needs. I understand their need for comfort but I don’t ever want to compromise on design. It’s why my team and I develop exclusive materials and designs; the quality of our fabrics and the exclusivity of our prints represent the brand’s DNA. 

Why did you introduce a men’s collection?How much creativity can one put into men’s swim trunks?

A swimsuit is one of the most difficult pieces to create, since few people feel comfortable in swimwear. But it’s that exact challenge that inspires me! The beauty of creating for men is being able to design a classic/sophisticated look in solids and also push the limit with unique and colorful prints. I’ve also extended the men’s line to amazing polos and UV-protected activewear that men love to wear while playing their favorite sport or when they’re out for dinner on a nice summer evening. Much research went into our men’s line to test and determine the quickest drying fabric, the highest quality microfiber… 

What’s your strategy for growing your men’s business?

SHAN’s men’s line is sold within the company’s retail network of eight boutiques and its e-commerce platform, great channels for receiving direct feedback on the product. This has helped the company to perfect our fit, style, comfort and quality. Today, the collection has a strong and loyal following including luxury hotels, spas, resorts and sports clubs worldwide. Moving forward, SHAN will introduce the men’s line to department stores internationally and further develop e-commerce sales by extending our portfolio of products. 

Marie Saint Pierre: Breaking Barriers

There’s a definite sense of androgyny in the designs of Marie Saint Pierre, a well-recognized women’s wear designer (in the Canadian Hall of Fame!) known for her modern architectural creations. With a store in Miami and a strategy featuring pop-up shops, the company has recently launched a menswear collection that fulfills her dream of offering more gender-fluid apparel. Everything is proudly made in Montreal. 

When and why did you add menswear to your collection?

After noticing that men were adopting our more androgynous looks, I decided to create something specifically for them. 

It’s interesting: People are not surprised to see men’s brands dressing women; just think of Christian Dior or Yves Saint Laurent. And yet, the opposite is seen as impossible. Even I have wondered if I should have given this collection a different name. But I decided to jump aboard and consider it as an opportunity to shake things up! To me, this is a boundary-free collection, a gender-neutral clothing line.

Describe the look and feel of your men’s fashion. Who is the target customer?

The menswear line is a direct extension of my signature DNA: Brand regulars recognize our trademark look right away since it uses the same materials, the same distinctive construction techniques, the same blend of elegance and comfort. The cuts and measurements, however, have been entirely reworked for the masculine form.

The Marie Saint Pierre man is modern and aware, sensitive to the movement his garments allow. He uses these clothes to break barriers.

What’s the retail price range and what’s next?

Our latest menswear line ranges from $370 retail to $1,750. Our mission is to continue developing our menswear collection while reaching out to new markets.