Montreal: Pleasures and possibilities

The family spent most of last week in Montreal, visiting son Etienne and prospecting a potential move– an empty-nest possibility– to "the most European city in North America". 

Living for a week in a pretty Belle Époque apartment away from tourista central gave a sense of local life.

The women of Montreal are known for their style, which varies by neighbourhood. The city has countless friperies, or used-clothing stores, running the gamut from places that look like the Mad Men wardrobe department to  conservative shops stocked with last season's Féraud and YSL.

Whatever the price point, their verve and individuality make for fabulous people-watching.

You'll see more colour, more pattern-mixing, more audacity than in my native Toronto, more risk and twist. A woman in her late-50s wore a felted-wool skirt with a single applique'd calla lily that wound up the entire front, a cashmere t-shirt and over-the-knee boots–always boots once October arrives. (Shown, Muse by Christian Chenail, winter '10.)

Tavan & Mitto are an example of the best Montreal offers, knife-sharp tailoring wrapped in a feminine envelope.

Loved the dress above, its fluid wrap and potential for layering. (Alas, T&M sizes are only up to a 12–which fits like a narrow 10– that is, till I move there and bug them.)

Marie St-Pierre: If you said "take me to one place that captures un certain regard, her boutique would be my choice.  The coats are exceptional.

Look at the glove sleeves on the double-knit jersey ecru cape:

And we could not miss Ça va de soie, the temple to minimalist knits in merino and cashmere, all in neutrals or  whisp-of-colour Italian yarns. (Shown, Rebel dress.)

This trip, though, was about other delights. 

I met commenter lagatta, avid cyclist, bonne vivante and possessor of the most beautiful (newly undyed) silver hair.  She introduced me to a charming Outremount bistro, Terasse Justine, where we talked, laughed and shared small plates. 

We ate exuberantly: tuna sashimi in the sheerest veil of truffled oil and miso at Kaizen. Ravioli in wild mushroom sauce at L'Express. Dinner en famille at the apartment, joined by Etienne's sweetie, Tash.
A stroll to Café Olympico to mitigate the effects of tarte au noix.

And on our last evening, a raucous, freewheeling feast at the tiny Le Chien Fumant, where Etienne's roommate Liam is learning his trade.

How members of a group Chinese journalists could fall asleep at their table while a merry crowd, high on house-made charcuterie, clamoured around them is one of life's mysteries. We suspect jet lag.
And above these earthly indulgences, Mont-Royal drenched in sunlight, dipped in autumn colour, as if to say, "Here I am, in all my splendour! Bienvenue."


Julianne said…
Beautiful photos. Now you have made me want to visit.
NancyDaQ said…
Sounds like a lovely time. Montreal goes on my Must Visit list.
Nancy K said…
It's been many years since I've been in Montreal and your pictures make me long to go back. Gorgeous. I love, love that ivory wrap dress to. This is where knowing how to sew is a big plus.
Susan said…
I share your pain about sizing not reaching my size. I'm a 12 (14 on a bad day) and don't consider myself to be outsized. I've been looking at a knit Ralph Lauren blue label dress that DOES come in my size. At least some designers are reasonable when they start thinking about who might like to wear an item.

I once read a response from a designer who said that sizes above 10 are different and require a whole new design.
Duchesse said…
Julianne, Nancy DaQ: Montreal is a must-visit.
Nancy K: James Mitto of Tavan & Mitto worked for several years at Chanel. The construction of these clothes is advanced and beautifully executed, yo would appreciate.

Susan: What larger sized require is a properly-graded pattern (not just cut bigger) and fabric that can be produced in the required width. (Marina Rinaldi, owned by MaxMara, has such fabrics specially manufactured, but other designers buy from mills who only make standard sizes. Therefore, for many pieces, it is challenging to cut larger than a US 12 or 14.)

I applaud designers like Ralph Lauren and Talbot's who offer women's sizes in the same nice fabrics as their misses' line.
Susan said…
But then, many designers don't even make a 12.
Deja Pseu said…
Oh, it looks lovely and sounds as though you had a fabulous trip. Montreal is definitely on my list of cities to visit next time we're on the eastern part of the continent.

Are the winters there as rough as Toronto?
LPC said…
Beautiful. I've only been to Montreal once, but I loved it. I love the sound of it now even more.
Mardel said…
Oh I love Montreal although it has been many many years since I have been there. Must go back. Adore the style choices you have posted. Quite inspiring.
materfamilias said…
That's an exciting possibility! Although you helped introduce me to the charms of Toronto, I love Montreal and would be much more likely to see you again if you moved there. And besides that compelling reason . . . ;-)
But seriously, for the sake of your readers. Already, you have offered us some brilliant discoveries . . . you've got me wanting to book a trip and I was just there in May.
Belle de Ville said…
Montreal looks lovely. I haven't been there since I was a teenager but I remember it being much more chic than my hometown.
Beautiful clothes, I particularly like the draping of that belted skirt.
Duchesse said…
Susan: And depending on whose stats you believe, the average North American woman is a 12 or 14.

Pseu: Winters are longer and colder- but you dress for it. And very good skiing nearby.

LPC, materfamilias, mardel: Meet you there!

Belle: It is chic, in a particular and idiosyncratic way. And women wear their jewelry!
Northmoon said…
I would love to visit consignment shops in Montreal!
Duchesse said…
Northmoon: Some carry a mix of new/old, or vintage clothing and new bags and accessories.
Frugal Scholar said…
I love Montreal! We searched and searched for a rental and couldn't find one, so may make use of the one you posted. For a while, we had the fantasy of Frugal Son attending McGill, then (this part was mine) meeting a nice French-speaking girl, and settling in Montreal.

My mother-in-law traded teaching jobs with a woman in Montreal for a year. I think they lived in the same area you stayed in. I think L'Express was a fairly new restaurant then--we were amazed that it was still there when we went back a few years ago. They were known for rillettes, I believe.
Duchesse said…
Frugal: Highly recommend petit-sejours; 3-night minimum.

L'Express has been around for 30 years (and I've been eating there as long); is in the Plateau, which is essentially where we stayed.
Frugal, there are very nice flats in that area, and the one Duc and Duchesse stayed in looks very well appointed indeed (no, I wasn't there, but I know they type of flat). Look at the bow window in the front room! I can also help you find other possibilities, whatever your budget (within reason). Lots of balconies and staircases in curly wrought iron (we are your northern cousins, after all).

I remember when L'Express opened, (another indication I belong to this blog's demographic). Its fancy heated walkway (which melted winter snow and kept shoes dry) was spectacular back then.

I have a close friend who has a lovely condo flat not far from where Duchesse stayed, and she was just musing about ways of finding a dependable temporary tenant (such as a visiting professor or couple of same) if she should wish to spend a year away, now that she is retired.

As for vintage and junque, this coming week will see the chic St-Madeleine d'Outremont church bazaar - c'est un coup de chance (one never knows) but I have seen Marie St-Pierre there and other labels.

The winters are bitter (worse than Toronto or Vancouver, not as bad as the Prairies or even beautiful Québec City, about the same as Ottawa) but Montréal is a compact city by North American standards, both because it is an older city by those standards and because we are located on an island, which did control sprawl, and we have a good public transport system. I live about ten minute's walk from three different métro (subway/underground) stations and one minute from a couple of bus lines.

And Duchesse is funny and charming, of course.
Rubiatonta said…
I've been toying with the idea of a quick escape to Montreal this fall -- a long weekend to use up some soon-to-expire air miles -- and I think this post has sealed the deal, Duchesse. (Of course, if I go, I'll feel terribly guilty for not visiting you in Toronto!)
materfamilias said…
duchesse, I've lost your e-mail address (with a computer shut-down and replacement, yuck!), and would like to get your info about apartment rental in Paris. Would you mind sending it along to me at my email? (My first initial, then last name, at
Thanks very much.
Duchesse said…
Rubi: Toronto is about six hours away (driving)! Go, it's a marvelous city.

materfamilias: Sent it Oct. 13.
Kathy said…
I checked out the Tavan & Mitto website and they have the most wonderful clothes! If I only had the lifestyle and budget to go with them . . .

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