Grace notes at Ogilvy

"Jessie" visited for a few days last week; we browsed through a large craft show, indulged in hot chocolate, and attended a late-morning concert of tango music in the hall atop Montréal's luxury department store, Ogilvy.

My friend of forty years has long preferred to spend on travel, her house or good causes. She buys inexpensive-to-moderately priced clothes deliberately, keeps her hair and makeup current, and pays little attention to which designer's doing what.

That approach works for her suburban, mostly-retired life, but when women entered the hall in chic coats and luminous scarves, she noticed, and murmured something about feeling underdressed.

Les Montréalaises d'un certain âge are a soignée lot when out for an I Musici concert, not a pair of running shoes or tired jeans in the crowd. We admired an artfully-seamed featherweight leather blazer, a furled butterscotch cashmere wrap and the quirky flair of a dusty rose sheared-beaver jacket, worn by a white-haired woman of about seventy.

Jessie began to develop avidity, especially when she saw the 40% off sales signs posted in every department. She agreed to a spin through the fashion floors.

She reminded me of another friend, R., who told me of traveling decades ago from Toronto to New York to spend the weekend with her chum Anne, a dancer in the chorus of "Cats". R. hit town thinking she looked pretty damn good. 

Anne was performing, so R. had most of Friday evening to kill. As she sauntered up Columbus (then home to hip boutiques) she began to adjust her judgment: "pretty good" slipped to "out of it". At first she filed observations for future reference. Then, she wanted that.

By the time the houselights dimmed, "Memories" referred not only to the finale, but to R.'s bank account.  

"When I met Anne at the stage door, I looked fabulous even by New York standards", she recalled. She got tout le kit: coat, dress, shoes, bag and earrings. R. wore those pieces for years–and paid for them for at least one.

R.'s story illustrates how, plunked into a different setting, you can be inspired to up your game. The key of course is to buy what you can also wear back home–otherwise you're hauling a very costly souvenir.

Jessie found a pair of sleek pants, an Italian sweater with more detail and verve than the one she'd been wearing, and finally, the pièce de résistance, this slightly iridescent Steilmann vest with a blurred python-print front and boiled wool back and sleeve. 

(It looked far better than in this shot, matte and supple, with a subtle mauve undertone. Trust me, made for her.)

She slipped it over her grey longsleeved tee and suddenly her charcoal jeans were vaulted up several notches. The price point was about double her usual (but with the sale only about 25% more). 

Jessie's a beauty in any brand, but I see once again that as we age, the lower end doesn't do us any favours, especially if a woman likes to wear colour. The dyes of the German and Italian tops she tried were richer, the colours more nuanced, the fabrics soft yet substantial.

The overall effect was that of a well-dressed woman who was not sacrificing style for comfort. I was delighted to see my friend in clothes that highlighted her enviable figure, taking her from "nice" to "wow". 
I worry about the shape of the store, though. Two weeks before Christmas and all clothing 40% off–what's up? Founded in 1866, Ogilvy was bought in 2011 by the Weston family, who own Holt Renfrew, another luxury retailer. Rumours of a merger continue.

Ogilvy's famous piper skirled through at noon; Jessie tucked her iconic tartan shopping bag under her arm and headed for the train trip home.

Unlike R., she wasn't broke after her foray; she spent $300 on three pieces, in which she felt like a million bucks. I guess we've learned something as the years have passed!


Darla said…
Three pieces for $300 sounds pretty good to me. I'll bet they are things she feels good in too. Every once in awhile we "retired folks" need to bump up our wardrobes.

Susan B said…
Even between urban areas, what feels right and au courrant in one looks out of place in another. Dallas has a different aesthetic than New York, LA from San Francisco, etc. I've noticed that *everyone* is getting more casual, but you're right about the differences in quality pieces.
Murphy said…
I can SO relate to this! I've finally gotten the knack of buying things that can be worn at home after buying resort wear in
Florida that (surprise, surprise) looked silly back home. Home is somewhat like "north woods meets tundra"! Even at home, though, now that I'm in my mid-50s I have had to step up my game. Whole outfits from the Loft or H & M are not flattering anymore, and I find that spending (a lot) more on high-end jackets or sweaters really makes me look more sophisticated and age appropriate. It's important for my self-esteem to feel like I fit in in a good way.
materfamilias said…
How nice that your friend was able to update at a fairly reasonable cost, especially with that one fabulous piece, the vest. I hate to hear, though, that Ogilvy's might be struggling a bit -- that stores is a highlight of my few trips to Montreal. I have a black leather coat I bought there about, hmmm, maybe 9 or 10 years ago. But it's more the atmosphere of the store that sticks with me, such gracious solidity . . .
LauraH said…
Hi Duchesse, I'm a new reader - love your blog. This post rang a bell with me. Like your friend, my life is pretty casual but I don't want to slip into frumpy or sloppy. At 59, two years retired, I'm taking a hard look at my wardrobe, top to bottom, including jewellery. I'm thinking of starting by having a colour analysis. Have you had one? Any thoughts?
Duchesse said…
see you thre: That's the beauty of 40%!

Pseu: Some days I play a game: try to spot a woman who is not wearing jeans! It's hard to see outside the business core.

Murphy: This made me laugh! When my mother liked in FL I would visit; she loved to shop. I'd end up with things like you describe,like a jacket in a tropical print. Totally silly in Canada!

materfamilias: I haven;t been to hlt's to see if they are struggling too, but HR are opening a "second brand" store at a big mall in the 'burbs, with lower-priced brands.

LauraH: Seems to me it is a "slipping in" that can creep up on little Mephistos :)

Hadmy colurs done maybe 30 years ago, still have the wallet. It seems accurate but that doesn't mean I *like* all the colours I supposedly can wear (pastel green, ugh!). I think a lot depends on the skill and experience of the consultant more than the actual system. Imogen Lamport of InsideOut Style has some excellent posts (and a video) on "finding your signature colour" and colour in general:

Duchesse said…
materfamilias: Sorry, mistyped. Haven't been to HR.
I think there's too much competition in the retail arena. Everyone is having huge sales to cash in on Christmas sales before rather than after.
The Bay has been solidly discounting it's merchandise and hosting one day sales at record breaking prices.

Let's keep shopping in proper shops and not too much online so they do not disappear altogether.
Duchesse said…
hostess: I'm of two minds about your last sentence. I deeply appreciate the convenience and selection offered by online shopping. I love that I can get my sweaters from Scotland or France without having to wait for a trip. At the same time, we had a wonderful excursion and there is a particular pleasure in visiting a *very good* store or boutique.

But I realize 75% of my clothing dollars are spent online, and it has really crept up in the last 3 years.

I read an interesting article in the Sunday New York Times magazine re the evolution of Barney's, who now expect to do the majority of their business online. So whether we shop in stores or not, the world is voting and it looks like online is the winner.

Gretchen said…
Living in an area where people either seem to look like they're trying too hard, or not hard enough, I found my own comfort level and feel better buying my clothes online, as the local stores sell schlock. I patronize the local antiques shops, the independent jeweler, the homegrown wine merchant, and feel my money is well distributed in this manner. I don't travel, so don't feel the need to bump it up to that level one would find in NY or Dallas. I think one should buy the best quality one can afford, in styles that suit one's personality and location, and which make one's heart sing. My feeling is if I didn't feel comfortable in my presentation in such an urbane area, it might mean my regular A game was missing...not that I couldn't "fit in" with the chic surroundings.
Duchesse said…
Gretchen: "I think one should buy the best quality one can afford, in styles that suit one's personality and location, and which make one's heart sing."

Wonderfully observed.

Jessie wasn't trying to fit in; for that we'd need to go up a floor and add a digit or more to the bill! There were some beautiful clothes (not overdone, just fine) among the crowd that day.
Gretchen said…
Duchesse, I agree wholly - it sounds to me that your friend had an epiphany that she wasn't treating herself with the respect she should, and it was this recognition that triggered the successful ($300!!! Incroyable!!) shopping experience. It is those sort of purchases that fit into a validation of who one is, not the kind where one buys things to fit into a world from a sense of lack. Or fitting in simply for the sake of fitting in. That's money wasted, and the clothes wind up in the back of a drawer or hiding in a closet because one doesn't feel able to "live up" to the clothes...instead of the clothes matching who one really is inside.
The "colours" thing also applied to living (studying) in Italy. Of course I didn't have much money but it was always possible to find a good quality item or two on sale. Italian colours can be very burnt-orange, because of the tone of the buildings. Not necessarily as lovely here in Montréal.

I've been too busy to shop of late, which is a good thing, but I'll try to make it to Ogilvy's, the Bay (in hopes they still have the merino sweaters I bought last year) and even Simons, though they are very uneven now.

Don't laugh - one of my favourite garments of all time was a deep/smoky violet gaucho skirt in the finest wool I bought on sale at Simons, in Québec City, while on a work trip there. I wore that to shreds. It fit perfectly.

And I'm so happy your friend was content with her purchases.
LPC said…
I love that feeling you describe, of traveling somewhere, absorbing the prevalent style, and coming away with your own version.

My first experience with that was Parisian and Firenze women in sweater sets and pencil skirts. I was enthralled.
Duchesse said…
lagatta:"Deep smoky violet" sounds like an irresistible colour!

LPC: This is worth a post in itself; for me it was London, late '70s seeing little waif girls in flowered minis and Doc Martens.

dianespainting said…
Growing up in Montreal, I have wonderful memories of Ogilvy's...from the store windows at Christmas, to the uniformed elevator operators, it was a mesmerizing extravaganza for the senses.

Whenever I have the opportunity to go back to Montreal, I treat myself to a little visit to Ogilvy's. Still wonderful merchandise, beautifully laid out, with excellent staff. I purchased a lovely Longchamp bag on my last visit, some Tara Rose shoes the visit before that.

If it becomes a Holt Renfrew in the future, I will be one sad girl.
Anonymous said…
Just before moving to the Upper East Side of Manhattan from Boston in the 80s, I dutifully went to Filene's with some cash and the intention of buying one of those dreary little navy or gray skirt suits I imagined would lead to a "real job." Opposite the racks of suits was a Norma Kamali boutique featuring her new designs made of sweatshirt fabric. My heart went immediately to a berry red tunic coat with a long slant of silver snaps. It was a petite, and even with football shoulders, perfectly proportioned for me. I handed over the cash, left the parka-and-cords world of Boston, and soon found myself in a very different place. Among the cashmeres, long mink coats and Hermes scarves, a little gray Filene's suit would have looked very country-mouse, but the Kamali held its own and proved to be infinitely adaptable, lovable, and just right for New York. I never regretted that purchase. Without question, certain cities just demand a bit more edge...

Ogilvy's sounds like a special place!


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