Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Le Chateau - All Grown Up

One of the last places I want to spend a Saturday afternoon is in a crowded shopping mall, but this past weekend I made an exception when I was invited to attend the grand opening of Le Chateau's newly renovated store at White Oaks Mall here in London.   Had it been a different company that made the invitation, I would have probably declined it,  but I have a nostalgic fondness for the Montreal-based company, which I discovered when I first moved to London in 1980.  At that time, the Canadian retailer was selling fun and inexpensive clothing and accessories, and I would stop by the store in downtown London at least once a week.  It was the store where the "cool" people worked, and by shopping there, one hoped that some of the coolness rubbed off on you.  After the 80's passed, and I acquired a series of office jobs that required me to dress more conservatively, I lost interest in clothes that fell apart after one washing. I probably hadn't been in a Le Chateau store for several years.

When I received the invitation to the opening, I looked at the store website and discovered that their image had changed significantly.  No longer the go-to place for cheap club clothes (H & M and Forever 21 have that market cornered), the Le Chateau of 2014 is a boutique-style store selling medium-priced, stylish clothing targeted to women in their 30's and up.  As Shawn Schmidt, Director of Visual Presentation, explained, the store has grown up along with their customers. 

For the grand opening, the company rolled out the red carpet and handed out gift bags and treats to customers.

 Shawn Schmidt, the host for the event, was as charming as he was impeccably dressed.

I spent quite a bit of time chatting about the evolution of the company with Mr. Schmidt, who has been with Le Chateau for over 20 years.  40% of the merchandise sold by Le Chateau, including dresses and suits, is manufactured in Canada, which allows them to maintain better quality control.  Sizes range from 0 - 15/16, although not in every item, and according to Schmidt, they are "real sizes", not model versions.  I noted that the majority of the store staff were under 30, and asked if a 50-something woman could get a job here, and he assured me they would be happy to hire older sales staff.

The store has moved from their old location in the mall near the food court to a new, redesigned space.  Each collection has its own area to give the feeling of a series of European style boutiques instead of just one large, intimidating space.  

Three dresses from the collection seen in the previous photo 

The store had a large selection of very pretty, figure-flattering dresses and if I had a job that required me to dress more conservatively, I'm sure I could have found something here that would be appropriate, but not boring.  There were lots of bright colours everywhere.

 I thought the two dresses above, although very different in design, were both extremely flattering and very stylish, and would look good on a variety of women.

While there were lots of bright colours available, there were also items in classic monochrome.

One of the things I remember fondly about the Le Chateau of my youth was the fabulous accessories.  Almost all the big and bold earrings worn in my 20's were purchased there.   I was happy to see they still carry a large assortment of bling, ranging in price from $10 to $50.  Their upscale shoe collection, which includes Italian and Brazilian designs, is displayed in streamlined, well-lit wall units.

I ran into Kelly Connor, who blogs as City Mom, who had also been invited to the opening.  Kelly has been blogging for about 4 years and was one of the earliest followers of my blog. 

I had to try this orange faux-leather moto jacket as it coordinated perfectly with my shoes.

There is a large section at the rear of the store devoted to party/evening/cocktail dresses.  I asked a  woman shopping with her teenage daughter if she had shopped in Le Chateau before, and she told me she had found a prom dress for her daughter in the store.  I spoke with another woman shopping with her three daughters, and she said she liked the store because there was something for everyone.

Mid-afternoon, Mr. Schmidt, with the assistance of the store staff, cut the red ribbon to officially open the store.


After paying for their purchases at the cash desk, customers can exit through the men's section of the store.  It was nice to see the all the colours available in men's dress shirts;  I'm all for men wearing bold colours.

Any of the shirts in the carousel display above would look great with a charcoal grey suit

An unexpected bonus was the lesson I received in the science that goes into the design, and outfitting, of a retail space.  Mr. Schmidt explained that everything from the placement of the change rooms (scattered throughout the store instead of grouped in the back), lighting (environmentally friendly LED lighting), and the height of the display racks (low enough so the customer can see the entire item without asking for assistance) contributes to the visual appeal and financial success of a retail business.

In interest of full disclosure, I received a gift card from Le Chateau in return for my promotion of the store opening.  While I won't be making posts like these a regular part of my blog, I have to admit I rather enjoyed my brief visit to the land of retail.  It was good for me to step out of my comfort zone of thrift stores and small indie businesses and remind myself that the majority of women in Canada don't purchase their wardrobes in secondhand stores, and I learned a few things about the psychology of fashion merchandising.  Just because I don't like a particular item, or think it's too conservative for my taste, doesn't mean it's not attractive or flattering to other women.   Women who are looking for stylish, mid-priced clothing they can wear to the office, or to the park, will find something at Le Chateau, a company that, like their customers, is all grown up.

14 comments:

  1. I have always liked Le Chateau (I mentioned this before when you posted about them), and when I need a "mall fix" I know it's one of my "safe" stores due to the high amount of Canadian-made items. My husband gets most of his dress shirts from the men's side - love their colours! Happy to hear and see that this Canadian company is still going strong.

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  2. that orange jacket looks like it was made for you.

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  3. I agree, that jacket wants to go home with you. Great review. The selection of dresses at Le Chateau is impressive and I didn't realize that such a high percentage of the clothing is still made in Canada. That's worth cheering about.

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  4. Ditto, I didn't realize they still manufactured so much in Canada - I really appreciate that.

    Great review, Shelley - down-to-earth and honest yet informative.

    I remember: all the cool people DID work there! And you know, I remember the change rooms scattered throughout the store (in The St. Laurent Shopping Centre in Ottawa) back in the 1980s. Looks like the store planners were ahead of their time even then. (P.S. If you found store layout deets interesting, you may want to check out Paco Underhill's books if you haven't yet. "Why We Buy" and "Call of the Mall" are great reads for retail/shopping junkies). Xox

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  5. that post is so very good written - you will get a lot of this kind of invitations in the future!
    although it´s not my personal style i can see that the clothes are made with heart&soul.
    the orange jacket is great on you! i really like your outfit of that day, the bold colors and graphic jacket with colorful shoes and necklace are gorgeous.
    what will you buy with your gift card?

    xxxx

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  6. You're right, Shelley; the majority of women don't shop or dress like our little blogging circle, so a reminder of the realities of retail is very interesting. And Le Chateau does look good, I'm happy to see some bright colours in the mix, and I must say that orange jacket looks fabulous on you! Merchandise manufactured in Cananda and a good range of sizes are plus points too.
    Still, I can't imagine you going mall shopping very often (me neither). The very things which make it easy and appealing to others (the arrangement, picking your size straight off the rail, being offered styling ideas via the displays, a conservative nod to current trends) are all the things which put me off! I know, I am just a contrary bugger, not to mention tight with my money! But I enjoyed your thoughtful review, Shelley, you write so well. xxx

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    1. Haha, Curtise expressed my reservations about mall shopping perfectly. Still, I really enjoyed your review of this store. I will have to keep an eye out if I ever travel to Canada in the future. There are some dresses there that are quite striking!

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  7. Great review, and you look gorgeous, love your hairstyle and your colorful outfit!. That multicolored jacket and bijouterie, and your fabulous shoes are awesome!. And you're right, that orange jacket was matching perfectly with your shoes!
    I'm not a huge fan of malls, but I'm glad for every new opportunity for every shape and taste to buy pretty clothes!
    besos

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  8. I LOVE Shawn's style! Brilliant! I need to pin him to my men's fashion board.

    Thank you for pointing out that wrap dress that has my name all over it. I seriously MUST have it. You are fuelling my sick addiction! Curse you! I'd been doing just fine trying to stay out of regular retail stores...but OH NO! Because of your review I will now be stopping by Le Chateau to try on that beauty. Thank you Shelly. And my husband thanks you too for forcing me to spend more $. When he asks I'm blaming it all on you. You bet I am.

    I hope you bought that orange moto jacket! It was made for you. Cause I can't be the only one succumbing to retail therapy.

    bisous
    Suzanne

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    1. I didn't buy the orange one because the pleather fabric didn't sit right when I did up the zipper, so I bought a black one that was a mix of heavy knit fabric and faux leather that fit much better. I also splurged on a bunch of bling. That wrap dress is very cute, I'm not sure how substantial the fabric is though. Pass along my apologies to your husband ;)

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  9. You look incredible in that orange jacket (and the grrovy one you wore to visit). What a shame it didn't sit right. That's one of my main issues with high street clothing - even when you do find something reasonably priced and good looking there's invariably issues with the finish - perhaps something I've learnt to notice more after making my own clothes.
    Mr Schmidt and you would make one gorgeous couple - is he single? x

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  10. Great review Shelley. The outfit that you wore to the Le Chateau opening is a stunner. Too bad about the orange jacket not fitting properly. The color is fabulous with your hair!

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  11. Once they confirmed my measurements, the dress shipped very quickly and arrived within 3 days. I tried it on immediately and could not believe how perfect it was (is)!
    where can I sell my wedding dress

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  12. This is a great article and very well written, however, it may be worth pointing out here that this new branding strategy for Le Chateau has been an abysmal failure. Since the adoption of the more upscale trend 5 years ago, the company has seen it's sales contract substantially and it's share prices implode; the last 2 years have been unprofitable. While the new concept stores such as the one in the White Oaks have their aesthetic strengths, they are not indicative of a successful retailer. Without major changes to the marketing and brand strategy, and more precisely a "reorganization" of the executive brass, Le Chateau is doomed to follow in the footsteps of Jacob, Costa Blanca, and the like.

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