They started out 16 years ago at age 20 with the idea to create snug, stylish, warm coats — a winning proposition in Montreal and the rest of Canada.
Now Eran Elfassy and Elisa Dahan of Mackage have built a worldwide business, with a store in SoHo in New York and perhaps 1,000 points of sale globally. These include the best of the best: Harrods and Harvey Nichols in London, L’Éclaireur in Paris, and the big names in the U.S., including Bloomingdale’s, Barney’s, Nordstrom and Saks, stock the line. Oh, and Holt Renfrew, Ogilvy and Harry Rosen in Canada, among hundreds of smaller boutiques.
This week, the duo behind the Montreal brand opened their first Canadian store, at Carrefour Laval, coming five years after the SoHo shop and an earlier short-lived shop on the Boulevard St-Germain in Paris.
It was a warm homecoming, with a party that drew hundreds of fans to launch the 2,000-square-foot store, sleekly designed with gleaming black walls by Toronto firm Burdifilek.
Why here, why now and why did it take so long?
Carrefour Laval is the best mall in Quebec, they said, and it is also close to their headquarters on Chabanel St. W., allowing them to visit frequently and perfect every merchandising detail.
The store is the prototype for a new concept, according to Elfassy. “Everything in this store is made to measure,” he said, adding Burdifilek’s design for the Galleria department store in Seoul was the clincher in choosing the firm.
“We love their esthetic,” Dahan said.
So yes, there are more retail plans afoot, with three locations in Toronto and Montreal under consideration at the moment.
They had wanted a downtown location in Montreal, but the Laval store opened up first. “When we find the right spot downtown, we’ll be there,” Dahan said.
The move to retail for designers has been a trend for decades now, as it gives a brand an outlet to tell its story and show all of its designs in a carefully chosen environment.
You can be in every store in the world, but what’s important is how you are represented, Elfassy said.
“It’s to show the Mackage universe,” he said.
Two years ago they launched bags, with a signature arrow embellishment, which have also been widely embraced by retailers.
But they discontinued a ready-to-wear line. It was overwhelming to them, Elfassy said. Also, Dahan added, there is a price-point issue for ready-to-wear: with styles changing every season, many people would not want to pay the high cost for the quality Mackage demands.
How two young designers launched the successful brand while still at LaSalle College is a story of a clear design esthetic, and perhaps just a bit of help from the Elfassy clan of four brothers.
Elfassy’s two eldest brothers, Michel and Ilan, had a leather company, APP, which became the base for the business, and now also includes sister brand Soïa & Kyo. Elfassy and Dahan first put their fashion imprint on the leather goods, then moved on to every kind of outerwear, from cloth to down, with injections of leather and fur.
Their esthetic was clear from the beginning, and influenced coat design widely. What they saw was a need for close-cut, fashionable coats with details galore. They cut for a young, trendy petite market and soon gained a celebrity following, dressing Andie MacDowell, Halle Berry and Gwyneth Paltrow.
They still do some manufacturing in Canada, but travel the world for fabric and production sources: wool from Italy, China for down production and Turkey for leather. They don’t disclose numbers, but say growth is in the 30-per-cent range annually.
Now they are revisiting and improving some of their most popular designs, like the hooded parka with a signature V fur trim and inner zip vest. Down is trending this season, Elfassy said, and for the first time they have rated their coats for warmth — the warmest being good to go at minus 35 degrees — with “self-warming” four-layer pockets.
Once they expanded internationally, they saw that our winter wear is too warm for many places on the planet, so they broadened the range of coats to suit many climates.
In fact, even in Montreal outerwear must cover a huge range of weather.
So how many coats does one need?
To Dahan and Elfassy, three basics apply to both men and women: a leather jacket, cloth coat and down parka.
But Dahan, the mother of three young children, doesn’t know where to store her collection of coats anymore. It’s an archive from 16 years in business — ballpark 150 coats — which she has stashed in her children’s closets.
Elfassy says he’s a classic kind of guy, and owns perhaps 50 jackets and coats.
“It’s all about the shoes, the handbag and the coat you wear,” he said.