Judith Richardson designs for an entire day, not just a moment. “Fabrics are fashion to me,” she says, taking a rare pause between conference calls and production meetings on a Wednesday afternoon in Montreal. “When a woman is working from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., we want her to feel just as put together at night as she did in the morning.” As creative director for Canadian womenswear brand and retailer, Judith & Charles, Richardson knows what long hours can do to an outfit. A new capsule collection—including new suiting—is delivered to stores 11 months out of the year. “Each capsule is a new colour story with a balanced offering of jackets, dresses, and tops. A new fabric or colour is also introduced to the classic suiting,” says Richardson. Keeping up with the world requires a wardrobe that performs.
The same can be said about keeping up with deadlines at work, toddlers at home, household chores, cobbling together a social life, and all the other pressures of the modern woman’s hectic lifestyle. Her life not only demands style but a practical side as well. Judith & Charles’ refined pieces have an impeccable fit and construction, and by focusing on high-performance fabrics that deliver both functionality and comfort—such as bonded wool from Italy and moisture-wicking Japanese techno-cotton—the brand makes the kind of clothes that women not only want, but need: sophisticated yet versatile pieces. The kicker? Everything is produced in Ontario, with the exception of the knitwear.
If there was ever a duo to solve the fashion conundrum for modern women, a passionate and pragmatic Canadian and a passionate and persuasive Frenchman could be the dream team. Richardson cut her teeth at Esprit for 18 years during the brand’s hey-day in the 80s. While researching the market she came across a line out of Paris called Teenflo. “It was a very consistent line of products. Always very well made, well cut. The fit was perfect,” she recalls. So Richardson approached the brand with the idea to secure a licensing agreement. “We chased them for years.” It was during that time that Richardson met Charles Le Pierrès. A chance romantic meeting on a beach ended up not only with a partner for life, but in business as well. “I said, ‘go meet with your patriots. Maybe they’ll listen to you.’ ” Le Pierrès secured meeting with Teenflo and an agreement was signed in 1991. For almost two decades, Richardson and Le Pierrès produced and developed the brand in North America for a growing stable of loyal customers. And then it was time to evolve.
“Change is good,” says Le Pierrès between sips of tea on a rainy afternoon in Vancouver. Then, smiling, he elaborates, “Sometimes you are a brunette and you want to be blond.” He explains the transition from Teenflo, a brand name that was beleaguered with misconceptions. “Customers, a lot of them passed by. They thought it was for teens.” It’s a testament to the clothes of course, that they found continued success despite it. They were coming close to the end of their agreement with Teenflo and, in 2008, after many late nights and long hours of planning, the Judith & Charles label was launched.
The careful execution of their brand identity is just as meticulous as the rest of their operation. “We want to make it easy,” Le Pierrès explains. “Everything has been thought of.” Judith & Charles’ retail stores are sleek with white marble, pale beech shelves, and touches of chrome. The selection is edited while remaining comprehensive, carrying multiple brands to complement their womenswear and complete an outfit. Even the hangers glide along the rails easily, swaying just so with each garment allowed the perfect amount of breathing room from the next.
Judith & Charles recently opened their third Vancouver location in Kitsilano. New boutiques are about to open in New York City and Toronto in 2015. An expansion overseas to Qatar is also underway. “It’s great to be shipping Canadian product over there,” Richardson beams.
“Being in love with a piece, that’s what it is,” Le Pierrès says, reflecting on their steady success. “You wear it. It fits you perfectly. You come back.”