I rarely check my “general” Instagram messages, and when I do, about 90 percent of the time, I delete them prior to opening. But as you will soon learn, this is a story riddled with fate, manifestations and full circle moments, so on a scorching hot day in August of 2021, I just so happened to click on that inbox. Among my direct messages was one from someone named Franco.
“Hi Kristen. My name is Franco Rocchi, Executive VP of Le Chateau. Maybe we met when you worked for Le Chateau all those years ago. I’m writing you because of your article on how you wish Le Chateau got one more chance to get it right. It really resonated with me. Well, here we are getting that second chance. We are poised to relaunch and I’d like you to write the comeback story, you deserve it”.
Was I getting Punk’d? I thought it was a hoax. How could it not be? I spent the next 45 minutes vigorously scrolling through Google, LinkedIn and Instagram to make sure that his claims were true. We arranged a phone call a few days later and on it I was able to learn that not only was he in fact real, but he has worked for Le Chateau for over 42 years, and is currently Senior Director of Marketing. My immediate reaction was that I hope that I did not offend him in my previous article, as I may have questioned some advertising decisions. However, my second and more rational response was that he simply related to raw human emotion and heaviness I felt when I learned that Le Chateau was closing its doors for good.
Like many retailers, Le Chateau filed for creditor protection in October 2020 after pandemic restrictions shuttered stores and cancelled events like proms, weddings, galas and parties. In June of 2021, Suzy Shier agreed to buy Le Chateau’s intellectual property, retaining much of the brand’s design team and keeping operations in its home base of Montreal.
Le Chateau was given a life line, an opportunity to rebrand and start over; but how were consumers going to respond to it? A year later we can answer that question with certainty, and it is better than anyone (perhaps even Rocchi) expected.
Back to Basics
How did they do it? The strategy was actually quite simple – On one of my calls with Rocchi, he said that despite Le Chateau’s losses in the last decade, if you were to only look at dress category, year over year, sales were always up. Le Chateau needed to get back to being an occasion wear destination; and in 37 Suzy Shier stores across Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan and at suzyshier.com they are now exactly just that. The company had abandoned this strategy in the early 2010’s when they tried to branch out and compete with other fast fashion brands like H&M and Zara, but hindsight is undeniably 20/20, because they are now filling a gap in the marketplace with virtually no brick and mortar competition.
I was a COVID bride. I was married in March and from experience, I can tell you that almost all of my female guests found it a struggle to find a dress. If you are looking, there is a chance that you may luck out and find something in a department store, but it is far more likely that you will need to resort to taking your search online. The problem is that women prefer to try on dresses for special occasions. Le Chateau knows this, and it is deliberately why they offer their complete collection both in their Suzy Shier/Le Chateau locations and online.
What Dreams Are Made Of
The acquisition of Le Chateau by Suzy Inc was one made in Canadian fashion heaven. Two legacy brands with different core demographics coming together to dress it’s clients for any and every occasion. With their sole focus now on occasion wear, Le Chateau is able to be even more fashion forward than in previous years. In their latest collection, you can find plunging necklines in vibrant colours, sleek silhouettes with tasteful cutouts and no shortage of bejewelled gowns, all ranging in sizes XXS through XXL.
When I walked into their Erin Mills location there was an instant sense of familiarity. The store felt and looked exactly like it did when I worked there over 20 years ago. I mean that in the best way possible. The styles of dresses on the walls were undeniably Le Chateau, but they were elevated. As I began to try them on, I only became more impressed. The fit, the details, the fabrics; they were all quality, beautifully-made statement pieces that anyone would want in their closet. I may have purchased one on the way out, and another online when I got home.
It is unfortunate that Le Chateau is no longer able to make it’s clothing in Canada (due to a selloff of machines during the liquidation process), however this has allowed for prices to come back down, with many of the dresses tagged at under $140. Whether you are looking for a short cocktail dress for a night out with girlfriends, or more formal attire for a wedding, Le Chateau is proudly reclaiming it’s title as being your occasion wear destination.
The Next Chapter
This is by no means the end of the story. If anything it is a new beginning, and it is an honour be a part of it. There are certain people, places and things that are lovingly nostalgic, but there are others that go one step further. They are pieces of your history that helped to shape who you are, and I consider Le Chateau to be in that latter category. Rocchi says that there are great plans for Le Chateau as we look ahead to 2023, which include a holiday collection drop, a commitment to widening its occasion wear offerings and the expansion into many more Suzy Shier locations.
I ran into the mall a few weeks ago and happened to notice that the location I once worked at was still vacant. Le Chateau may no longer have its own individual store, or everything it once did. But like anything in life; we learn, we adapt, we grow and when we are afforded a chance to try again, you better believe that we are going to take it.
Contributor: Kristen Vizzari