Tried-and-true retailer Reitmans teams up for the holidays with up-and-coming label Martin Lim

Reitmans and Martin Lim
Reitmans and Martin Lim

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It’s a sweltering summer day, but in a cavernous (and thankfully, cool) Montreal loft studio a model is glammed up like a hostess at a holiday fete. The shoot is for a capsule collection that brings together 365-store-strong Canadian retailer Reitmans and two-year-old fashion label Martin Lim, designed by Montreal-based husband and wife team Pao Lim and Danielle Martin, who won last year’s Mercedes-Benz Start Up competition. But these designers aren’t exactly new kids on the block. After both completing a master of arts in fashion at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins, Martin and Lim honed their design skills in Paris: she worked at Christian Lacroix; both put in time at Roland Mouret. In 2004, they returned to Canada, and launched their own line in 2010.

When the offer came from Reitmans, they were surprised—after all, designer/retailer partnerships often involve a mega personality who needs the exposure about as much as Karl Lagerfeld needs another pair of fingerless gloves. “We’re such a young brand—we didn’t expect it,” says Lim. “We’re in a few stores now but with this collaboration, we’ll be seen and worn by more women.” Last year, Montreal designer Marie Saint Pierre masterminded a predominantly black Reitmans Holiday 2011 collection of dresses and a colourful 10-piece run for Spring 2012.

On set, the designers walk me through their process, which starts with their mood board. Some of these images translate clearly in the collection: A ’60s pink fireplace is reborn as the colour-blocked torso of a shift dress. Others are more for mood, like model Jean Patchett showing off her slender form in a white dress circa 1954. Then the sketching begins—one draws something and the other will add or take away. We crowd around a rack of dresses to see how their sketches have come to life. All of the hemlines fall just above the knee, except for one long, Angelina-esque number. Various sleeve lengths are explored, in case your holiday season involves more ribbon curling than bicep curls. Made in Canada, the pieces (none priced above $120) will be available in November in select Reitmans stores across Ontario and Quebec, as well as online, and unlike Martin Lim’s ready-to-wear line, the sizes include petite and plus. The two had to give some thought to how their techniques would transfer to mass production. “It was a great exercise,” says Lim. “All designers should think about that when they build a collection. Sometimes we forget the commercial side of it.” Where the duo might have used draping in their own line, here they explore how seams can create a similar silhouette. When the team finishes shooting the last look—a white dolman-sleeve crepe top, featuring black jersey from the elbow to the wrist, paired with a ponte skirt with a faux-leather panel—we gather around the model to ooh and aah at the garments. Most of the Reitmans team declares this look their most-wanted. The designers stand there like proud parents. “The collection looks very much like the best of what we have done in the past two years,” says Lim. “You can really do beautiful things without overcomplicating them.” Sounds like the perfect approach to holiday dressing.