Montreal has become a mecca of handicraft artisans, that are driven by the desire to be unique. A short visit to Souk @ SAT or Smart Design Mart can definitely validate their new found success over machine made products. Their creations found a home in those expositions, which attract more and more local product enthusiasts every year. For some of these artist, online stores might be the next best way to reach new markets but there’s nothing like having your own boutique.
The transition from exposition, to website, to eventually opening her own store was natural for Rachel Fortin. Especially when she chose to take her brand, Rachel F., to the next level. The former salon participant rapidly became one of Montreal’s most influential furrier, a title that might sound antiquated today but used to be quite common in our city a couple of decades ago. With the help of her life and business partner, Mathieu Mudie, she opened Lowell less than a year ago. Today, the store and it’s concept are a must-see in the Mile End, earning a well-deserved spot on Saint-Laurent.
We had the chance to explore her 3-floor workshop/house/office space in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and were instantly charmed by the soft music, light scent of leather, and the purr of vintage sewing machines.
How did Rachel F. first start?
I started this company producing clothes, and I guess I got a little bit bored of buying the same fabric rolls, to then cut the same identical pieces. I decided to become an independent worker and follow my passion. It all started with this very personal feel to it. Very small. That is also why I decided to use my name for the brand.
How did fur become your main inspiration?
It all started when I was still in school. I was at the college Marie-Victorin studying fashion design and I was slowly introduced to fur. At first, I wanted nothing to do with it. I’ll admit I was even against it, but I knew I wanted to experiment. I had an internship in Denmark and started to really fall in love with the material.
I learned so much about all the qualities of fur; it’s very durable and versatile, for example. It also allows a lot of freedom to create, it’s not like with silk let’s say, where you have to cut it with extreme precision and with no room for error. Working with recycled fur came very naturally to me, first because I was initially against it, but also because I discovered the story behind it.
There are tons of fur coats across Quebec and Canada; it’s a great material that’s just sleeping, hidden in old wardrobes and church basements.
So, is that where the fur you use comes from?
Yeah, we find it everywhere. There are so many furriers that have closed their doors in Montreal. I sometimes have the chance to buy a whole batch of fur that I know is available and not used for anything. I also try to buy furs from a certain period of time, when it’s possible. Ocelot fur, for example, is usually 50 years old. I wouldn’t say I only deal with vintage furs, but we usually work with pieces that are at least 10 to 20 years old.
Do you ever meet people that are completely against the use of fur?
It’s very rare. It happened once during an exhibition in Paris, the person was really angry we were using fur. I’d say it’s only happened two or three times, but it’s usually younger people that are not well informed, and are wearing leather shoes, you know. I believe that when you know where your material comes from and how it’s handled, it becomes the same thing as buying a cotton shirt.
How much influence does the history of fur trade have on the philosophy behind your brand?
I think it’s still has a big presence in the whole process of creating each piece. Working with fur is extremely authentic and it’s something I never want to see disappear. I also love the whole idea of bartering; its history is part of our roots. As an artisan, you always end up exchanging services in one way or another; it keeps us close to that tradition.
Besides the historical aspect of it, I love working with my hands. It’s why I became a furrier and a leather craftsman. There’s nothing like building something from scratch with your own two hands. Originally, “artisan” meant doing everything yourself without the use of machines. That slowly changed with time, but we still try to maintain the essence of the objects we build.
What can we expect from Rachel F. in the next couple of years?
Maybe another Lowell boutique in the next 10 years [laughs], we really are working on the store continually, but you can expect that we will always keep the same spirit. Sometimes when brands expand, they lose a bit of their quality and it’s a big challenge to try to counter that, but with a material like fur, you constantly have to look for the very best and it’s what we’ll continue to do.
Photos by Michael Colatruglio