At its peak, Le Château had nine stores along an approximately three-kilometer stretch of Ste-Catherine Street in Montreal.
The Canadian retailer was a staple of almost every shopping center and shopping district across the country, with 240 locations at its peak.
“The more sales we make, the more stores we open and the more stores we open, the more sales we make,” says Franco Rocchi, a Le Chateau executive who started with the clothing brand four decades ago as as a seller in one of the Ste-Catherine Street locations.
“That was the retail formula back then and it worked. It was all about brick and mortar – not just for Le Chateau but for Aldo, Gap and others throughout the ’70s,’ 80s and 90. We were in all primary, secondary and tertiary markets. “
Le Chateau defined avant-garde club wear, formal dresses and trendy office attire for decades in Canada, but began to face increasing competition from overseas retailers like H&M and Zara in the early years. 2000.
In 2014, Le Château was losing money. But the company had a plan: to close 100 stores over five years, with a return to profitability in 2020.
“We did it in an honorable way,” says Rocchi. “We had leases, we had handshakes, we had a good relationship with our landlords. We thought we could navigate the five-year plan.”
But the exit strategy that the retailer took half a decade to work on encountered a major problem.
“The plan called for a turnaround, a return to profitability,” says Rocchi. “But the irony is that that magical year that we worked on for five years was 2020.”
Pandemic closures not only closed the retailer’s stores throughout 2020. Proms, weddings, galas and parties – the main drivers of the retailer’s dress sales – have been called off altogether.
Le Chateau filed for protection against its creditors in October 2020, joining the ranks of dozens of large retailers who have caved in under the weight of COVID-19 restrictions.
In June, Suzy’s Inc. – the company behind women’s clothing brand Suzy Shier – stepped in to buy the intellectual property of Le Chateau and is now making a comeback with the online launch of a pre-holiday evening wear collection. .
The so-called glamorous capsule unveiled on Tuesday gives buyers a glimpse of what to expect with the brand’s official relaunch under its new owner slated for spring.
Rocchi – now Suzy / Le Chateau’s senior marketing director – says the curated limited-edition collection highlights the brand’s focus on high-fashion second-hand clothing.
“Even though we took on the challenge of closing stores, we actually started to see significant success in our clothing business,” he says. “We were seeing year-over-year growth in our used business. We have found our sweet spot, which is beautiful dresses at a great price. “
The full collection slated for 2022 will include men’s footwear, accessories and clothing, with women’s clothing available at select Suzy Shier stores across the country.
“We will have stores within stores in approximately 35 Suzy locations across the country,” says Rocchi. “It won’t just be Le Château products being pushed into Suzy stores. It will be a beautiful, clearly demarcated store, so customers know it’s Le Château.”
He adds that there will be no “cannibalization” between brands, with Suzy Shier focusing on casual, weekend and work wear.
“We like to say that our clients can wear Suzy by day and Le Chateau by night,” says Rocchi.
Indeed, Suzy Shier’s website appears to be split in two, with a model wearing a sweater and items like warm hats and gloves to one side, while a model is dressed in an evening dress from the on the other side with items like sparkly party tops. “
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 16, 2021