Montreal shoe lovers have a new hangout: local designer and manufacturer La Canadienne has opened its first boutique along the tony west end of Laurier Avenue. The “concept” boutique, as owner Penny Shuster calls it, features cozy leather armchairs, gleaming hardwood floors and an espresso bar. Even better, clients can browse La Canadienne^ collection—from glossy black ankle boots to soft suede kneehighs—with their consciences intact, says Shuster, who co-owns the brand with her husband, Gianni Lamanuzzi.
La Canadienne boots are made by workers in a “free society,” boasts one company advertisement (most are made in Montreal, the rest come from Italy). What’s more, company literature notes they’re made from Italian leather that is “non-toxic and lead-free.” Huh? “Leather can be toxic if it’s not leadfree, and a lot of leathers are produced with lead,” Shuster says. “What you need is control. And I think that in [some places], you don’t have that. It’s the Wild West.”
But Greg Mance, owner of White Tanning Co. in Rockwood, Ont., one of two remaining commercial leather tanneries in Canada, says claims of lead-free footwear might be misleading. “In absolutely no way, shape or form could a boot be toxic to wear” due to lead contamination, Mance insists. “As someone who’s been in the business a long time, I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
Oh well. La Canadienne’s talk of lead-free
leather and free societies may make for feelgood footwear, but it’ll probably be the sleek waterproof boots (perfect for Montreal winters) and hot café ristretto served up in the boutique bistro that keep customers coming back for more. And with an eight per cent increase in sales over the past seven years—the brand’s sold in over 2,000 stores across North America—it seems to be working just fine. M
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