THE BACK PAGES

Slim pickings for the rest of us

David Bowie and Justin Trudeau are clients. Now Philippe Dubuc is going mass market.

JOANNE LATIMER September 10 2007
THE BACK PAGES

Slim pickings for the rest of us

David Bowie and Justin Trudeau are clients. Now Philippe Dubuc is going mass market.

JOANNE LATIMER September 10 2007

Slim pickings for the rest of us

bazaar

David Bowie and Justin Trudeau are clients. Now Philippe Dubuc is going mass market.

JOANNE LATIMER

Four years ago, Montrealer Daniel Baker spent $300 on a designer shirt by Philippe Dubuc. It’s still the cornerstone of his wardrobe, working with both jeans and suits. “I'm willing to spend up to $400 for a good dress shirt that I can wear for a few years,” says Balcer, 26, a marketing executive and regular shopper. But Baker and other male fashionistas in Quebec won’t have to spend that much to get a Dubuc shirt anymore—there’s a new partnership afoot that has the Canadian fashion industry buzzing with anticipation.

Philippe Dubuc created a line of menswear exclusively for La maison Simons that launches on Sept. 4It’s a limited-edition collection available at more, urn, democratic prices. “Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney made it respectable to create lower-end lines when they partnered with H&M,” notes Claude Laframboise, a Montreal style authority and executive editor of LouLou. “It’s great for Dubuc because his work will be exposed to shoppers who perhaps don’t know that he was the first Canadian to be invited to show in Paris. He has an international reputation.”

The new collection, called Philippe Dubuc exclusivement pour Simons, is amix-and-match wardrobe of 45 items, including trench coats, T-shirts, sweaters, belts, leather coats and ties. You can get a suit for $425 and jeans for $90. Dubuc’s creative inspiration for the lowerend line was Expo ’67, which happens to be the year of his birth. He updated the tapered trousers and narrow ties of the ’60s, adding his signature tailoring and detailing.

Dubuc’s clothes are admired for their urban sophistication and lack of fussy ornament. Aside from white shirts, his clothing is almost exclusively black and shades of slate and beige.

“His style is chic but subtle. Men like that,” says Hugues Gosselin, vice-president of purchasing for Simons, a family-owned-and-operated company based in Quebec City that sells $286 million worth of clothes annually across its seven stores in the province. “We took Dubuc’s samples and had them manufactured at our volume rates in Italy, India, Turkey, China and Chile to keep the price down. Our market is the 25to 45-year-olds who care about looking smart.”

Dubuc, however, is notorious for making slim jim pants and skinny suits. What about average guys carrying more meat on their bones? “My designs are lean, yes, but they ease at the right place,” says the svelte Dubuc, whose client list includes David Bowie, Tom Petty and Justin Trudeau. “Who knows?” he asks, joking. “Maybe the line will inspire some men to go to the gym—but don’t work out too often because my clothes aren’t made for bulky frames.”

The new Dubuc line seems ideal for guys who are over their thrift store phase. “In the wake of David Beckham, men are interested in making a stronger, more tailored statement,” says Warwick Jones, the president of Coppley Apparel Group, a Canadian manufacturing company. Yet despite the trend toward smart suiting, Dubuc went bankrupt in February 2006. It sent shock waves through

the Canadian fashion industry. He temporarily lost ownership of his boutique on SaintDenis street, as well as his house, and had to stop shipping to his 75 retail accounts worldwide. That’s when Simons approached Dubuc with the new project. Simons has carried Dubuc’s high-end line for 10 years and is pleased with sales. The new initiative threw Dubuc a lifeline.

“It meant I was able to refinance the boutique with loans from friends and buy back the building on Saint-Denis,” explains Dubuc, adding ruefully that he could not find financing in his own town. “We moved production to an atelier upstairs and opened the women’s store downstairs. Our image was intact, thankfully, because previously we put all our profits into promotion, showing in Paris.”

Is Simons taking a risk by teaming up with a high-flying designer who went bankrupt in 2006? “Let’s not pin a scarlet letter on Canadian designers who go bankrupt,” advises Peter Simons, 43, who helms the family business. “Entrepreneurs take risks and sometimes strike out. For a small company, it can just be bad luck. Dubuc’s creative credentials are proven. No Canadian designer has a higher international profile than Dubuc.”

And now he’s more affordable at home. Jim Moore, creative director at GQ, says it has become a “badge of style” to buy designers’ discount lines. “It’s a status thing,” explains Moore. “People are proud of the deals they get. People announce their deals.” M