The Musee McCord just released EncycloModeQC – a comprehensive online resource of the Quebecois fashion industry. This is a great resource for finding more about Montreal designers and manufacturers of clothes we have in the collection.
The first designer I looked up was Ida Desmarais because of a spectacular presentation gown we have in the collection made by Desmarais in about 1938. I acquired the dress from a Montreal dealer who refuses to tell me the name of the family it came from… however, I know I will find out some day!
Florida (Ida) Desmarais was born in Montreal in 1888, and by 1914 was working as a seamstress. She was listed in the 1916 Montreal directory as the owner of Peel Street Fashion House, along with Samuel Ogulnik who was the tailor. The following year she also advertises that she does millinery.
She married J. Éloi Lalonde in 1917, but retained her maiden name for her work. In the late 1920s, a Desmarais gown reportedly cost around 125 to 200 dollars.
In 1928 Desmarais moved to 1324 Sherbrooke Street West where the business remained until closing.
Despite financial difficulties experienced during the Depression, Desmarais maintained between 30 and 40 employees. She bought sketches in Paris, where she travelled to twice a year to buy fabric from suppliers like Bianchini-Férier. Her own designs were rudimentary sketches that her assistants completed to show clients. Desmarais apparently never held fashion shows of her collections.
Ida Desmarais retired in 1942 and died in Montreal in 1946.