Canadian Fashion Connection – Parachute

This weekend we added to our ‘Parachute’ collection when we acquired this man’s jacket from the early 1980s by Parachute. Originally purchased and worn by James Fowler, a fashion designer working in Toronto in the 1980s. Parachute has been perhaps the most internationally recognized Canadian brand of clothing – ever.

In 1977 Harry Parnass, a Montreal born designer who had trained as an architect, was working for the Montreal clothier Le Chateau, a boutique type of trendy cheap chic clothing designed, manufactured and retailed by the Le Chateau company, when he met Nicola Pelly, an English born and educated fashion designer who had come to Canada in 1971 and had just started working at Le Chateau. The two joined up romantically and professionally, opening a boutique in Montreal to sell their own line of clothing in 1978 they called ‘Parachute’. Their line was a hit and by 1983 the brand was more available in the U.S. than Canada and was also being sold in Italy, the U.K., and Japan.

The clothes were ‘simple with swagger’ said one fashion article. In an interview with Montreal’s Gazette in 1979 Parnass said that “The liberation movement of women, gays, and ethnic groups, plus the forces working against cultural homogenization were giving us all a potential shot at individual heroism.” Big shouldered heroic-looking clothes were the result.

At the height of its popularity in the early-mid 1980s, ‘Parachute’ was appearing in music videos and was being worn by celebrities on and off stage, including Madonna, Mick Jagger, Peter Gabriel, George Michael, Duran Duran, and David Bowie. Parachute clothes were also in the wardrobe department of the 1980s iconic television show Miami Vice. The big shouldered look was waning in the early 1990s, leading Harry Parnass and Nicola Pelly to close down their Parachute brand in 1993.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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17 Responses to Canadian Fashion Connection – Parachute

  1. liz says:

    I remember so clearly where the Parachute store was in Yorkville, and how desirable the brand was at the time. Alas my ’80s trousers were parachute pants (i.e. rip-stop nylon) and not pants by Parachute.

  2. Trina Simon says:

    I have one of their silk satin shirts for sale on my Etsy site hoarderhaven.
    It doesn’t give the size or the fabric, if anyone knows this
    I would love to hear from them. Thank you for the information on this site. I’ve always wanted to visit Montreal. Are their clothes rare nowadays? Because I could not find any other items when I did a search. Also this shirt appears to be unisex but again, I’m not sure and would love to know, thanks again, Trina

    • Jonathan says:

      Sorry, I can’t see your listing, so can’t comment on the style. I have seen ‘Parachute’ clothes, but they are hard to find online because it gets hidden amongst all the parachute pants…

  3. Helen Y says:

    Are their clothes very expensive now? I have an brocade jacket from them in almost perfect condition. I bought it when they had a store in Soho NY. It was expensive at the original price but I bought it at a closeout sale. My friend and I bought one, though they were for men. We wore it clubbing. It was too beautiful and well made to thrift. I am glad I kept it.

    • Jonathan says:

      I don’t find their pieces very often, and of course they are hard to find online because ‘parachute’ is used to describe a pant style.

  4. Debra L says:

    I’m a big fan of “Parachute ” clothes and had purchased
    many timely pieces in the 80’s both for business and
    practical use in Los Angeles, Ca. I so regret getting rid of
    some key pieces in my wardrobe! Thank you to the fabulous
    Designers!!!

  5. Jen says:

    I LIVED at Parachute; spent my every waking minute falling in love with everything in the store. LOVED my White jumpsuit, with large shoulder pads, and the zipper opened from the bottom of my left foot, all the way to the right side of my neckline. With my Black canvas Parachute bag, and my wrap around “Devo” sunglasses (which I STILL OWN)…I walked down St-Catherine street with PRIDE!

  6. PHILIPPE NORMAND says:

    I was living in NYC and I met Morgan Allard who owns the store at 121, Wooster street. I even work for him!We used to go out a lot those days…He even came to Paris when I came back home…then I have to work in Japan and we did’nt get in touch…no cell phone and no Internet!! Does anyone know what happened to Morgan?

    ps. Sadly I lost a lot of Parachute clothes even some samples like a nice green&gray blouson. But I still get a huge grey bath towel with the name PARACHUTE on it, etc!

  7. Sharon Freeman says:

    I have a Black wool long, funnel necked Parachute coat In perfect condition. I bought it at the Parachute store in SoHo. I can send photos if anyone is interested in buying it.

  8. max says:

    i have about 20 pieces of parachute left in my wardrobe still in great condition

  9. Kevin says:

    I was 17 (my first part time job) when i went to work at the original Parachute store on Crescent st in Montreal. That store closed after a fire. Not alot of Parachute remains. The owners (Pelly/Parnass) even described their own cloths as dispossble fashion. I remember walking to work in a leopard jumpsuit and wondering why everybody else wasnt wearing one. Sadly fashion is no longer as special.

    • Jonathan says:

      Leopard jumpsuit – WOW! The parachute clothes I have been fortunate to handle and collect for the museum have all been good quality and in good condition – not disposable because of their quality like some clothes (Le Chateau….) I know a lot of Parachute clothes are still being kept by their original owners too – trying to pry some pieces out of some people’s hands isn’t easy!

  10. Antinous says:

    I had a beautiful black twill jacket with an asymmetrical closure and high, circular collar. I absolutely lived in it for a decade, and now I have no idea what happened to it. People used to comment on it all the time. Now it’s hard even to find references to Parachute clothing. Most people today seem to think that the only fashion choices in the 1980s were oversized, multi-colored, multi-patterned clown outfits. I had lovely clothes back then, before the Grunge Apocalypse.

    • Jonathan says:

      Yes, the entire decade gets a bad rap for fashion because of late 80s bubble-gummer mall clothes. I agree, a lot of the 80s stuff was magnificent!

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