Early last year, I learned of an athletic wear boutique called Lululemon that was based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
At the time, a Canada-based line and boutique in the Pearl District seemed novel. But like many other things - Toyota Priuses or the coffee shops currently spinning the Zombies' final record - once you notice a budding phenomenon, the incidents pile up.
Soon after discovering Lululemon, I heard talk of a few Canada-based fashion lines, such as Gentle Fawn and Dace.
Then I spotted both labels at the North Mississippi Avenue clothing mecca, Pin Me Apparel. Owner Sally Schwartz says that half of the garments in the store are from Canadian designers.
Schwartz hails from Victoria, British Columbia, but she swears her Canadian collection started as an accident.
At one of her first visits to LA Market - the major West Coast buying opportunity for clothing retailers - Schwartz found herself drawn to the hip Canadian line Gentle Fawn.
'Then the more we looked around the more lines we liked that were Canadian. The product just appealed to us,' she says. Now, Pin Me Apparel carries many other Canadian companies, such as OK47, Togs, Kitchen Orange and Industry.
Most of the lines are based in Vancouver. 'Vancouver is just booming,' Schwartz says. She speculates that the lack of good boutiques in that city pushes a lot of the designers into the U.S. retail market.
As word has spread about Pin Me's Canadian connections, Canadian designers frequently approach the store. 'We're on all of their lists to come visit,' Schwartz says.
She sees a common approach among designers from the north. They often fuse seemingly disparate styles - casual streetwear shapes executed in more formal fabric or low-maintenance knits in a structured piece, such as a blazer made of sweatshirt material.
The business relationship between Canadian designers and the stores that carry their work is more intimate than with most U.S. brands.
'I've met most of the designers, and they work really closely with their reps,' Schwartz says, adding that the designers often take suggestions from retailers about fabrics or styles and apply them to subsequent seasons.
Schwartz's latest designer acquisition never even has sold wholesale before. Nokomis currently is only sold at Nokomis' sole location in Edmonton, Alberta, but Schwartz lured the company to make its first shipment. She beams and says, 'I liked so many of their things.'
Pin Me Apparel, 3705 N. Mississippi Ave., 503-281-1572
Make mine Moulé
Speaking of Canadians, local fashion retailers should be quaking in their ballet flats over the new location of Canadian chain Moulé, which opened last Friday and can best be described as a high-fashion superstore.
But this is no sinister takeover plot; it is a family business built on a humble principle: 'great everything.'
Moulé, which means 'shaped' or 'molded,' was founded by Beverely Gorenstein in 1987. Like their founder, the two original stores had a signature bohemian, exotic style.
More recently, Gorenstein's children, Michael and Rachel (the woman behind the chic line Rachel Mara), assumed control and updated the chain to embrace the more urban offspring of their mother's generation.
While the family hails from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Rachel Gorenstein has lived in Portland for three years, so bringing the family business to her adopted hometown made sense.
The store, at Northwest 13th Avenue and Everett Street, is massive - more than 4,000 square feet of prime Pearl District real estate.
The space is packed with fabulous clothes, jewelry, housewares and gifts. Like a Barneys Co-op or Fred Segal, Moulé offers the convenience of one-stop shopping and the aesthetic of a gallery, with clean lines and high ceilings.
The designer roster reads like a greatest-hits compilation. Women's wear includes Catherine Malandrino's romantic dresses, Lauren Moffatt's girlie pieces, Vince's preppy separates, Velvet's buttery knits and an exciting, very modern line I've never seen before called Eurythmic.
Men have their pick of Ted Baker, Hugo Boss, JLindeberg, Proper English, Generra and more. The denim collection features Paper Denim Cloth, LA Denim Atelier, Earnest Sewn and Genetic. Children's wear is on the way.
A large selection of Kobos candles, with heavenly scents and beautiful packaging, make perfect gifts. Striking vases, luxurious jewelry boxes, animal-shaped throw pillows, books of vintage Playboy photographs - all beg to be taken home.
On the exterior windows facing Everett Street are two giant black-and-white photographs of store matriarch Beverely Gorenstein.
Her hair is pulled back, her eyes are sparkling; she wears a hint of a smile. The portraits introduce a bit of store history, but also establish a watchful presence, as if making sure the kids do right by their mother. If the opening stage is any indication, 'great everything' seems like an excellent business plan.
Moulé, 1225 N.W. Everett St., 503-227-8530
Underthings hit the radar
Lingerie boutique Lille opened last week on East Burnside Street.
Chic in that effortlessly French way, Lille already has the town's classy undergarment market cornered.
Co-owned by Sara Yach and Sara Yurman, the store stocks some of the most coveted names in luxury lingerie (Eres, Princess Tam Tam) and smaller, high-quality lines (Ciel, Araks).
Boys, if you're reading this, go out and get us a present already. We deserve it.
Lille Boutique, 1007 E. Burnside St., 503-232-0333