Born and raised in the South of France, Jacqueline Familiant (née Voissy) moved to Montreal at the age of 15 to work as a translator, a job that later took her to the Congo. There she met her husband, Allan, a journalist with the United Nations. The couple travelled widely and settled for a time in New York before returning to Montreal in 1963.
Within two years of their return, Jacqueline opened Boutique Bonsecours on St. Paul Street in Old Montreal, one of a group of businesses that kick-started the renaissance of that area. Though she had always designed and made her own clothes, this would be her first attempt at selling them, in a stone-walled store decorated with antiques. The store also offered designer imports, vintage jewellery, and locally made souvenirs, but it was soon clear that Jacqueline’s small collection of garments was its best seller. When the Familiants found themselves in financial trouble, the best solution was to focus on manufacturing her clothing. The first official collection under Jacqueline’s name was released in March 1966.
From the first collection, Familiant’s style was clear: youthful, exuberant, and trend-driven. Aimed at the women in their twenties who frequented her boutique, the mini dresses, coats, suits, and jumpsuits featured pop-art motifs, geometric patterns, and bright colours, notably purples and greens. While the fashion press was declaring the mini skirt passé, Familiant was more concerned with pleasing the young people who patronized her store, though seamstresses were on hand in the boutique to alter skirt lengths for those who wished.
The success of her early collections led to the opening of a second boutique, Boutique Jeunesse, on St. Catherine Street in September 1966. By this point, the company employed at least a dozen seamstresses, working on- and off-site. The second boutique sold a lower-priced line of Jacqueline’s dresses ($25–$40), complementing the Bonsecours line, which tended more towards the avant-garde.
Familiant played a significant role in the fashion events at Expo 67, participating in shows at the Youth and Polymer Pavilions.
At the former, in an event for the peace-themed Youth Day, she showed mini and babydoll dresses with feather boas, causing one critic to deride her designs as “gay, kicky and gimmicky but definitely for those under 20.” Luckily for Familiant, this youthful customer was exactly who she was courting. “I just design for today’s youth,” she said. “I find that teenagers nowadays are more ‘with it’ than the retailers and buyers who select the merchandise […] and then sell it to the public.”
The same year, when demand for Familiant’s clothes had outpaced their couture production methods, Jacqueline and Allan opened a factory under the name Créations Jacqueline Familiant, Inc., and closed their two boutiques. At the St. Alexandre Street manufacturing location, with 20 employees and Allan serving as business manager, they produced a ready-to-wear line that was sold wholesale to over 100 stores, including Eaton’s, Ogilvy’s, Morgan’s, Holt Renfrew, and the Bay. The label’s distinctive “blot” logo was created by Montreal graphic artist Vittorio.
The first ready-to-wear collection was shown in August 1968 and favoured velvets, muted colours, and a loyalty to the mini skirt. In a gesture to transparency and the reality of ready-to-wear, the garments presented on the runway had not been altered to fit the models, who were all non-professionals ranging from 15 to 23 years old. The intention was to show both retail buyers and customers an “honest” representation of the clothing as it would look on real wearers.
This focus on the needs and real lives of customers was a hallmark of Familiant’s design and business sense, and led her to open another boutique, Trip In, in 1969. As Familiant said at the time, “how else would I keep a personal rapport with the young world—certainly not by locking myself in the designing room of the factory.” Her husband conceded that, “boutiques are a lot of trouble […] our wholesale customers resent the fact we compete with them in our own shops. The only advantage is that it helps with Jacqueline’s creativity to be surrounded by young people.”
Créations Jacqueline Familiant was able to take advantage of support for the Canadian fashion industry in the late 1960s and early 1970s aimed at expanding Canadian-made fashion into international markets. For instance, in 1970, Familiant presented her clothing to buyers in New York as part of an initiative sponsored by the Canadian government. This led to a number of retail orders from New York stores including Bergdorf Goodman and Bloomingdale’s. In Allan Familiant’s opinion, their success abroad was due to a spirit of daring that New York designers lacked. “Montreal has it over New York when it comes to the avant-garde,” he said in 1967. “We haunted the shops, especially Fifth Avenue […] and they just don’t have it.”
Towards the turn of the 1970s, Familiant presented a range of officewear and sportswear for young women, and added a menswear line in 1969. She had begun to move away from the mini-skirted silhouette, showing jumpsuits belted low on the hip and tunics in simple cuts. Her sensibility remained trained on the youth market, and she continued to look ahead, always selecting fabrics a few seasons in advance in order to stay on top of coming trends.
“Perspectives Au Féminin,” Perspectives, 10 September 1966.
“The Familiants: Boutique Beginnings.” June 1998.
Jacqueline Familiant, interview by Cynthia Cooper, 30 August 2016.
“Marie Rollet… Dans Le Vieux Montreal,” La Presse, 18 October 1965.
“Sensationelle Collection Op-Art Dans Le Vieux-Montreal,” Le Devoir, 25 March 1966.
Therèse Vaillancourt. “Mode À Gogo Et Mini-Jupes Évoluent Fort À L’aise Dans Un Vieux Grenier Du Carré Viger.” La Presse, 15 September 1966.
“Deux Boutiques Jumelles Et Bien Dans Le Vent Bonsecours Et Jeunesse,” Le Devoir, 15 September 1966.
Nika Rylski. “The Big Piece Party: The Expo Love-In” The Ottawa Journal, 18 August 1967.
Joan Capreol. “From 3 Boutiques to Factory Spells Success.” The Globe and Mail, 8 August 1968.
“Les Couturiers Abandonnent La Boutique Pour Retourner À L’atelier,” Le Devoir, 7 August 1968.