Born in Montreal, 1888 - Died in Montreal, 1946
1914 - 1942
Dress (detail), Ida Desmarais, 1921. Gift of Isabel Sommer Silverman, M971.102.42 © McCord Museum
Florida Desmarais began her career around 1914, working for a French dressmaker whose business she eventually took over several years later. Her name appeared in a Montreal city directory for the first time in 1916. She was listed as sharing a Peel Street shop with tailor Samuel Ogulnik.
In 1917, she married J. Éloi Lalonde. That year, her occupation was listed as milliner and an advertisement in La Presse shows that she was looking for apprentices.
According to author Betty Guernsey, Desmarais was Gaby Bernier‘s main competitor when Bernier opened her salon in 1927. At that time, an afternoon dress designed by Ida Desmarais could cost $125 and a wedding dress $200, which was considered expensive. In 1928, she moved her salon to 1324 Sherbrooke Street West, where she remained until retiring in 1942.
Nina Larionoff worked for Desmarais as a vendeuse from 1929 to 1935, when the workroom housed some thirty employees. She recalled that there were three tables: one for the “première” (head of workroom) to cut and drape fabric, another for assembling garments, and a third for finishing seams and adding details like buttons. In her final year of employment with Desmarais, Larionoff had her own table where she designed and assembled debutante dresses. Angelina di Bello, a couturier and TV host of sewing shows, got her first job as a dressmaker with Ida Desmarais around 1936.
She remembered the workroom employed over 40 seamstresses, each with her own specialized task.
During the Great Depression, the salon and its employees suffered financially.
According to Larionoff, Desmarais used drawings instead of organizing showings of her collections. She would do rough sketches and then have her assistants finish them.
She also purchased sketches from designers on her trips to Paris, where she travelled twice a year to purchase fabric.
Eventually, local suppliers provided her fabrics, often from Bianchini-Férier. Larionoff also recalled that Desmarais acquired all her clients—usually older women—by word of mouth.
Guernsey, Betty, 1982. Gaby. The Life and Times of Gaby Bernier Couturiere Extraordinaire, Toronto, Marincourt Press, p. 65-67, 99.
Cynthia Cooper, McCord Museum
© McCord Museum 2019