With a rich history in textiles and a vibrant art scene, it's no surprise that Montreal is home to many talented designers and great boutiques. Not one to schedule my travel solely on the merits of fabulous shopping, I was thrilled to head over to La Belle Province for a fashion-filled weekend away to attend Montreal's Festival Mode Design, a four day fashion festival featuring free runway shows in the streets of downtown Montreal, pop-up shops, design installations and amazing sales at retailers all over the city.How To Get There: Montreal is a quick 5ish hour drive from Toronto so it's been easy to throw my extra shoe bag in the trunk and head off by car but taking the VIA Rail was such a relaxed way to travel. In business class I was able to take in the scenery while toasting (myself) to the stylish adventures ahead and get a little work done courtesy of the free WiFi on VIA trains.
When To Go: Montreal is great anytime; however, Festival Mode Design tends to run the last Wednesday of July through til the first Saturday in August. This year also happened to coincide with Osheaga and seems to signal the start of summer clearance meaning sales on top of sales. The city is definitely buzzing, but it does mean reservations for hotels and restaurants are best made well in advance. Should downtown hotels book up quickly, don't discount airport hotels. A direct bus (the #747) goes directly from the airport into the downtown core in less than 30 minutes and has a pretty regular schedule.
What To See: The Festival Mode Design schedule includes runway shows on two stages daily from 3 PM to about 10 PM each evening along with make-up stations, pop-up shops, sponsor giveaways and a few licensed patios. Festival activities are hosted on Avenue McGill between Boulevard Maisonneuve and Rue Cathcart which leaves you right in the heart of the city with several shopping centres, cafes, restaurants and hotels nearby.
Runway shows hosted by major brands like Simons, Marciano and Mexx were great to watch but the highlights for me included The Body Diversity Fashion Show and the incredibly creative Saturday night closing show, Mutations. The streets itself are a spectacle as Montrealers themselves have such an irreverent sense of style.
I also took in a little fashion fairytale in the form of a trip to the McCord Museum, currently featuring a Grace Kelly exhibit on through to October 6, 2013 that includes pieces from her wardrobe (you'll find my puddle of drool in front of several of her YSL and Chanel ensembles), love letters from Prince Albert, and even her family home movies. If style icons aren't your thing, Montreal is home to many museums including the Museum of Costume and Textile Quebec and the new Grévin Wax Museum. There are so many museums to explore that you can actually purchase a 3 day pass to experience them all at a discounted rate.
Where To Eat: I can honestly say I've never had a bad meal in Montreal but in keeping with the fashion focus, brunch at Birks Café was fabulous. Set within a Birks gorgeous store on the corner of Rue Sainte-Catherine and Place Phillips, it's a total Breakfast at Tiffany's moment when you walk through a sea of diamonds and pearls to their mezzanine level restaurant that offers a 4 course brunch, high tea and a small lunch menu. The croissants are flaky and the baguette with smoked salmon pate is crunchy, salty savoury goodness... and that was before the actual meal was served.
As for where to shop... check the blog next Thursday for my top picks.
-- Tamika Auwai is our resident Style Editor, Shopping Enthusiast and Wardrobe Expert.