Ex-Chanel worker brings flair to Danforth

[attach]4425[/attach]With her dark bobbed hair, striped tunic and chic sleeveless frock, Jennifer Durand looks like a modern day Coco Chanel, the iconic French designer who introduced simple jersey dresses and pearls to Paris and the world.

Durand has a similarly ambitious style mission — and not surprisingly, Chanel was a huge influence.

The clothing designer and owner of Ziliotto on Queen Street West opened her second store at 592 Danforth Ave., near Pape Avenue at the end of April — right in her neighbourhood.

Durand designs and locally produces her ladies’ collections, comprised of simple yet classic styles made of quality fabrics like organic cotton, bamboo and linen.

Working in Paris for the design house of Chanel helped to cement her design ethic, she says.

“It’s like going to an Ivy League school,” she says. “You’re getting this calibre … your eye is so trained.”

It had always been a dream to work for Chanel, Durand says, and when she did she says she finally learned the secret behind what makes French women’s style so chic: they buy quality pieces that last and change the look every year by accessorizing differently.

She fondly recalls waiting in the little room where they’d receive fabric.

“I’d stand there and touch all this incredible tweed.”

Born in Toronto, Durand was trained in visual arts but designed kids’ clothing in the past under the name Lady Belle. She’d sell her kids’ tees from a foldout contraption at the back of her bike on Queen Street West and was quite well known, she says.

“People would say, ‘There goes Lady Belle!’

“That was the beginning of my bug.”

But she admits she had no business sense.

When she met her husband-to-be while they were both working one summer in The Hamptons, she didn’t just fall in love at first sight — she also knew she had found a business partner.

After moving back to Toronto about six years ago, the couple started Ziliotto at Danforth and Coxwell, with Durand designing and manufacturing women’s, kids’ and baby clothing and her husband, Bruno, managing the business side of things.

The retail operation eventually shifted to the Distillery District and then to Queen Street West, with Durand developing a line of greeting cards, hand-painted pottery and posters featuring her drawings.

The Danforth location came about as a result of investors who were interested in the company.

“That gave us the push to open a second store,” she says.

A third isn’t far behind, and there will be more after that. Durand is aiming high.

It’s clear that the new investment and store have given Durand a renewed and tighter vision. The Danforth store houses her largest women’s wear collection to date, and she’s phased out the kids, baby and pottery ware so she can focus on ladies’ apparel. She’ll eventually bring back the other lines as they were popular, but for now she says she needs to focus.

Expanding her production has helped her to keep her prices in the medium-range she says, at $44–275.

But still, there’s that Chanel factor:

“I try to offer a haute couture service at a ready-to-wear price.”