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Marie-Paule Nolin Collection (C726)

1933-1991. - 14 cm of textual records and other material.

Administrative History - Biographical Sketch:

Marie-Paule Nolin, née Archambault, was born in St. Hyacinthe on July 9, 1908. The eldest of a family of nine children, she grew up in Outremont. When still a teenager, she began making her own clothes. At the age of 26, she opened a small business called "Marie-Paule Dressmaker." The store was on Western Avenue, which is now De Maisonneuve Boulevard.

In 1934 she took part in her first fashion show organized by the Youth League that was held at the Windsor Hotel. A few days later, Miss Hernance Ferland, a former senior collaborator of fashion designer Lucien Lacouture, decided to team up with Marie-Paule. The association between Marie-Paule and Hernance gave the small dressmaking business a boost. Miss Ferland brought with her not only her expertise, but also Mr. Lacouture's former customers, including the members of wealthy families like the Bronfmans and the Molsons. Marie-Paule Nolin recruited many of her clients among Montreal's leading French, English and Jewish families.

In 1935, the dressmaker was asked to take part in a fashion show on behalf of the Marie Enfant Hospital. The show, held at the Windsor Hotel, received extensive media coverage, which also furthered Marie-Paule's career. That same year, Marie-Paule made her first trip to Paris, where she visited a number of dressmaking salons. When she got back to Quebec, Marie-Paule had only one thing on her mind: open her own dressmaking salon. She was able to do so in 1936. The salon was located at 648 Sherbrooke Street West, Apartment No. 4. Miss Nolin always thought that 1936 marked her start in the world of fashion. At this point, she already had three employees, including Miss Ferland. Over the next few years, Marie-Paule took part in numerous fashion shows at the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

She did have her share of financial problems, however. In 1941, she decided to work under contract for Holt Renfrew and Co. Ltd. Her boutique was known under the name Salon Marie-Paule. It was during this time that she made a wedding dress for Phyllis Bronfman. As a result of an accident, she decided to leave Holt Renfrew. Her partnership with the store lasted until 1949. That same year, Marie-Paule married Jean Nolin. The couple had two daughters: Patricia and Marie-Claire.

After leaving Holt Renfrew, Marie-Paule began working out of her home, at 335 Elm Avenue, where she set up her dressmaking salon. Over this short period, Marie-Paule's name became increasingly recognized.

In 1953, she purchased a house not far from Elm Avenue, at 486 Wood Avenue, in Westmount. Marie-Paule put on some extraordinary fashion shows in this elegantly decorated house. Sometimes, the models who displayed her creations also wore jewellery made by the renowned Montreal jeweller Gabriel Lucas. For the first time in her career, Marie-Paule was able to set up the kind of Parisian dressmaking salon she so admired. During 1955, however, some of her neighbours filed a complaint with the City, claiming that she was operating a business in a residential neighbourhood.

In the years that followed, Marie-Paule ran her business out of an office in a building at 1426 Sherbrooke Street West. This salon went by the name Marie-Paule Haute Couture. In 1956, she became president of the Association of Canadian Couturiers. The purpose of the association was to promote haute couture in Canada. Members included well-known fashion designers such as Jean-Raoul Fouré, Colpron d'Anjou, Marie-France de Paris, France Davies and Bianca Gusmaroli.

In 1961, Marie-Paule celebrated the 25th anniversary of her career. For the occasion, she organized a fashion show at the Windsor Hotel that was attended by 350 people. The following year, a fire swept through her house at 335 Elm Avenue, destroying much of her work. That forced her to find another place to carry on her creative endeavour. She decided to move to Bonsecours Street in Old Montreal. While the new address was far from the high society life of Sherbrooke Street and Westmount, the designer was determined to open a major salon there. On September 3, 1963, a fashion show was held to celebrate the opening of the salon at 420 Bonsecours Street. Once again, the show was organized on behalf of the Marie Enfant Hospital. During these years, Marie-Paule also hosted a radio show on Radio-Canada called Femina.

In 1969, Marie-Paule tried her hand at creating a ready-to-wear line of clothing, but it was a failure because she refused to use lower-quality fabrics. During the period when she was living on Bonsecours Street, she donated several of her creations to the McCord Museum and to the Royal Ontario Museum.

But as earlier, when she lived on Sherbrooke Street, Marie-Paule began to run into financial problems. She nevertheless managed to organize a fashion show that was put on across the country, with stops in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. Despite its favourable reception, the show did not help her solve her financial problems.

In 1973, Marie-Paule designed some clothing for La Poudrière theatre.

In 1974, she sold her house on Bonsecours Street and went into retirement, winding up Montreal's last high fashion salon.

In 1984, the McCord Museum held a retrospective of Marie-Paule Nolin's work in which many of her creations were exhibited. Most of the items of clothing were originals that former customers had kept.

Marie-Paule Nolin died on October 15, 1987. Throughout her career, she set great store in elegance. She believed that a woman ought to be elegant at all times of the day. It is worth recalling that Marie-Paule did not have any formal training in dressmaking. She succeeded through her determination and courage.

Scope and Content:

This collection contains material on the life and career of fashion designer Marie-Paule Nolin. She was a leading figure on the Montreal, Quebec and Canadian fashion scene from 1930 to 1970.

The collection includes various newspaper articles about Marie-Paule Nolin, numerous photographs of her designs, invitations and programs for various fashion shows, plans for a house on Bonsecours Street, the video tape of an interview she gave at a Tribute and Retrospective evening and an audio tape of an interview she gave to Monique Saumier. Also included are several small pages of notes probably taken by Jacqueline Beaudoin-Ross when she was gathering information on Marie-Paule Nolin.

The collection is divided into the following series:

  • C 726/A: Avenue Western, 1933-1935
  • C 726/B: 648 Sherbrooke Street West, No. 4, 1936-1941
  • C 726/C: Holt Renfrew, 1941-1949
  • C 726/D: 486 Wood Avenue, Westmount, and 1426 Sherbrooke Street West, 1954-1956
  • C 726/E: 335 Elm Avenue, 1956-1963 (25th Anniversary)
  • C 726/F: 420 Bonsecours Street, 1963-1974
  • C 726/G: After Bonsecours Street, 1974-1987
  • C 726/H: Supplementary Material, 1989-1991