By Julia Eskins
Photography by Sarah Mongeau-Birkett
Montréal outerwear label Mackage has transformed the way North Americans bundle up. Onscreen, on the runway and on freezing winter days, celebrities and fashion followers alike turn to the brand to brave the cold in style.
For designer duo Eran Elfassy and Elisa Dahan, spotting their signature tailored coats on the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry, Eva Mendes and Blake Lively is a childhood dream come true – literally. The designers were elementary school friends, who spent their playground days planning a future in fashion together. Their line was launched in 2000, and over the past decade, the brand has set up a flagship boutique in New York’s stylish SoHo district, shown at Toronto and New York Fashion Weeks, and branched out with ready-to-wear collections.
In this Exclusive, FAJO Magazine chats with the designers about versatile outerwear, international expansion and playing their favourite game of “spot the coat”.
JULIA ESKINS: Was there a particular incident that sparked the formation of the Mackage brand?
ELISA DAHAN: When we were younger, we would always dabble in little projects together. We would find cool sweaters, revamp them and sell them to our friends. We always knew we wanted to work together, so this was the perfect opportunity.
The back story of our adventure together began with Eran’s brothers’ company [APP Group, Inc.] and their involvement in the leather industry. He joined them to do a contemporary leather collection and it was very well-received, so I joined them as well and we started working on what Mackage is today.
For me, it’s like I’m the adopted one. [laughs] I’m not truly part of the family, but I feel like I am. I think it’s always challenging because you don’t wear gloves when you’re working with people you are so close with. Tensions can rise and good moments can rise too, so there’s a balance between the two.
ERAN ELFASSY: Each one of us specializes in a different area, so it’s very complementary. We went from doing just leather jackets to designing wool jackets with leather details and more.
We found the jacket market was lacking. Every time we went looking for a coat, everything was boxy and big. Nobody was focusing on making fashion coats.
Mackage is known for giving the staple winter coat a stylish twist. What went into developing the brand’s signature aesthetic?
ELISA: One of the biggest challenges we mastered was making the puffy coat sexy. That was a big accomplishment, because you can still put on your thigh-high sexy boots and wear your parka without looking like a Michelin man!
After being around for more than a decade, where do you find the inspiration to keep it fresh?
ERAN: Number one – we travel a lot. Seeing different cultures and places around the world inspires us. We started the brand at the young age of 19, so we often look at our older stuff to see how much we’ve matured. We try to improve every season by using our knowledge of everything we’ve learned over the years.
ELISA: It’s like wine; we’re becoming better and more refined with age!
Many celebrities have been photographed wearing Mackage. How do these celebrities-in-Mackage moments come about?
ELISA: It really depends… With Gwenyth Paltrow, I was dying to know how it happened. I was told by a contact that she often purchases things online and that she bought the coat through Ssense, an online store.
ERAN: Sometimes we get calls from stylists who are looking for a particular jacket. But, most of the time, it happens organically. During my recent vacation, I was watching the show Suits. In one of the episodes, the daughter of one of the lawyers opens the door and is wearing a Mackage jacket. I still get excited when things like that happen, especially when it’s a surprise.
What was the motivation behind opening your flagship store in New York City rather than your hometown of Montréal?
ELISA: I think that for any designer, it’s a dream to have a flagship store in New York. We would love to have a store in Montréal eventually, but to start in a city like New York means a lot to us because it’s a revolving door of people. Everyone in the world goes to New York to shop. It’s nice to have a window in a place that attracts so much attention.
ERAN: It was also one of our favourite locations in New York. Those places don’t come along very often. As soon as we saw the opportunity there, we took it.
ELISA: We have the best neighbours, some of which are our favourite brands. There’s Philip Lim, Rag & Bone, Agent Provocateur and Marc Jacobs on the same block!
With an international customer base, how does designing coats for so many different climates around the world affect your collections?
ERAN: We realize that sometimes we need to make jackets that may not have as long of a life in Montréal, Toronto or New York, but would be perfect for a full winter in a warmer city. By travelling, we learn about the different types of climates that we are designing for.
ELISA: We also offer a lot of versatility. For example, we often do jackets with zip-off sleeves, lightweight down, removable lining or a zip-off bottom, so that you can have a long jacket or a short jacket. We’ve learned how to adapt and also offer multi-functionality.
Since Mackage focuses on coats, how do you design your spring/summer collections?
ELISA: It’s funny – it often happens that one of our bestsellers for fall is actually from our spring collection. We have more fun in spring, in the sense that we have to be a bit more creative to make people want a jacket when they don’t necessarily need one. We need to be more colourful, lighter and airier. Sometimes it’s a bit of a challenge, but it makes for a fun collection.
What new surprises can we expect from Mackage in the near future?
ERAN: We’re probably going to start making our accessory and handbag lines. We’re in Europe already, but one goal is to be as well-known in Europe as we are in Canada and the U.S.
ELISA: When we started being distributed in the U.S., Eran and I would play a game of “spot the coat”. At the beginning, we would see two and get excited. Today, we’re lucky that we see them as much as we do. We would like to be able to say the same when we’re walking the streets of Paris.