A Short History of the Blue Jean:
Patented in 1873 by San Francisco-based importer Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis, a tailor from Reno, Nev….. After visiting the western mining fields during his extensive 1882 tour of America, Oscar Wilde declares denims to be the trousers of tomorrow…. The zipper, invented by Canadian Herbert Dow, first inserted into jeans in the 1930s…. Blue jeans move from mild teenage rebellion in the 1950s to full-bore screw-you status in the 1960s…. Designer jeans arrive in the 1970s and are still with us today…. In an iconic 1989 news photograph of the Berlin Wall being torn down, everybody is wearing jeans.
A Longer History of the Parasuco Jeans Flagship Store in Montreal:
Parasuco Jeans were not the first Canadian denim-makers to achieve international fashion acclaim. That honour belongs to the original 1970s stonewash manufacturer, Edmonton’s Great Western Garment (GWG) Company. But Parasuco, which has been around for nearly as long, can rightly be said to be Canada’s first, best entry into the designer jeans market.
Since the late ’80s, the Montreal-based company has specialized in slick, cutting-edge styles often accessorized with Versace-like glitz and glamour. The look has stood up surprisingly well – to the point where Parasuco is currently poised to go up against fashion’s big boys in the U.S. and beyond. Enter Roberto Ruscio, of Ruscio Studio. Approached several years ago while working at another firm, the Montreal designer started on the initial concepts for revamping the two-storey Parasuco flagship store at the junction of Crescent and St. Catherine streets in April, 2003, a year after he had gone out on his own.
Problems with city permits to allow a third-floor building addition (housing a tenanted beauty salon), client mind changes, and issues over reinforcing the crumbling foundations of the 100-year-old bank building in which the store was housed, delayed the re-launch of the place until November 2006. But when it finally did open, it represented not only the glamour of the brand, but just how far lowly miners’ trousers had flown.
“Parasuco was looking for a brand-new image,” said Ruscio in a recent interview. “Their expansion program is going out across North America, with flagship stores in major cities like Vancouver and New York
“The idea was to take these old banks – or other historical buildings – and come in with an image contrast. Something very contemporary and edgy against the traditional elements found in these types of buildings. The Montreal store set the tone for the others.”
Each case, of course, would differ depending on the style and condition of the individual building. For the Montreal flagship, Ruscio undertook to restore the main floor moldings and coffered 18-foot ceiling, retain the bank vault door as is, and leave century-old brick exposed behind the cash desk.
“The whole design exercise,” Ruscio said, “was to keep the original building’s values going throughout.” Which is why he painstakingly recreated the main floor’s period mosaic marble (complete with inset escutcheon featuring the Parasuco crouching lion logo), replacing an underfloor of torn-up tessera and bare concrete.
The second floor, being a much more recent add-on, had no such history to it. Ruscio therefore purposely designed it in further contrast. “Below was detailed, essentially static. So we made the upstairs linear, to give it more movement, make it a little edgier, sexier.” And, since it was to serve as the showcase for Parasuco’s men’s line, “more masculine.”
“Masculine” meant darker all over in setting, plus state-of-the-art, colour-constant Juno ceramic arc lights, as well as “noble” materials that would defy future renovations, classics such as exotic burled wood in the larger display units, sheets of black glass behind the cash, and silver-and green-veined Serpentino marble countertops.
The biggest challenge inherent to the store – as with most two-storey retail entities – is how to pull people upstairs, past the visual feasts of the main floor. For this, Ruscio employed a variety of design ruses. Escalators to draw newcomers in and up are positioned by the front doorway. Central to the entrance, and directly above the Parasuco tiled logo, hangs a spectacular, 24-foot silvered chandelier that naturally attracts the eye up towards the huge well overhead. And, just to emphasize the seamless transition from one level to another, a scrolled metalwork curtain encompasses both storeys, metaphorically linking them together.
Each panel of this screen is set with metal discs, discreetly labelled with the brand name. One also notices this unobtrusive touch on the handles of the drawers in the bevelled mirror display cases, in the straight units, and etched onto the mirrored wall of fitting rooms. This “designer labelling” is as important to the store as it is to a pair of high-priced jeans.
Important too, Ruscio adds, is the synergistic image the entire store imparts: “Everything is together, in one environment, in one space, so the brand can really come alive.”
This creative combination, blending refinements of the past and present with subtly exclusive brand identification, has positioned Parasuco right where it needs to be – high on an international plateau of cutting-edge mode, in a brave new world that only a genius like Oscar Wilde could have predicted.