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Fashion Feature with Windsor’s Fashionistas

Author: The Drive Magazine
4 years ago
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Connie Bonadonna keeps Things Refined

The owner of Raffinée is as stylish as the clothing she carries

By Jennifer Schembri

When she was a little girl, Connie Bonadonna loved Barbie dolls. But while all her friends were playing house, the future proprietor of Raffinée was busy designing the fashion icon’s clothing instead. “I would find scraps of fabric and spend hours creating a wardrobe for her. This sparked my interest in clothing from a very young age.”

Launched in 1985 when Bonadonna was just in her mid-twenties, this high-end fashion boutique on Erie Street really lives up to its name. “In Europe, one of the nicest compliments you can pay a woman is to tell her that she’s refined,” says Bonadonna, and Raffinée’s 2,000-square-foot space is just that: an effortlessly chic, tightly focused, multi-brand boutique that stocks established international designers like Max Mara, Roberto Cavalli, and Versace alongside Canadian labels including Wayne Clark, Greta Constantine, and Marie Saint Pierre.

A Windsor native, Bonadonna began working in retail when she was 16 years old, obtained her business degree from Windsor University, and went on to earn a Master’s degree in Clothing and Textiles from Detroit’s Wayne State. Shortly after graduating, Bonadonna, who is also a seamstress, began to teach fashion and tailoring at her alma mater and at the Fashion Institute of America. “I taught for only a very short time because I always wanted to open a boutique and I thought that if it didn’t work out, I always had a backup plan—I could continue to teach—but I never looked back.”

More than 30 years later, Raffinée is known as the de facto source for casual luxury. On any given day you can find twentysomethings alongside women in their nineties perusing the carefully curated racks, some who have been customers since the very beginning. “The store has been successful from the day we opened and it has continued to grow every year,” Bonadonna recalls. “I have been very fortunate to have loyal customers.”

The vision for the store was to give women a stylish space where they could feel at home. And it’s the personal connection that Bonadonna feels really makes Raffinée stand out. “Our store is all about service, which is kind of a dinosaur concept these days as most of the younger generations tend to order things online,” she says. “Here, it’s a process from start to finish—we style you and do alterations, and our customers deal with the same salespeople every time so we really get to know your lifestyle, your needs, and how you dress. We grow together.”

Bonadonna has made the choice to live life “with an attitude of gratitude.” Over the years, she has dedicated countless hours organizing fundraising events for various charities, including the Hospice of Windsor and Essex County, Transition to Betterness, and Cornerstone for Caring. The philanthropist is also a member of Inspiration 100, a foundation that over a 10-year period awards grants to local charities. “We are really blessed to live in this country and have the life that we have so for anyone who needs help, I try to do my best.”

Surprisingly, Bonadonna says, “I like to live very simply—less is more and I don’t like drama or complication; I just stay very focused.” She carries this understated minimalism into her own wardrobe, where black is her colour of choice. “At the store there is colour all around me. It’s not about me; it’s always about the customer. So I just like to be in the background.”

She speaks with ebullience about her two sons, one a chartered accountant for GM at the Renaissance Center, the other a recent law school grad who will tie the knot in 2021. When asked if she will be involved in her future daughter-in-law’s wedding dress, she responds with a laugh, “Of course!”

At 60, Bonadonna has no plans to slow down any time soon. “I really believe in the saying, ‘Do the thing you love and you never have to work a day in your life.’ I don’t have any plans to retire anytime soon. I would love for Raffinée to keep going because I feel it really has a place in the community—there’s no other store like it.”

Sharp-Dressed Man

How Peter Leardi turned his love of clothes into a successful business

By Jennifer Schembri

Peter Leardi, owner of 67 Richmond, was once accused of being a witch. “I asked one of my customers if he had broken his collarbone. I could tell by the way his jacket was sitting,” the men’s retailer recalls.

And this knowledge and attention to detail—that goes far beyond accurate measurements—is just one of the reasons why 67 Richmond has spent decades as a staple of the menswear circuit and has become the go-to store for savvy shoppers who want to stand out from the crowd.

Leardi has always shown an interest in dressing well. As a fashion-obsessed teenager, he was the kid in high school most likely to open up a men’s store. “I’d bring home bags of clothing and my mother would yell at me,” says Leardi. “She would say, ‘You’ve got stuff in your closet with tags still on them!’” During much of the 1980s, you could often find him shopping at the now-defunct Bonds Clothing in downtown Windsor. “I’d walk into the store and I’d think to myself, ‘Wow, it would be really cool to do this.’”

After obtaining an economics degree from York University, 22-year-old Leardi returned home to Amherstburg and saw a vacant downtown building for sale. “I was never of the mindset that I wanted something big; I just wanted to have a small business and make a living off it and take care of the customers. I hoped word-of-mouth would help me survive,” he says.

With zero background and not a clue on how to run a business, Leardi opened 67 Richmond in 1986.  Located at—you guessed it, 67 Richmond Street—the store had a very humble beginning. “I was green, green, green but my mistakes didn’t kill me,” Leardi reminisces.

Successful from the get-go, Leardi opened a second location in Tecumseh in 1995, and in 2004 the Amherstburg store moved shop, upsizing to its current location on Sandwich Street. “We’ve evolved and matured,” Leardi says. “Now a customer can come in and we can dress him in jeans and a T-shirt for weekend wear, or we can fit him for a custom suit and everything in between.”

At 67 Richmond, customer relationships are key, especially in a digital age where brick-and-mortar is becoming obsolete. You can often find Leardi’s customers texting him after hours, and he succeeds in creating a menswear experience for what he calls the “most astute fashion generation” that he’s ever come across. “My customer is the man who cares about the way he looks, wants full service, fashion advice, and his clothing to fit properly. He’s not of a particular age but a particular mindset. Men don’t shop every day—they are a once- or twice-a-year type of animal—and at 67 Richmond, we can satisfy 99 percent of a man’s fashion needs.”

In 1988, Leardi married his high school sweetheart, Sylvia, and together they have three kid-ults, now in their twenties. His son Eric has inherited his father’s affinity for fashion and works full time at the store. His daughter, Meghan, has been attending shoe shows with her dad since she was 14 to keep him company and for “her own personal shopping.” His youngest son, Colin, attends the University of Windsor and is the least into fashion of the three.

And never once has his wife given him any grief over the six-and-a-half-day weeks he’s at the store or the long hours he keeps. “She has always been extremely supportive. She has her own career and we meet at home. She’s a special woman, there’s no doubt about it.”

The retail veteran has no plans on exiting the business he opened more than three decades ago. “I still love what I do. I have great customers —they’re fun, they’re sarcastic, and they’re grateful that I’m here, which is so humbling,” he says.

As for his formula for success? “A lot of hard work, long hours, and a little bit of luck. In my case, luck is better than brains, but you have to be a little fortunate too.”

Noelle Baptista

Little Noele is all Grown Up

The local designer has put Kingsville on the fashion map

By Jennifer Schembri

Earlier this year, designer Noele Baptista made her professional debut at Vancouver Fashion Week with her label Nöelziñia and a collection entitled Fleurs Pressées, which drew inspiration from women pressing flowers throughout history. Characterized by billowy silhouettes and cascading ruffles, the collection featured muted tones and romantic flourishes on sumptuous fabrics—including velvet and chiffon—and was, simply put, pure poetry.

Wondering what’s next for the budding fashionista? You’ll be glad you asked.

In October, Baptista showcased her second collection, Flores Del Desierto (Desert Flowers), this time during L.A. Fashion Week, and once again, the clothing, which incorporated painted textiles and hand-dyed fabrics, lived up to the hype.

Over the next two years, she’ll show her collections in the “big four” fashion capitals: New York, Paris, London, and Milan. Not too shabby for a 21-year-old from Kingsville, Ontario, who couldn’t even sew before she began the Fashion Design Technician program at St. Clair College back in 2017.

“I went into fashion design because I loved it, never thinking that I would have a career in it—especially not in Windsor or Kingsville,” Baptista muses. “I didn’t realize just how diverse the field actually was and the opportunities that it would bring.”

The close kinship between fashion and other arts is best exemplified in designers turning to paintings for inspiration time and time again. In Baptista’s case, she didn’t have too far to search. Her mom, Susan Dupont Baptista, is a talented artist in her own right and together they own Windblown & Weathered, a charming gallery and shop in Kingsville that is a treasure trove of original artwork, select vintage, and collaborations with Celeste Sisley of the Painted Bee that include refurbished furniture and painted décor. And of course, the shop is fully stocked with the Nöelziñia brand as well. “The reception of my clothing line has been awesome. Our customers have been so supportive and it’s been really cool having our regulars come in and ask if we’re carrying anything new,” says Baptista. “Some of our customers’ wardrobes are turning into Nöelziñia, which is completely crazy! I see people on the street wearing my clothes and it’s so much fun.”

And while growing up watching her artist mom “create” has been an integral part of her design aesthetic—“She does everything; she’s a muralist, she paints church altars and winery ceilings, custom work in people’s homes, and artwork for her own shows and galleries”—it’s her late father’s Portuguese heritage and the theme of travel and exploration that runs rampant in Baptista’s designs. “My dad was a 17th-generation Portuguese fisherman and he would travel on these huge boats and go to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa to fish. On each trip, two or three men would die, it was so treacherous and dangerous,” she recalls. “The water and travel have always been a part of my heritage so that came as huge inspiration, especially for my first collection.”  Sadly, her father passed away when Baptista was only four and a half years old. Her brand name, Nöelziñia, means “little Noele,” which is the nickname he had given her. “The name means a lot to me and I definitely wanted him to be a part of what I do.”

But as much as her collections explore the recurring themes of culture and travel to faraway lands, Baptista has no plans to wander too far. “In the future, I’d like to do some local fashion shows for all of the people who have been supporting me all along,” she says. “Essex County is my home and my base of operations and I hope to represent it as well as I can to the rest of the world. “I didn’t even know that I would be in the field of fashion so I’m excited to see where it’s going to go. I realize that this type of success doesn’t usually happen, so I’m really grateful that this all came about.”

Style Savvy

Lisa Parete gives the gift of a great look this season

By Katrina Manzocco

Playing store has always been one of Lisa Parete’s favourite games.

“Whether it was Barbies or any other dolls I could get my hands on,” she says, “I was always dressing them, and dreaming about what it would be like to work with the beautiful things I put them in. Even as a kid, I was always selling.”

Some things never change.

Today Lisa Parete is the owner of Tecumseh’s Savvy Boutique, the chic home to a carefully crafted selection of It Girl brands offering a curated mix of the latest trends in women’s wear.

Parete shares that she draws style inspiration from her everyday—what she sees others wearing, as well as her moods, often dictate what appears on the racks during a given season. “My own style could best be described as minimalism meets maximalism. Old Hollywood golden-era glamour meets grunge—I love a street sneaker or combat boot with a faux fur scarf and a crystal necklace. “

A lover of glitz, Parete is especially excited about the holiday season and the stylistic opportunities it brings each year. Are you curious about this year’s Yuletide trends? She’s glad you asked. “Embellishment and sequins are going to be huge this year,” she says. “You’ll see sparkles in-store on everything from joggers to dresses. Another great holiday fabric is satin, which can be dressed up or down depending on the holiday occasion. In terms of colour palettes, I’d say gemstone and neon hues along with metallics, especially on denim. In terms of texture—faux fur is ideal for this time of year.”

The topic of holiday festivities arises and Parete gives flawless, easy answers to what outfits she would select for different occasions: “For an office Christmas party, I’d suggest metallic snakeskin-overlaid denim and a gold button-down blouse paired with a black faux fur cropped jacket and waterfall earrings. For a family Christmas dinner I’d pick something more casual, like my favourite black Mother denim with an Alice + Olivia butterfly-embellished short sleeve knit.”

Have a big NYE bash to attend? Parete already has a look ready for you. “I’d wear a Parker sequined shirt dress or a Ronnie Kobo dress in deep plum with a plunging neckline, paired with some classic black pumps.”

In terms of the best holiday gift, Parete is partial to pajamas and robes, citing that her customer’s favourites include brands PJ Salvage and Eberjey. “They’re easy, super soft, cozy, and a give the wearer a total cabin-in-the-woods feel.”

If in search of a host gift for the gatherings you’re sure to attend this season, consider Parete’s go-to chic candle brand, Voluspa, which Savvy stocks year-round.

“They come in the most beautiful embossed glass jars and the five-wick candles burn for about 200 hours. The holiday scents are just incredible—we can barely keep them in stock.”

As shoppers get into the spirit of giving with help from Savvy’s stylish surprises, Lisa muses on why she loves her job. “My customers are truly a gift. There’s nothing I enjoy more than someone who comes in with a love of fashion and an open attitude. I love being given the opportunity to get to know them and their individual needs. The relationships I make are the best part of this business.”

When prompted about what she would like for Christmas from Savvy, Parete is a little shy in her answer. “I want it all, but if not that, then maybe a nice Mackage puffer coat.”

You and me both, Lisa.

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