Chantal Levesque: A Logical Approach to Fashion

Chantal Levesque founded her fashion company SHAN 38 years ago. The brand owes its success to her rational approach and love for fashion, as well as her ability to keep things fresh by enjoying leisure activities and downtime with her family.

“I learned a lot from my mother, who worked from home as an haute couture dressmaker. She would make magnificent wedding dresses, without using a pattern. She was an incredible teacher, but I swore I would never enter the profession, despite my passion for fashion,” recounts Chantal Levesque. However, several years later, she ended up taking that very path after studying accounting. Her parents had encouraged her to follow her dreams ever since she was a child, and she already had the entrepreneurial spirit. So, in 1985, she created her first swimwear collection: 12 models designed for different body types. “I happened to choose a market niche that was not being filled.” At that time, high-end resort collections came from Europe and were designed for slim women. “My collections satisfied a demand that was not really being met in North America and elsewhere. Canadian women have broader shoulders, fuller busts, and rectangular body types. I’m made that way, and so are women in South America and Eastern Europe. With SHAN, I used logic to find solutions and create the right look for each body type.”

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Right from the beginning, her family was an integral part of her work. “I started the business during my first maternity leave, working from home,” explains Levesque. “I had my children and my work. I instinctively understood how a pattern works and how to adjust it, but I did call my mother when I was starting out. That said, people liked the brand,” notes Levesque. From that moment on, the designer and businesswoman instituted the values that continue to characterize the brand. “SHAN (representing the first letters of my name) creates international, high-end products that are also affordable, innovative, and comfortable. One of my proudest achievements is to have maintained these values for all these years.” Her intuitive approach to the female body and its myriad characteristics, along with her focus on comfort and quality, helped Levesque get her company to stand out from the competition in Canada and internationally. “In my collections, I have always considered a variety of body shapes, always made separate tops and bottoms, always created tops for fuller busts. I have always asked myself what women from around the world would like to wear, without really worrying about trends.”

When asked what she considers her flagship product, she hesitates a moment and then names swimwear, leggings, long blouses, and jackets, without singling out one in particular. This is because Levesque focuses on the big picture, supplying consistent products, and ensuring that the clothing in her collections can be easily mixed and matched. “What my team and I try to do is provide women with clothing they can wear every day, without thinking. So they can open their closet and take out leggings and a blouse, for example, that they can wear anywhere.” As part of her commitment to consistency and durability and out of respect for those who wear her brand, she has also chosen a sustainable, ecological approach by producing all of her clothing locally and doing business with suppliers that share her values.

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Levesque employs the same meticulous, logical approach, whether she is seeking inspiration for her work or even taking time off. “I get inspired by my life, things I like, everyday experiences, travel, discovering new cultures and ways of doing things,” she says, adding that fishing, fine dining, and shopping obviously help her relax as well. “I come from a family of fishermen and believe that the sport offers a complete experience and reflects who I am. I enjoy the challenge of salmon fishing, but I also like trout fishing, which I’ve done my whole life.” Her passion for the sport does not stop at casting a line. It also includes choosing a fly, what to wear on a fishing trip, and how to prepare the catch. “I’m very patient, so I’m good at fishing,” she laughs. She brings the same attention to detail to planning her annual trips with her three sons.

Fishing, travel, shopping, fine dining… The list could go on and on, because Levesque loves life. However, all these activities have a common denominator: family. “I share my passions with my husband, Jean-François, my three sons, my wonderful daughters-in-law, and now my granddaughter, Charlie-Rose.” The arrival of her grandchild is why she has reduced her hours and reorganized SHAN to redistribute the work among two of her sons and employees in whom she has complete confidence. “I’m planning to cut back, not stop. Fashion is part of me and my daily life. It doesn’t feel like work when you love what you do.” And this is even truer when you work with people you love.

Photo Nathan Gilbert

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