I am willing to wager that not a few Montrealers’ formal introduction to the “shabby chic” and classic European home fashion styles came about after visiting the small but supremely sophisticated boutique of interior designer Charlotte Crystal. Located at the time in the heart of the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighborhood of the city, Crystal’s remarkable little emporium gathered within its walls the finest selection of antique and vintage tapestries I had ever seen.

As I pushed open the door to the boutique that summer afternoon, the familiar, distinct odour of antique fabrics greeted me. I had not been looking for her store. I had found it, quite by chance, while on my way to pick up two newly purchased antique chairs. As my eyes acclimated to the dim interior, I slowly came to realize what I had just discovered. Stepping further into the main room, I saw, lining all four walls, row upon row of tapestries of varying colour and size, complemented by velvet, satin and silk ribbons of every description, large, hefty fabric rolls and miles and miles of vintage lace…

Admiring the treasure trove of lovelies surrounding me, I slowly made my way through the store, fingering the fabrics carefully, imbibing the atmosphere of reverence for all things old and precious, the shop’s “Old World air.” Some time later, I finally walked up to the front of the boutique and warmly greeted the woman behind the counter. Charlotte returned my greeting with a smile, standing ready to answer all my eager questions.

Of course, she wouldn’t divulge where her treasures had been sourced. But Charlotte graciously provided all other information about them that I could think of. Her enthusiasm and knowledgeable comments quickly won me over, that day, and I now realize that it was this chance encounter with a successful, sophisticated professional of home design that I can trace back my own budding interest in home fashions.

Charlotte’s impeccable taste and successful career lent her the very qualities I had, unbeknownst to me, been searching for in an arts mentor. Her flawless Old-World tastes, her effortless customer service combined with her genuine, warm personality won me over to a classic European-style design the richness of which that I had only guessed at until then. Her refinement of taste introduced me to a world I had yet only dreamt of.

Charlotte’s love of “shabby chic”, of the delicate, fading glamour of European tapestries, in particular, not to mention our shared infatuation with design magazines (Victoria chief among them), eventually moved me to pursue a career in the field of home fashion design. Her unerring eye for the smallest detail, her connoisseur’s appreciation for the worn patinas on delicate weaves, inspired me to create, some years later, my own line of home décor designs.

Although she eventually moved across the country, Charlotte and I kept in touch through the years. Exchanging emails, notes, inspiration and encouragement, we recognized in each other kindred artistic spirits. My education in the aesthetics of home fashions owes a great deal to my one-time mentor, to her little shop resembling nothing so much as a “caverne d’Ali Baba.” To a friendship which, just like the wondrous tapestries she sold, has been a privilege, a beautiful stitch in time.

Caroline Kerjean

May 2021

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