In Memoriam: Catherine Hill, Founder of Luxury Retailer ‘Chez Catherine’

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One of Canada’s most prolific luxury retailers passed away this month. Catherine Hill was the founder of multi-brand luxury retailer Chez Catherine which operated for 30 years with stores in Toronto, Montreal and in Florida, including licensed boutiques for some of the world’s leading brands.

Over the years, customers frequented Chez Catherine stores for a range of luxury brands that could not be found elsewhere. Styles in Chez Catherine stores were colourful and bold and catered to a woman who wanted to be seen.

CHEZ CATHERINE IMAGE: NEWSPAPER AD, 1988

Catherine Hill opened her first Chez Catherine location in Toronto in 1972 and soon relocated it to the Hazelton Lanes shopping centre, now called Yorkville Village. The Chez Catherine boutique carried luxury brands including Claude Montana, Issey Miyake, Ungaro, Rena Lange, Gianfranco Ferré, Christian Lacroix, John Galliano, Karl Lagerfeld, Basile, and Christian Dior among others. Chez Catherine also operated separate boutique spaces at Hazelton Lanes for some of the world’s biggest names. In 1979, she opened Canada’s first Giorgio Armani boutique at Hazelton Lanes which operated for about seven years. The boutique “never made any money” said Ms. Hill in an article in the Montreal Gazette in 1987. The Armani boutique was replaced with a Versace boutique, joining other Chez Catherine boutiques at Hazelton Lanes that included Krizia and a Valentino boutique which occupied about 1,500 square feet next to her Chez Catherine space.

Some of Toronto’s wealthiest women shopped at Chez Catherine, some of whom also spent winters in Florida. In 1979, Ms. Hill opened a Chez Catherine storefront at 210 Worth Avenue in affluent Palm Beach, carrying designers such as Laura Biagotti, Giorgio Armani, Vicky Tiel, Gianfranco Ferré and Issey Miyake. The boutique’s interior featured yellow carpets, copper coloured walls and a massive porcupine chandelier. The boutique relocated to South Country Road in 1987 where it operated for several years.

In 1987, as well, Ms. Hill expanded Chez Catherine into the Montreal market in a partnership with the upscale Ogilvy department store (now called Holt Renfrew Ogilvy). Chez Catherine operated a multi-brand space as well as boutiques within Ogilvy for brands including Versace, Krizia and Valentino. The 1,500 square foot Valentino boutique was located on the ground floor of Ogilvy on the corner facing Ste-Catherine St. W. and Rue de la Montagne with a street-facing entrance on Montagne. Chez Catherine operated within Ogilvy until the early 1990s and the Valentino boutique was eventually replaced with a Louis Vuitton store.

CATHERINE HILL, RIGHT, WEARS A VALENTINO GOWN AT AN EVENT WITH DAUGHTER STEFANIE HILL IN 1986. PHOTO: TORONTO PUBLIC LIBRARY ARCHIVES

In 2002, former Globe & Mail journalist Marina Strauss featured Catherine Hill in an article when Chez Catherine was closing. Ms. Strauss said in the article, “There’s no doubt, as many fashion writers have observed, that owner Catherine Hill was in a league of her own. She had exclusive contracts to carry the best of the best. Women walked out of the boutique in the chic Yorkville district of Toronto with tens of thousands of dollars worth of elegant outfits. Ms. Hill knew how to take care of her customers with her impeccable eye for style.”

CATHERINE HILL IN FRONT OF HER NEW VALENTINO BOUTIQUE AT OGILVY ON MOUNTAIN STREET IN MONTREAL IN 1987. MS. HILL IS WEARING A VALENTINO COAT WITH FUR TRIM IN THIS PICTURE. PHOTO: GEORGE BIRD FOR THE MONTREAL GAZETTE VIA NEWSPAPERS.COM

Ms. Hill got started in the fashion business as a buyer for the downtown Eaton’s department store in Montreal. She was hired as a buyer for the upscale Eaton’s Townhouse department which at the time carried luxury brands such as Ungaro, Oscar de la Renta, Halston and others. Ms. Hill founded Chez Catherine after taking a risk and a $10,000 loan — a pillow in her Yorkville condominium residence had the words embroidered “To eat the fruit on the tree, you have to go out on a limb”, according to a Toronto Star article in 2009 by late journalist David Livingstone.

She was born in Hungary and as a teenager in 1944, was taken to Auschwitz where Ms. Hill survived — the rest of her family didn’t. She eventually moved to Rome and then Paris before moving to Canada. Ms. Hill spoke fluent Hungarian, Czech, German, French, Italian and English. She was featured in a book by British author Linda Grant called ‘The Thoughtful Dresser’, and Ms. Hill also spent countless hours writing her own memoirs.

TORONTO’S HAZELTON LANES SKATING RINK IN 1976. PHOTO: TORONTO PUBLIC LIBRARY ARCHIVES

Catherine Hill passed away in Toronto on June 2, 2020 at the age of 94, and was predeceased by husband Cecil Hill who died in 2002 also at the age of 94. She is survived by her daughter and business partner Stefanie Hill (Stefanie is married to Greg Mahon). Ms. Hill’s grandchildren include Zach and Ben. An obituary published for Ms. Hill this month described her as being “known for her style, her strong character and a no-nonsense attitude that carried her through a long life filled with international travel and glamorous social events”.

Memorial donations can be made to The Catherine Hill Memorial Fund c/o The Benjamin Foundation 416-780-0324 or www.benjamins.ca or a charity of your choice.

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