Clothes Make the Man
Patricia Trépanier breaks new ground as a successful lesbian stylist helping men hit the wardrobe reset button
By Anna-Liza Badaloo
While shows like
the Straight Guy
cemented the long-held view that gay men have a sixth sense for fashion and style – all five of the show’s queer ‘experts’ were men – Patricia Trépanier has turned that cliché straight-up on its head.
While she may be gay, she’s certainly no man, yet Trépanier’s foray into the rarified world of fashion and style has been a smashing success. She is now one of Montreal’s hottest personal stylists for men, running her own thriving fashion consultancy with around 500 clients. She regularly appears on local TV, where she dishes on men’s clothes and style, and has become a familiar face at trendy openings with her own signature look, complete with fedora and gloriously long, luscious locks.
Although gay men are still frequently associated with female fashion, Trépanier is defying expectations as a lesbian stylist for men. “I’m pretty unusual,” she laughs. “Some say I’m a real character!”
The reality is that this fashion dynamo has brought a fresh perspective to the city’s style scene, and it’s a perspective that has given her a unique competitive edge. “I have a better understanding of men’s fashion because I’m not a man,” explains Trépanier. “Stylists that are the same gender as their clients tend to dress them in their own style. I have to listen more closely to my clients and understand the male body type better. I can’t try on the clothes myself, so I have to measure everything to make sure it fits properly. It’s really about loving the male aesthetic.”
That love for the male aesthetic began in Trépanier’s youth. “I was such a tomboy,” she recalls. “I would play war with my brothers, and my mom had to make me cargo army pants. In elementary school I always shopped at boy’s stores.”
Trépanier’s father was also a strong fashion influence. Despite working in the less-than-glamourous transportation industry, his personal style did not go unnoticed. “My dad was a very proud man; he always dressed nicely. Up until five or six years ago, I never saw him in jeans!” laughs Trépanier. “He would always wear trousers and a collared shirt, even on the weekend. He was not a casual type of man, and I always admired that.”
Trépanier would often help him with his clothing purchases. “Growing up I was always going into stores with him, or I would go buy him pants so that he wouldn’t have to go on his own,” she explains.
Meanwhile her mother, who sewed many of the family’s clothes, gave Trépanier
a deeper understanding of cuts, shape and proportion. “I would love seeing my mom sitting in her atelier and watching her sew. Sometimes she would sew all night. She had a file full of the old paper patterns and a cutting table. It was a magical little place,” Trépanier fondly recalls.
QUEER STYLIST DREAM TEAM
Given Patricia Trépanier’s immense success in styling men, it’s inevitable that women would be interested in her services. But the Montreal stylist prefers to specialize in men’s clothing. How does she handle styling requests from women?
She refers them to Luc Nowlan – alocal gay male stylist who only works with women.
“Luc has been doing this for longer than I have,” Trépanier says. “He was represented by the same agency as I was and we became friends. When my clients’ wives and friends started asking about styling services, I knew that I needed a women’s styling expert I could trust. Luc was the natural choice.”
Trépanier and Nowlan also collaborate to provide corporate styling services focused on dress codes and trends. “Most companies have been feeling like they have a dress code problem since COVID began. A lot of people are coming back to work and they are more casual than ever. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but there is a way to present yourself in your business,” says Trépanier.
Theirs is an innovative collaboration model: Trépanier refers female clients to Luc, and he refers male clients to Trépanier. While their businesses remain completely separate, together Trépanier and Nowlan make up a queer stylist dream team!
It came as no surprise when Trépanier decided to study fashion design, zeroing in on styling as her career of choice and men as her target demographic. When she was just 19, she began working for a local agency as a stylist, honing her skills and building her clientele. Her young age, however, did not always work to her advantage.
“The agency likely thought I was too young to have my own clients [so] I had to work twice as hard as everyone else to prove that I was worth it. Having to find my own clients plus pay agency fees and rent – it was a lot of money coming out of my pocket, and not much coming back to me,” says Trépanier, who eventually decided to throw off the shackles of agency work and branch out on her own.
Patricia Trépanier has built a steady clientele over the years, making a name for herself as a forward-thinking stylist in Montreal’s fashion scene
In 2008, she launched Trépanier Image & Style, nestled in the heart of Old Montreal. With no start-up investments or government funds to tap into, Trépanier at one point had to hold down three jobs to make ends meet: bartending, working for her father, and building her styling business.
Referrals were key to her early success, as were loyal clients who had been with her for years, she says. She also leveraged the digital marketing space by writing blog articles, which in turn improved her Google ranking. Most importantly, she stresses, she cooperated with a couple of other former agency stylists who agreed to help each other out. “The three of us decided to refer clients to each other,” she says. “This was a great way to build my client base.”
The hard work and perseverance paid off. “They say it takes five years to build a business, and I couldn’t agree more – after five years I was able to make a profit, have a decent salary and even buy a condo at the age of 25,” says Trépanier.
Fast forward to 2021, and Trépanier is now in her 13th year of running her own business. Loyal clients pay hundreds of dollars for her styling services, and she sees about 150 clients a year. This adds up to vibrant business that allows Trépanier to do something she loves every working day.
She takes a supportive, down-to-earth approach with her clients, aiming to show that personal styling is an option available to all and not just a select few. “Most people don’t know there is such a thing as a personal stylist for real people. They think it’s a service that is exclusive to celebrities,” she says, dispelling a common myth. “I’m really not about a bitchy, ‘what not to wear’ attitude. I have an open heart, and there is never any judgment. It’s about what you do well, as opposed to what you do wrong.”
Like many businesses, Trépanier has had to pivot as a result of the pandemic, which has significantly changed people’s fashion priorities
and shopping patterns. Pre-pandemic, her most popular service was the premium VIP Fitting Session, where she would shop solo for clients followed by onsite fittings. That service has moved to a video consult model, which has proved a boon. Clients no longer have to go to her Montreal studio in person and Trépanier saves on travel time too.
Trépanier has also seen a big jump in her Wardrobe Review and Makeover Combo service, which helps men make the most of their existing clothing. She takes a deep dive into their wardrobe to help clients assess what’s working, what can be touched up, and what needs to go. “[Some] people haven’t shopped since 2019, so a lot of them want to go over their whole wardrobe,” she explains.
Unlike some queer business owners who may face discrimination because of their sexual orientation, Trépanier says her lesbian identity hasn’t impacted her business in the least. It rarely comes up in conversation, and when it does, her clientele – mainly straight men – remain unfazed.
“I rarely discuss my personal life with clients, but when I do tell them I’m gay, it doesn’t bother them,” she says. “If you see a hairdresser or psychologist, would they talk about themselves the entire time? I spend about two hours a year with an average client, mostly trying on clothes and discussing what best suits them. I don’t see why I would talk about my sexual orientation.”
Similarly, Trépanier doesn’t feel that being gay has given her any advantages in her business. Although she likes to joke, tongue in cheek, that her clients’ partners never have to worry about her stealing their man!
On the contrary, with her gifted eye for style, Trépanier is ensuring that her clients walk out of her atelier with a great look that pleases everyone all-round, partners included. For her, fashion styling is a labour of love. It’s all about making people look good and feel good. And she does it well.