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Wedded to style

Married designers launch new line of dresses for national retailer
Designers Danielle Martin and Pao Lim won the Mercedes-Benz Start Up contest last year.

Winning a high-profile designer competition helped boost awareness of their brand among stylewatchers, but Danielle Martin and Pao Lim hope their new dress line for Reitmans will further extend their reach to the masses.

"Fashionistas know the brand in Montreal and Toronto; but the wide public, I don't know if they know it," Martin said in a recent interview.

"It's a good opportunity to know the brand through our collaboration with Reit-mans."

It was just a year ago that the married Montreal-based design duo behind Martin Lim took home the top prize at the inaugural Mercedes-Benz Start Up contest for emerging home-grown designers. The couple earned a fully produced runway show at Toronto's World MasterCard Fashion Week in March, and showcased their latest line at Montreal Fashion Week in September.

Prior to launching their label in 2010, they studied at London's renowned Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and gained expertise working with top-tier designers like Roland Mouret. After returning to Montreal in 2004, they further cultivated their skills and earned commercial experience working with established retailers and manufacturers.

Reitmans embarked on its first designer collaboration last year with Marie Saint Pierre. The longtime Montreal-based designer created holiday and spring capsule lines for the specialty apparel chain.

Reitmans merchandise manager Brigitte Martin said the retailer wanted to follow up their inaugural partnership by teaming up with an emerging label, and said the Martin Lim brand - and the couple behind it - fit the bill.

She added that the new collaboration brings customers a "surprise element" among the retailer's traditional assortment of offerings, as well as a unique opportunity for women to access designer looks for less.

"You're getting something that is not that easy normally for you to have in terms of price. It's not usually within your reach," said Brigitte Martin. "But at the same time, there's design elements in there that will make you feel really special, that you're part of something in fashion.

"That's something that we feel is important for women."

The 10-piece holiday line includes six regular size garments, and two dress styles each for petite and plus-sized women, with dresses priced from $85 to $120. The capsule collection features form-fitting colour-blocked creations and flowing, draped numbers encompassing a range of fabrics including jersey, crepe back satin, chiffon and faux leather.

The Martin Lim for Reit-mans line features structured sheaths, long-sleeved dresses, A-line silhouettes and asymmetrical designs with a mix of both daywear and eveningwear looks. While basic black dominates the palette, the dresses also feature rich shades of purple, teal, coral and cream.

Danielle Martin said a picture of architecture from the Czech Republic was a starting point of inspiration for the Reit-mans collection, notably the depiction of colours, textures and lines.

"The collection is a lot about the fluidity, but also something very constructed, very architectural, so we combine those two elements together," said Lim.

The couple balances their design work with raising daughters Zola, 14, and Lori, 5. As a husband-and-wife team, Martin and Lim find there are plenty of benefits in having both a personal and professional partnership, notably the pace at which they can discuss, share and collaborate on creative ideas related to their label.

"We are together every day, every minute, so if we have any decisions to make we don't have to wait until the day after for the meeting - we take the decision right away on the spot," said Lim.

"We speak the same language," added Martin.

"Everything goes fast when we talk about the reference, and you know that the other knows what they're talking about."

The connection between the soft-spoken pair is clearly evident during their interview, from the warm exchange of looks to the complimentary words about the strengths of each partner.

"Danielle, she's very, very feminine, she loves all the draping," said Lim. She's extremely detail-oriented, very demanding about quality, the cuts."

"And Pao is very good with the graphic design, he's more bold," added Martin. Lim agreed.

"I'm usually a little bit more structured, more rigid, more bold, more loud," Lim said with a laugh. "So it's a combination of [those] two elements. There's always the man's side and the feminine side. So we try to balance it."

"Complete each other," Martin added, with a laugh.

The Martin Lim for Reit-mans collection will be available beginning Nov. 2. at stores in Quebec and Ontario. The line will be available nationally via the Reitmans website,