The Ottawa Citizen

October 4, 1997

Elegant boutique closes after 30 years

La Contessa Pastella served PMs' wives, entertainers, diplomatic set

Teresa Shebib
Citizen Special

The shop is discreet, tucked away in a downtown apartment building and announced only by the smallest of signs.

But the elegant clothes sold there have been worn by prime ministers' wives, television personalities and the Rockcliffe set. Olive Diefenbaker bought her Chanel suits there. Don Messer's Jubilee songbird Marg Osburne picked up her fancy frocks there.

Now, after three decades in business, La Contessa Pastella is closing at the end of the month.

"Most of my customers are all gone now, they are dead. So I think it's time to go," said Stella Hannaford, the owner of the private boutique in an apartment building at Metcalfe and Gloucester streets. She would not reveal her age, but says she opened her shop when she was in her late 40s; that would make her close to 80 now.

"It's been 30 years -- even I didn't believe myself when I started to count the years," she said.

The store, in its unusual apartment building location, is only open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays and some Saturdays. To enter the private boutique -- it has no storefront -- you buzz an apartment from the sidewalk. The store is at the end of an old-fashioned corridor, a panel in dainty black lettering pointing the way.

Mrs. Hannaford dresses just so, with her white hair coiffed to perfection. She and her boutique embody glam, the 1950s notion of looking as done up as possible. She regrets how casual much of fashion has become and how people are not going to parties like they used to.

The boutique has ornate mirrors, a chandelier, shag carpeting and classic taupe walls and drapes. It was not designed for crowds. Originally a two-bedroom apartment, the space contains a main showroom, fitting rooms and a seamstress room, but still has the tub in the bathroom.

Crowds were not what kept Mrs. Hannaford in business. Her loyal clientele did. Among them were Maryon Pearson and Mrs. Diefenbaker and wives of many ambassadors.

Mrs. Hannaford recalled that Mrs. Pearson preferred dressier clothes, while Mrs. Diefenbaker preferred suits, particularly Chanel. Their clothes had to be original and the women could not have similar outfits.

"Mr. Diefenbaker used to call himself and say, 'I am sending Olive and the secretary over, I want you to be sure to find her quite a few outfits because we are going on a trip.' "

Marg Osburne, a popular Maritimes country singer in the 1950s through to the 1970s, was another customer. She bought her stage clothes at the boutique.

Other customers were the Rockcliffe crowd, tourists from the Lord Elgin Hotel and friends who travelled from Halifax and Trois-Rivieres.

"As soon as merchandise came in, you had to call your customer," Mrs. Hannaford recalled.

Her store featured the clothes of British designer Susan Small, Peter Baron and dresses from Strobach which retailed in the 1970s for $500.

Mrs. Hannaford maintains that she was always honest with her customers and would find something else if an outfit did not look right.

Her relationship with her customers was so strong that when her husband died 11 years ago, over 80 of the customers supported her at the funeral parlour.

Mrs. Hannaford says that she was always interested in fashion, so when her husband retired from a job as a dental lab technician they decided to open a boutique.

La Contessa Pastella opened in its current location in 1968, one year after they created the business.

Mrs. Hannaford and her husband created the name Pastella by combining her husband's name, Pat, and hers, Stella.

Between now and the end of the month, all remaining stock, including fabric remnants, is being discounted by 50 per cent or more.

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