Hurricane Grace Breezes into Knowlton

By Morri Mostow


Roofs may still sag under piles of snow but last Friday Hurricane Grace blew into Knowlton, bringing a load of summery fashions. No, not a real hurricane. Hurricane Grace is Knowlton’s newest designer clothing boutique. Its women’s wear features clean, classic lines, designed entirely by co-owner and fashion model Jodi Mallinson

The relaxed holiday feel in this airy uncluttered boutique is no accident. It has been carefully crafted by Jodi’s husband and business partner, Nils, who spent months gutting and renovating the former premises of Rowland Antiques. Now, light streams through the two large bay windows onto creamy yellow walls, exposed rough ceiling beams and a newly laid pine plank floor, painted with large pale-blue checks to echo the boutique’s blue-gingham theme. A vase of yellow tulips adorns the old-style cash counter. A cozy seating area around a low pine table invites shoppers to linger and chat.

Limited-edition dresses

It’s the perfect setting to showcase Jodi’s new spring/summer collection of women’s clothing and a smaller line of girls’ dresses (age 2 to 10). Her collection of casual skirts, shirts, shorts, trousers and dresses uses comfortable stretch poplins, rayons and cotton/polyester blends – fabrics that travel well and don’t wrinkle. Colours range from solid neutrals (beige, khaki green and navy) to discreet checks and florals. She designs for women from 16 to 60, in sizes from 4 to 16.

“We’re not trying to be trendy,” explains Jodi. “We want our customers to feel fashionable over many seasons. If they like a particular shirt, for example, they can count on finding something very similar to it again at the store next season.” Prices offer excellent value: T-shirts range from $12 to $25; shirts, $38 to $45; trousers, $59 to $69.

Jodi’s specialty is dresses. Like fine lithographs, she produces them in limited editions, with a maximum of 25 in any colour. Each dress bears a numbered Hurricane Grace Limited Edition label. Dresses, priced from $70 to $150, range from bare, strappy sun frocks to elegant sleeveless silk shifts in monochrome jewel-like shades. It took mere minutes for a prospective bridesmaid on a scouting mission to settle on these shimmering silk gowns, in the full-length model, for an entire wedding party.

The perfect location

Jodi and Nils, both in their 30s, are no strangers to Knowlton. Six years ago, they opened their first clothing boutique, which they named Grace, in honour of the 1991 hurricane that initiated their romance. (Both high-fashion models at the time, they met at photo shoot in Bermuda. They spent a week getting to know each other as they waited for the hurricane to blow over.) They tried two different locations in Knowlton, but neither gave them the visibility they needed to promote their own label.

So last year they closed up shop. With their two-year-old son Jakob, they spent six months in England, where Nils pursued his photography career. Back home in Knowlton, they spotted the “for rent” ad last October for their present store, unquestionably one of the premiere commercial locations in town. This was the very opportunity they had been waiting for. They moved fast: within 48 hours they had signed a lease, pre-empting several other contenders for this coveted spot on Knowlton Road, right at the “four corners.”

Haute couture hits the beach

Serendipity has played a big role for Jodi and Nils. Born and raised in Toronto, Jodi was scouted by a modelling agency at 15, and spent the next 15 years doing fashion shoots in New York and Europe. Nils, the son of an English diplomat and Swedish mother, grew up in Switzerland, Zaire, Korea, Iceland and Denmark. A self-proclaimed gypsy, he abandoned university in England when his modelling career took off.

For a while, Jodi lived in Key West, Florida, where she opened a tiny beachfront boutique. There, she designed and produced made-to-measure sundresses, with all the fine detail, like French seams, she admired in European haute couture. “I taught myself to sew, to design, to cut patterns, to fit each customer. I used to sit under a ficus tree sewing my orders.”

A few years later, she and Nils decided to settle in Canada, choosing Quebec because of its French/English cultural mix. They fell in love with Knowlton on a drive through the area one beautiful fall day, in 1994. “We might not have ended up here if local artist Jennifer Jonas hadn’t overheard us in an antique shop and offered us her house to rent on the spot.” They later bought a house on Benoît Ave., which Nils spent several years restoring. The Brome Historical Society recently recognized it as a heritage building. The house, owned in 1861 by Sarah Knowlton, one of the area’s early settlers, will be featured in the June issue of Chatelaine Magazine.

Planning for growth

To help them draft their business plan and get financing for Hurricane Grace, Jodi and Nils turned to the CLD, the local business development centre in Cowansville. Despite an excellent business plan and a retail track record, none of the local banks was willing to finance their new start-up venture. “See us again in three years” was the typical response. Undaunted, Jodi and Nils invested thousands of their own money in computerized machinery in order to create their patterns and samples in-house, and set to work designing their first season’s line. But this is just the start. From their base in Knowlton, they fully intend to grow: within 10 years, they plan to have stores in the U.S. and the Caribbean.

“As we expand our production, we will need more and more resources,” says Nils. “We hope to create local jobs by subcontracting all our work to companies and individuals here in the Townships. We’d like to attract people from Montreal with the right skills to come live and work out here. You can’t beat the quality of life in our area.”

Now, that’s a fair breeze blowing in the right direction!


Editor’s note: Hurricane Grace closed its doors several years ago, and Nils and Jodi have gone their separate ways. Nils is pursuing his first love, photography. Jodi Mallinson continues to model and design her own unique line of women’s and girls’ summer togs and cruise wear under her Agnes & Grace label.