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Le Chateau brings the glamour of Oscar dressing to stores

MONTREAL (CP) - In the fashion business, speed thrills.

Le Chateau is putting its versions of the winning Oscar dresses from the Academy Awards on the racks in selected stores.

The designs include those worn by Cameron Diaz, Salma Hayak, Cate Blanchett and Tyra Banks.

"We drew inspiration from them," said Barbara Posiewko, a senior buyer for the Montreal-based chain.

"We had a meeting before the Oscars. We thought a lot of girls would like to look like stars," she added, referring to the coming season of proms and weddings.

Banks wore a lavender ballgown with lots of tulle designed by Vera Wang. Hayek's satin halter dress was also by Wang, while Diaz was in a plunging black Versace and Blanchett wore black Jean Paul Gaultier with a gold chain down the middle of her bare back.

Everyone always gets inspiration from somewhere, said Hershel Segal, CEO of Le Chateau, the chain of shops he founded in 1959 which now has 160 stores, including four in the U.S.

"We are always connected to the entertainment world, the music world."

But the company has never put as much energy, weight and speed into getting something into the stores, he said.

Le Chateau manufactures three million garments a year in Quebec, said Segal, so if the company wants to get something on the market fast, it has the ways and means.

The Academy Awards aired March 26, and Le Chateau had samples sewn up not long after. The dresses are expected on the racks any day, but some may take longer to hit stores, such as the dress worn by Banks, because Le Chateau is waiting for fabric in the right shade of lavender.

Banks's dress, with a full crinoline, will retail for about $300, while the other dresses will cost from $80 to $150.

Hayek's gown, with a rhinestone bodice, is a deeper lavender than the original and has a purple tulle shawl, while Diaz's dress was done in lace with a bra and hot pants. Blanchett's gown is minus the gold chain down the back.

The speed of the design cycle is dizzying these days.

"It's going faster and faster," said Segal, "because of our smaller world, independent customers and sharper retailers."

Franco Rocchi, vice-president of the company, said a team of 20 designers and buyers turns out about three "stories" a month, meaning collections with a common theme in colour, fabric or feeling. As soon as something is brewing on the runways or in the entertainment world, they get to work.

The U.S. company A.B.S. has been copying outfits from events like the Oscars for years, and Canada's Club Monaco is famous for knocking off runway looks from fashion houses like Prada, but this is a Canadian first in bringing a specific dress to market so quickly, said Rocchi.

"Fast fashion is here," said Rocchi, referring to the team working at company headquarters in Montreal.