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The Financial Side of Fashion, Meet the VP of Maison Marie Saint Pierre

Danielle Charest, VP and partner at Maison Marie Saint Pierre, successfully brings finance and fashion together. Danielle is a specialist in actuarial sciences, and after 15 years in the industry, which consisted of becoming Fellow of Canadian Institute of Actuaries and a shareholder at Normandin Beaudry, Danielle plunged into the creative world of fashion and design. Her structured thinking, financial aptitude, and business background have helped grow Maison Marie Saint Pierre into an international brand. As vice president and senior partner, Danielle oversees the operational and financial elements that allow creativity to thrive, while ensuring retail success. We spoke to her about her change in career.

As told to Meghan Jeffery

 

 

When did you start working with Marie Saint Pierre and how long have you known her for?

Well, we’re sisters so I’ve always known her! When she launched her company more then 25 years ago, I was a member of an advisory committee that she would turn to when she needed advice for important decisions and I was the financial expert. I started working for her as an employee and a partner in 2002, so it’s been almost 13 years now.

 

Coming from a long career in the actuarial industry, what inspired you to make the leap from being an actuary to joining the creative world of fashion and design?

That’s a good question! My career as an actuary had moved up very fast and soon I found myself a little bit cramped in Quebec. To pursue my career I would have had to leave Quebec and that wasn’t an option for me. At that point I had been working very hard, I had young kids and I needed a break. I decided, out of the blue to meet Marie in Toronto to give her a hand with her runway show. I told her I would do whatever she needed; I just wanted to help. It reminded me how much I loved being surrounded by creative people. I was always the creative one at the actuary office, wearing my sister’s designs! Actually, Marie and I always told each other we would work together one day. After Toronto, I decided to make it happen.

 

What is the biggest lesson Marie has taught you since you began working together?

“If you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it”, and by that I mean don’t be afraid to aim high even if your dream seems crazy or unreachable to others. The other thing I learned from her is how to look at things. Marie, as an artist, has bionic eyes. She sees everything. You know, sometimes we look but we don’t see… she does.

 

How has your background in mathematics and actuarial sciences comfortably transitioned into retail success?

Believe it or not, actuarial sciences are the creative field of mathematics. It is the science of looking back to predict the future. It is rigorous, but not exact. I suppose this intellectual gymnastics allows me to understand artists. Bringing my expertise to the Maison Marie Saint Pierre brand helped analysing our results, defining what worked well for us and insisting on those things. I took charge of all the operations and staff management, leaving Marie more time to do what she does best: be creative. If the company were a boat, Marie would be standing at the bow. She sees everything first and wants to make fast turns. I make sure that the boat and the crew can follow her.

 

Related: Meet Marie Saint Pierre, the first Canadian fashion designer to show in Paris

 

What are the challenges of balancing the financial needs of the business with the creative side?

That is always a struggle even for someone with a financial background like me. You don’t want to stifle creativity, but at the same time your shareholders have expectations and it’s a very fine balance to achieve success on both fronts. But at the same time, Marie is an artist with a strong business side, and I am a businesswoman with a great sensibility for creativity. In general, we end up understanding each other very well and when we have doubts, we go back to our goals. Our goals can be personal or professional, but they remind us what we really want and what we have to do to get there.

 

 Who has been your biggest mentor and what was the biggest lesson you learned from them?

It might sound silly but I would say my parents. In particular my father taught us to approach a problem from different perspectives and to be open-minded. Also Jean-Paul Riopelle was a great friend of the family and he had a major creative influence on all of us.

 

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