Storefronts are for Amateur Shoppers (The Toronto Star)

Forget if you build it, they will come. It's more like, if they can find it, they will come.

More and more entrepreneurs are selling from their homes.

But some, like Alicia Vianga and Catherine Pacak, don't make it easy. Neither has a storefront location. They don't even leave a trail of bread crumbs.

Vianga is owner of Premier Jour Fine Lingerie, housed at 26 Clockwork Lane, Park Lawn Rd. and The Queensway, in the city's west end, accessible only by a cab driver with good eyesight and a legible Perly's.

Catherine's business, Poa Studio, is at 44 Britain St., south of Queen St. E. off Sherbourne St. There is no sign on the door and it is set back from the street, so it is equally impossible to locate.

But intrepid shoppers in the hundreds somehow manage to hunt down both venues.

Premier Jour features collections of French lingerie, intimate apparel and nightwear from European lines including Abuade, Antinea and Bellissima. In addition, Vianga is the exclusive Canadian distributor of the Spoylt line of lingerie, favoured by Carmen Electra, worn by Eva Longoria on Desperate Housewivesand assorted boldface on Nip/Tuck and Two and a Half Men, but presumably not Charlie Sheen.

Lingerie has always been Vianga's passion, even when the curvy beauty was modelling. Her focus in setting up shop at home was to eliminate the intimidation factor.

"Women are a little intimidated when going to a boutique to buy bras and panties," Vianga explains. "It's such a tiny change room; it's hot and they can't find someone to find their size. They walk out and there is a man sitting there who is not their boyfriend or husband. Husbands love it here. They watch TV."

She test drives the merch herself and supplies full service.

"Not every bra cup is created equal," she explains. "I knew I was doing the right thing when I saw clients dancing in front of the mirror."

There are also playful and kinky objets including silk and marabou handcuffs, beaded garters and a pink satin blindfold, also useful for sleeping.

"It's an infatuation cuff," she insists. "It is not seedy but sexy. I wanted it to be so unique, you wouldn't find it at any store. You couldn't go to Winners."

She carries both thongs and sexy big-girl panties. Her big girl lines include Antonia and Empreinte and she can fit 32A to 52H in bras.

"Most women wear the wrong bra size," Vianga says. "Eighty-five per cent don't know their size. I'm not a hired hand. I want you to look good; I'm not trying to make a commission."

Bras start at $90 and go to $185. The handcuffs are $90.

She has a database of 500 clients, 10 per cent of whom are men, and she will make house or business calls if necessary.

"I deliver if I need to," she allows. "I have clients who come to me at 9 at night. I keep sizes on file as well as birthdays and anniversaries. Women love gifts for no reason, especially gifts that fit."

Store Gazing recalls way back, when an old high-school beau was shopping for a shirt for us and the saleswoman inquired as to size, he said "two fried eggs." The shirt fit.

Catherine Pacak greets you at the top of the stairs of her sleek loft. With its exposed brick walls, minimalist furniture and white curtains separating the sleep area, it looks like a giant walk-in closet.

"The way it is set up is like a closet," she allows. "There is only one of each, so you can see everything without digging."

She holds up a basic black pantsuit. "It's a best seller," she says. "Everyone in the financial district has one. My clients are mainly in business, corporate or self-employed. But their careers are only one aspect. They all have amazing lives and I get to dress them for every aspect."

Like Vianga, Pacak will deliver clothes to the office.

"Women have changed the way they shop," she explains. "It's no longer a leisure activity. It is now a necessity that has turned into something not pleasurable."

"Poa" is Swahili for chilling out and relaxing (Pacak once ran a private clinic for a medical insurance company in Kenya) and it is reflected in the atmosphere of the studio.

"You see the real side of clients here," Pacak says. "Everyone unleashes herself here. My clients love the intimacy and privacy of this space and I see everyone in a real relaxed state."

It is so informal, they often strip down and try on clothes on the spot when they walk in.

"They say, `I'm just going to change here.' The majority of my women don't have a lot of time. They want full, undivided attention. People come from work and the first thing they do is take off their boots."

Pacak carries Oui (Germany), "a generous cut that satisfies the majority of clients;" iRIS (Montreal), "good for tiny clients;" Drosofila (Brazil) and Chocolate (Argentina), "a junior cut."

"Most of my clients are a size 10; a handful are a size 14."

She stocks sizes 2 to 16 and buys only three of any one piece.

"I don't want my girls bumping into each other. I won't sell the same item to their best friend."

The price points are reasonable: a two-way stretch skirt is $145; jackets range from $225 to $495; pants are $175 to $255.

Pacak didn't intend to work from home. She just couldn't find a space she liked better, so she threw an open house two years ago and went for it.

Pacak was raised in Swan River, Man., population 4,000, and was entrepreneurial from the get-go. She went to both business and beauty schools. She still moonlights as an aesthetician at Lift Salon, giving facials and massages Tuesday through Saturday.

Premier and Poa operate seven days a week by appointment.

Premier Jour: 416-760-7223; http://www.premierjourpj.com

Poa Studio: 416-364-2761; http://www.poastudio.com.

Author: Rita Zekas

Date: Saturday, December 2, 2006

Tags: toronto star shopping reviews, private shopping toronto ontario canada, boutique shopping toronto, poa studio toronto canada