On Netflix: Secrets of Selfridges

selfridges

Luxury department stores are a treasure trove – not only for tony bags and shoes, but stories. Recent documentary films have focused on the high net worth shoppers and salespeople at Bergdorf’s (Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s) and Neiman-Marcus (The Store). Secrets of Selfridges tells the story of the American visionary behind the infamous UK store and his indelible mark on the world of retail.

Harry Gordon Selfridge Sr., was a Wisconsin native who cut his retail teeth at Chicago’s Marshall Fields. He gained early success by introducing new promotional and customer service concepts. He’s largely credited with the phrases “Only X days until Christmas” and “The customer is always right.”

London Calling

In just eight years Selfridge worked up to general manager, then quickly set his sights on taking the department store model to Britain. The iconic Oxford Street store is an architectural diamond, and his American approach to retail singlehandedly changed London culture.

Never before had different classes of British citizens been welcome in one commercial place as equals. For the first time women were encouraged to shop – without escort! – for pleasure. He embraced the women’s suffragette movement early on, gaining him a loyal following. Shoppers could freely peruse and browse merchandise under the guise of “just looking” instead of being expected to buy. No pushy salespeople here, just lots of merchandise.

Excite the mind and the hand will reach for the pocket.

Selfridge believed retail should excite and delight. His promotional tactics were incredibly successful at driving foot traffic. After Louis Blériot completed the first cross-Channel flight, Selfridge arranged to exhibit his monoplane on Selfridges’s first floor, drawing huge crowds.

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His lasting contributions to retail are seemingly endless. Bi-annual sales? Credit Selfridge. Bargain basement? Selfridge. Cosmetics and perfume counters on the ground floor? Selfridge! H. Gordon Selfridge’s rise and (spoiler alert!) fall is a fascinating tale of a retail pioneer and an American outsider who becomes the king of London luxury.

On Netflix Canada now.

Indigo Launches First Cultural Department Store for Booklovers

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When I was a teen the mall was everything. It was a meeting ground for my friends, a place of escape from our parents and teachers. We’d troll through the same stores again and again, inspired by things we thought defined the people we were and would become.

Today the mall is struggling. Kids connect over social media. They’re inspired by YouTubers. The rise of e-commerce plus our growing desire for experiences over things has chipped away at mall traffic, endangering its survival. Retailers are being forced to rethink their brick and mortar locations as more than a place to house stuff. It has to be a destination. They must learn how to embrace the omni-channel approach – providing a seamless user experience across all channels – while increasing a customer’s dwell time in store.

Retail is far from dead. It just needs to be refreshed.

Enter Indigo. The Canadian bookstore chain opened its latest location at CF Sherway Gardens this summer. The 30,000 megastore brands itself as the “first cultural department store for book lovers.” That isn’t just a tagline. It’s a bold move into the future.

Bookstores have always been categorized by interest, but this store takes it a step further with “shop within shop” boutiques catering to various interests such as health and wellness, home and cooking, fashion, art.

Indigo tapped customer data for insights that resulted in a seamless integration of books and lifestyle products. For instance, people interested in Wellness books are also a likely demo for products like the wildly popular FitBit, Swell water bottles for the ultimate style in on-the-go hydration and even chic, reusable food containers, which you’ll find stacked among the book titles.

Joy of the Table mixes recipe and home decor books with luxuriously homey cookware and table accents. Around the corner, Indigo brings the Canadian Home to life with cozy seating featuring on-trend pillows, throws, candles and a curated selection of 200 single titles that make up the best personal library.

A Room of Her Own is a shop inspired by Virginia Woolf’s famous extended essay “A Room of One’s Own.” This section offers fashion and beauty accessories including scarves, bags, jewellery, watches, eyeglasses, and lotions all surrounded by one of the largest selections of fashion, beauty and style books, in addition to titles by strong female authors including Joan Didion, Mindy Kaling and Shonda Rhimes.

It’s nice to see Canadian brands such as Pluck Tea, Matt & Nat handbags and Jenny Bird jewellery front and center. The store is also home to Indigo’s exclusive Read the North book gallery. #ReadtheNorth is their recent movement designed to inspire Canadians to fall in love with Canadian literature. Through the end of July you can enter to win one of two $500 gift cards in their #ReadtheNorth Instagram contest. Check out some of the familiar and famous helping to promote here.)

The Paper Shop (one of my favourite areas) takes up a massive corner stocked high with Moleskin journals, greeting cards and writing instruments. To add a personal touch to any gift, Indigo offers a complimentary embossing station to monogram journals, pouches and totes.

For the parents, a significant portion of the store is devoted to kids with books and edutainment. Every Tuesday and Saturday they host IndigoKids Storytime with readings for kids up to six years old.

Indigo is one of the best things at CF Sherway Gardens, a mall that boasts luxury shops like Saks and Holt Renfrew with Nordstroms a planned addition this fall. While other bookstores are tanking (talking to you, Barnes & Noble), Indigo is one of the rare success stories in retail, consistently showing revenue increases across all channels. Perhaps it’s because they’ve capitalized on the one area where Amazon can’t compete — the store experience.

Down the Vintage Shopping Rabbit Hole (Giveaway)

Luxe Touch vintage bags

Luxe Touch vintage bags

Anyone who knows me knows my love of vintage. It’s a good bet that almost any outfit I wear includes a fashionable nod to the past.

When scouring shops for vintage, you can’t have expectations. Perhaps this is why vintage fanatics like me love it — the sense of adventure, of discovery, the thrill of coming across something so unique, so interesting, so potentially now again.

These days, unfortunately, great vintage finds are hard to come by. As the Globe and Mail reported last month, the availability of high-end designer vintage has changed. Trolling through thrift stores today rarely reaps more than fast fashion cast-offs. Many vintage shops have evolved into high-end contemporary resale stores in order to maintain a viable business.

Well, get ready vintage lovers, this year’s annual Toronto Vintage Clothing Show is coming. And it’s going to be bigger than ever.

Featuring:

Luxe Touch, an independent Canadian based reseller of authentic luxury handbags and specializing in pre-owned and vintage Chanel flap bags in particular.

Ian Drummond Collection, a legendary fixture in the local vintage scene. Ian has been a passionate collector of vintage clothing since the early 1980s, and was responsible for the costuming of 3000+ background performers in HAIRSPRAY and CINDERELLA MAN.  Indulge your love of the 80’s and 90’s – this year Ian will be featuring a huge selection of outfits from a recent purchase.

If Victorian period is more your speed, The Fashion History Museum (located in Cambridge, Ontario) will be participating for the first time offering a one-time-only sale of some excess inventory (nearly 10,000 garments in the regular museum collection). This year guests can also explore a treasure trove of hand-picked antique and vintage decor at the Toronto Antique & Vintage Market.

Toronto Vintage Clothing Show
Admission $10 (cash only)
Saturday, March 5th 10am-5pm
Sunday, March 6th 10am-4pm
Queen Elizabeth Building at Exhibition Place (map)

Enter to win a pair of tickets to the Toronto Vintage Clothing Show by sharing your love of vintage on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #vintagelovah (a la Carrie Bradshaw’s “Hello, lovah”) by 11:59PM on March 2nd. Feel free to tag me @TheFList. Two winners will be contacted March 3rd to claim their prize.

Are you a vintage newbie? Here are my top tips for successful shopping:

  • By nature vintage is one-of-a-kind, so shopping is competitive. Arrive early.
  • Bring cash. Not all vendors take credit cards, and while there is an ATM on site you don’t want to miss out on a purchase while waiting in a long line-up.
  • Don’t be afraid to haggle! This is why you bring cash. Prepare to cut a deal, but know when to walk away.
  • Inspect an item thoroughly before buying. Natural wear and tear on vintage may not be immediately visible, so be sure to check for loose seams, missing buttons, stains and such.
Photo courtesy the Toronto Vintage Clothing Show

Photo courtesy the Toronto Vintage Clothing Show

ThirdLove Starts Up a Bravolution

ThirdLove balconet bra

ThirdLove balconet bra

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I’m a big follower of the fashion and tech start-up industry. So when ThirdLove, a San Francisco-based lingerie start-up, contacted me about writing a sponsored post, I had to say yes. They have been ones to watch on the e-commerce scene. It was barely two years ago that ThirdLove was nabbing a cool $5.6 million in seed money.

It’s not a social shopping experience, so it’s actually the perfect category to bring online.

Along with Brayola and True&Co, ThirdLove co-founders Dave Spector and Heidi Zak were early disrupters in the lingerie category. Moving bra sales combined with personal fitting services online makes sense. Zak explained to TechCrunch, in an article published at the time of their funding, “It’s not a social shopping experience, so it’s actually the perfect category to bring online.”

The Fit is the Feature

Before ordering from ThirdLove, I recommend downloading their sizing app to guarantee the right fit. This innovative mobile app walks you through how to take two photos of yourself wearing a bra and fitted tank top. The app uses an algorithm to identify your size based on the photos and matches you to the perfect size. It should be no surprise how ThirdLove married fashion and science – their app development lead is also a senior scientist at NASA. (The app is available on iPhone only, but an Android version is in the making.)

As other women can attest, sometimes “your girls” aren’t a true cup size – enter ThirdLove’s signature half cup sizes. And no matter your size, they’ve got you covered from the AAA to DDDD. ThirdLove also provides a Breast Shape Dictionary to help you define the shape of your breasts. For example, one being bigger than the other means “They’re Sisters, Not Twins.” Get it?! Their style chart will point you in the right direction based on shape as well.

According to Zak, women change bra sizes an average of six times in their lifetime.

While the shape of our breasts might stay the same over our lifetime, our bra size does not. According to Zak, women change bra sizes an average of six times in their lifetime. This rings true when you consider puberty, pregnancy, menopause and lifetime weight fluctuations. It also means we should be measuring ourselves with each bra purchase.

Photo by ThirdLove

Photo by ThirdLove

Let’s Talk About the Pretty

ThirdLove lingerie offers European-inspired lingerie in a small but solid selection of colours and styles. I chose the balconet bra in stormy lilac. It’s so pretty! Made with nylon, rayon and Spandex, the seams and fabric are both soft and comfortable. Their selection of panties, while a bit more basic in design, is quite broad.

Whatever interest they stand to lose on their selection, they’ll more than make up for in price and service. A perfect-fitting bra will only run you $45 to $70, while panties range $11 to $35 and – don’t forget – it’s a perfect fit with no changing room.

That’s something to love.

Umbra’s Design Innovation

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I have the Penguin in red, which do you have?

In 1980 a graphic designer by the name of Paul Rowan couldn’t find a nice window shade to hang in his apartment window. So he made one and people liked it. It was then that Rowan teamed up with his childhood friend Les Mandelbaum to create Umbra (Latin for “shade”).

Problem. Innovative solution.

Such has been the circle of design at Umbra ever since. Rowan and Mandelbaum’s mission of bringing intelligent design to everyday items has resulted in some iconic pieces over the years, which were on display for guests at a recent anniversary party held at their Toronto flagship store. In the process they’ve become a global housewares design company and Canadian success story.

The emphasis on design cannot be lost on their customers. Karim Rashid, the flashy and famous industrial designer (and Torontonian), has been a catalyst to many of the signature items including the Garbino Can, his first Umbra collaboration in 1997. It was an instant hit, catapulting both Rashid and Umbra to household names. Today it’s in the permanent collection at the MOMA.

Umbra encourages their designers to rethink everyday objects. Every designer has a byline on Umbra website next to the product they designed. A global company who cares about keeping it real with their people? Now that’s intelligent.

Fashion Blows

That black bob. Those red lips. The hats!

Isabella Blow’s image is still imprinted on fashion’s collective memory years after her death. Blow’s career in fashion spanned decades and included high profile associations – designer Guy Laroche, American Vogue, Tatler, British Vogue. But her real legacy is as a fashion eccentric and the woman who helped make designers Philip Treacy and Alexander McQueen household names.

After her suicide in 2007, Blow’s catalogue of historic – many one-of-a-kind – designer pieces were saved from a Christie’s auction by her long-time friend Daphne Guinness. Last October, The Room at Hudson’s Bay featured a stunning selection from the Blow archives.

For a deeper look into the life of Blow and her relationships with McQueen and Treacy, I urge you to check out the book Champagne Supernovas by Maureen Callahan. It’s a saucy read on fashion in the 1990’s told through the cocaine-infused lives of McQueen, Kate Moss and Marc Jacobs. Yeah, seriously saucy.

Who Makes Your Clothes?

There’s been a revolution bubbling underneath up through fashion week runways and retail announcements. Can you feel it?

It has to do with something we’ve forgotten — that fashion is less about things than it is about ideas. This time last year, more than 1,100 people were killed and over 2,500 injured when the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. And since? What has changed? What have you changed?

Fashion by its very nature requires us to challenge the status quo. The Rana Plaza tragedy was a stark reminder of that. Today’s status quo demands a more empathetic, less materialistic approach to fashion. Period. When did we stop appreciating the creative process? Stop valuing the artistic side of fashion? When did we decide to compromise basic 
human life for something to wear? When did Wall Street start calling the shots on what we buy, when, and for how much?

Forget it – those are complicated questions to which the answer does not matter right now. What does matter is life, liberty and the pursuit of individuality of fashion. This goes for everyone. Those who buy, sell, design and sew the fashions on our backs. The pace of governments and industrial change is slow. But your ability to make a decision is not.


People have literally died for the shirt on your back, and until this story gets as real as a Pharrell video, I say FUCK YOU status quo! There’s no excuse for turning a blind eye. 

Fashion Revolution is an organization with lofty ideas of impacting things like working conditions, environmental impact and fair trade. Join the Fashion Revolution here or on Facebook and Twitter.

Fashion On the Go

Last weekend I stumbled upon Fashion Truck Canada, set up in the parking lot of Liberty Village. Food truck you say? No, no, the only food at this truck was the adorable candy bar set up front of it.
 Following the recent food truck craze, fashion trucks have been popping up in cities across the U.S. such as L.A. and New York. The concept has been test driven in Canada, but barely. Yorkdale Shopping Centre used a fashion truck in 2012 to promote its new retailers in the downtown core. Saint John’s New Brunswick had a fashion truck. But Toronto? Not so much.
 
Enter entrepreneurs Emily Dobbie and Ashley Barber. “I already have two physical retail stores and an online website,” Emily explains, referring to her Vocado boutiques. “I see this as a great way to test new markets and bring our pieces to new markets.”

The clothing and accessories are contemporary labels, the kind you can easily try on over a pair of leggings and a tank, in case Fashion Truck’s one change room is booked. “We sell a lot of LA brands — Olivaceous, De Philo, Everly, Six Crisp Days,” says Emily. You can also find pieces from Alternative Apparel, Free People, Levi’s, Henry and Belle, Chaser and Wildfox. Accessories? No problem. Fashion Truck carries loads – necklaces, scarves, hats, rings, headbands, sunglasses, wallets and clutches. Just don’t expect to find shoes, unless they’re Tkees.

So when you have two brick and mortar shops and an online boutique, why the truck? “Retail is changing and we wanted to lead the way with this new trend. I see this as a great way to test new markets and bring our pieces to new markets.”

Unfortunately, Toronto’s bylaws around trucks — food, fashion or otherwise — do not make this easy. Fashion Truck’s partners have already addressed councillors at City Hall, lobbying for easier permit processes. The current (archaic) rules and the city’s snail’s pace to change hasn’t deterred these women so far. “We’re ready to fight for this and show Toronto that they need to adapt and adjust and bring this city to the next level from a unique retail perspective.” 
 
Don’t miss Fashion Truck Canada’s next stop. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Viktor & Rolf fall preview at The Room

Recently Toronto was named the fourth largest city in North America (take a seat Chicago!), but we aren’t yet acting like a major player on the continent. When international designers roll through town — you know, the celebrities of the fashion world — we have a hard time not divulging our “aw shucks”-ness at their presence. 

This is not a bad thing. It’s just very, very Canadian. It’s what endears people to Canadians (well, that and our social policies). Last night the fashion duo Viktor & Rolf held court at The Room for a party to preview their fall collection. So I doused myself in Flowerbomb and hit the Bay…erm, I mean The Hudson’s Bay.

We may be humble Canadians but we know how to throw a party. While the bespectacled pair worked the room, bespectacled waiters worked the champagne and hors d’ouevres and DJ Mia Moretti worked her magic with the music.

Danier Does it Again with the Design Challenge

In marketing, they say it always starts with the kids. Four years ago Danier initiated a design challenge with Ryerson University’s School of Fashion that would allow third year students to demonstrate their fashion chops. In return for creating an original women’s leather garment design, a handful of students had a chance at seeing their garment put into production for Danier stores, a paid summer internship and cold hard cash.

At that time the concept of designer collaborations was still relatively new. But sure enough, a series of successful collabs with notable names from Canada’s fashion industry quickly followed – Winnipeg-born, London-based Mark Fast, Toronto’s Greta Constantine and Philip Sparks and stylist George Antonopoulos. (That’s me wearing Greta Constantine’s SKIN for Danier on the left; George Antonopoulos’ OBJECT line on the right.)

Just as school returned to session this month, I stopped by Ryerson to see this year’s design challenge winner revealed and catch up with Olga Koel, Danier’s executive vice president and chief merchandising officer.

“Getting students to create something commercially viable was our initial goal, but it has evolved to focus more on the creativity and innovation,” she remarked. “We want to encourage these students creativity, help them understand leather.”

Oh, there is creativity alright. This year’s winner demonstrated some sick design skills. The fact that young Ostwald Au-Yeung was unavailable for comment or a congratulatory handshake speaks volumes: he was finishing a design internship in Hong Kong. 

I have a hunch Ostwald is not long for this land. As we see often in Canada, talent like this either gets snapped up quickly or itches for bigger experiences than they can enjoy here. And with talent like this, I would rather see him rubbing elbows with another next big thing. 

World domination, Ostwald, it’s yours for the making.