Story by Justine Iaboni. Photography by Joseph Vocics.
ROBBER (863 Queen St. W., 647-351-0724, robberstore.wordpress.com)
Shopping on Queen West one Sunday while trying to avoid the pending thunderstorm, I was relieved to walk into the sunny breath of fresh air that is Robber. The simple white-washed walls and minimal decor made all the pretty pastels and flowing dresses feel like lovely harbingers of spring. It’s no wonder that the duo from Vancouver, Erin Hall and Robin de Pelham, opened this boutique so they could bring a little west coast cool to this east coast kind of town.
Erin showed me around the store as we chit chatted about everything from the perfect T-shirt to the burgeoning population of savvy shoppers looking precisely for the class of pieces they carry, like the light, flowing blouses from Dace and the bright polka dot patterned jumpers from Karen Walker.
What inspired you to open Robber?
“I was originally working as a speech therapist in Vancouver, but I’ve always had a love for style and fashion. Robin is a businesswoman and I’m more into picking out clothes. We decided to open Robber in Toronto to make certain hard-to-find brands available—the brands we stock, you’d be hard-pressed to find them anywhere else. Not only do they fit the sort of easy-breezy, classic look we’re promoting, but they also have their own niche market when it comes to customers. Instead of ordering online or having to travel to other parts of the world, locals can come to Robber and find all their favorite brands. And for those who don’t, maybe open their horizons to what’s out there in the fashion world outside of the trendy mainstream brands.
You stock stylish brands from around the world, especially from your hometown: Dace, Erin Templeton, Sunja Link. How do you balance the West Coast and East Coast aesthetics?
“I like clothes that are really loose, flowing and light. In Toronto, there is definitely an aesthetic that is the complete opposite—it’s more the tight-fitting, high-heels, city look that’s a little more dressed up and body conscious than what you find in Vancouver. However, there is a market for the kinds of brands we choose to stock here at Robber, even though our customers in Toronto wear most of the pieces on the weekend or on a date. Personally, I’d wear this stuff to work, Monday to Friday, back home and I worked in a very professional environment. Different cities have different aesthetics, but surprisingly, there is some room for R&R in a big city like Toronto.”
Who is the ideal Robber shopper?
“I would say anyone between 24 to 45 and most definitely the educated shopper. One thing that has surprised me the most since opening a year ago is the teenage population. You’d be shocked to see how many teenagers come in here knowing exactly what they want, having heard of and followed the brands that we sell. We get 19-year-olds in here all the time asking for stuff like Alternative Apparel, an eco-friendly basics brand, and Karen Walker, originally from New Zealand.”
What’s a key must-have for Spring 2010?
“I absolutely love the Karen Walker dresses. There’s a few in store right now that would be perfect for a Sunday brunch, a walk in the park or even a wedding—with the right accessories. My favourite is the bright blue jumper with the black and white flower pattern. It’s trendy enough to fit in with the colour scheme of the season, but the cut is so classic. It’s the kind of dress that one can re-invent season after season.”
The perfect T-shirt?
“That’s something everyone is looking for, right? We stock a brand called Alternative Apparel and they make by far the perfect T-shirt. They wash well, fit the body like a glove, and hang so as to form the perfect silhouette—unlike some other brands that claim they make the perfect, simple white T-shirt. These won’t rip after the first wash.”
So what would you recommend that I buy here today?
“You can’t leave the store without grabbing this simple yet one-of-a-kind Karen Walker dress. It’s grey jersey, very basic material but has beautiful ruffling all the way through. I mean, you look at it and may think it’s not for you or it’s a little too out there but trust me, once you try it on, you’ll see it just adds that extra je ne sais quoi to your spring wardrobe.”
Do you believe in the fashion blog?
“Of course! How else do you think all the brands we stock gain such an avid following? I check my fashion blogs every day to find out what brands are making a buzz and what real people want. It’s all fun and formal to go to fashion shows to do our buying but in the end, the type of brands we stock are the kind that become popular not because they are what people ‘should be’ buying and wearing but because they’re what people are actually buying, wearing and hyping about. People now have a space in which they can talk about what they love and find other people out there who love the same things. Robin and I pay attention to this so we can give people what they really love, and it just so happens, we love all this stuff too! I do so much shopping in here, it’s quite sad. But sometimes I like to go over to Charlie’s or Chasse Gardée, when it’s not raining!”