Tania Martins, owner of Carte Blanche. Story by Justine Iaboni. Photography by Brendan Adam Zwelling.
Carte Blanche (758 Queen St. W., 416-532-0437, shopcarteblanche.ca)
True to its name, Carte Blanche gives free rein to your imagination as soon as you walk through the door. The space calls to mind a sexy collision of Lichtenstein pop art and high fashion—and the clothes only add to the artful effect. Every piece on the CB racks has at least one of the following: a cut-out, a unique pattern, an atypical textile, and a way of making you believe that yes, you can pull it off.
I sat down with owner Tania Martins to learn about shaking up the “safe” Toronto style scene.
Carte Blanche displays an obvious confidence in the brands it carries—you’re obviously no fashion rookie. How did you become involved in the fashion world?
“When I was in high school, I interned for a Canadian designer as part of a co-op course and that pretty much made me fall in love with the industry. I ended up working with that same designer for four years. Shortly afterwards, I met my current business partner, Dan Agostino. He’s really driven, exciting, motivating—and he loves fashion even more than I do. He had a store on Queen Street called Pink Cobra.
Now Pink Cobra has turned into a fashion line, but at the time, the store carried really fashion-forward pieces and brands that no one in Canada had ever heard about. The store eventually closed because Dan was going back and forth to England, but once he got back for good, the ball started rolling again. We went from a makeshift studio on Dundas back to our original space, which is where we are now, and launched Carte Blanche.”
Do you think that, in general, Torontonians follow what’s on trend versus taking a risk with their wardrobe?
“Yes. Toronto is safe. A perfect example is the brand April 77, an amazing denim brand from Paris. The jeans cost about $170. When we first started carrying them, people weren’t buying them. They had never heard of the brand and thought they were too expensive for a denim line that didn’t have the cult following of, say, Sevens or Nudie.
Then two seasons later people caught on and started asking for them all the time. Torontonians have a tendency to buy what they’ve already heard of, what’s hyped in magazines, and what celebrities are wearing. That’s not what we’re about. We’re here for the people who want to live outside the bubble.”
How do you pick the brands you carry? Do fashion blogs and their ability to dictate the growing popularity of brands such as Cheap Monday and KTZ, influence your decision at all?
“When we started carrying these labels, like Cheap Monday, no one was really talking about them on blogs. Dan is British and he’s always trying to find out what’s the next, next, next best thing. We go to a lot of trade shows, attend Fashion Week, and [our process] is pretty much ‘what we like, we get.’ If people know the brands we stock, that’s great. If not, they’ll get to know them.”
Does the store reflect your own personal style?
“Oh yes, definitely. I go through phases; I don’t have one specific look. Sometimes I want to wear Converse, jeans and a T-shirt; other times I’ll put on something more girly, like a cute dress. The store is pretty much like that—there’s something for everyone. As you browse through the hangers, you’ll see that each piece is strikingly different from the next.”
Men’s fashion can sometimes get stuck in the T-shirt, jeans and sneakers formula. What does Carte Blanche offer to guys who want to go beyond that?
“Women’s fashion can definitely get more extreme in comparison to men’s. However, the designers that we carry for men offer both basic and extraordinary pieces. KTZ and Horace have really unique, wild pieces for men. They’re obviously not for every guy out there, but there is that specific dude that will be inclined to change things up, to try the bolder pieces.”
What are some of the bolder pieces you have in store right now?
“For women, it’s got to be the hot pink, front shoulder plunge dress by Jean-Pierre Braganza. Braganza is originally from Canada but he works out of London like so many talented Canadian designers, unfortunately. His pieces are so gorgeous and wild. This dress’s neckline plunges all the way down to the belly button and the shoulders only sit on the front part of your shoulder blades, exposing the entire back. He also makes these beautiful, silk, graphic print pants, which look amazing on. For men it’s got to be the tailored wool blazer by Laissez Faire. The cut is really flattering but unusual and it has a hood. It has a certain drape to it.”
The perfect fall outfit for roaming the streets of Toronto without blending in?
“For sure, it’s going to be Horace skinny jeans, a pair of Minimarket wedges and a Fifth Avenue sweater.”
Below, inside Carte Blanche.
Read about other exciting Toronto shops—Over the Rainbow, The Cat’s Meow, Robber & more—in our Style Map section!