LETTER FROM…London

Grace Carroll, a regular contributor to The Style Notebook, is a Toronto fashion writer who moved to London to “conquer the fashion world” and live with her rock star BF.

My flat has become the crash pad of choice for friends and family making pit stops in London-town this summer. Just days after my brother finally packed up and headed to Florence, my dear friend Brian Cleaver shows up on my doorstep.

A Toronto native who is now a full-time New Yorker, Brian is an exciting young photographer who glamorously crossed the pond for the weekend to celebrate his friend’s Marie Antoinette-themed B-day bash in Kent. As the spectacular soiree is not until Saturday night, I’ve got exactly one day to play host and show him a good time in the big smoke.

Brian meets me after work in Shoreditch and I drag him along to my meeting at Blackall Studios, a great gallery space just a couple of blocks away. Angel McKenzie, a former reality TV Big Brother star, is inside taking down her artworks that had been on display over the past week.

I was familiar with her show, thanks to the personal tour she gave me during the opening the weekend before. “It’s all about nudes, nudity and for me it’s what the future will look like—we’re all going to walk naked because of heat (…) and global warming” she tells me. With her use of bright colours and use of neon fur trim to frame her canvases, I find her work quite humorous although it’s hard to tell if that’s the intended reaction.

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STYLE MAP: Over the Rainbow

Story by Justine Iaboni. Photography by Brendan Adam Zwelling.

Over the Rainbow (101 Yorkville Ave., 416-967-7448, rainbowjeans.com)

I spent yesterday morning hanging out with the fascinating Joel Carman, the owner of Over the Rainbow, Toronto’s premiere denim destination for 35 years. Joel showed me all the nooks and crannies of the 4,800-square-foot emporium, which includes an alterations room and a mini version of an Ikea warehouse—only this one is stocked with pairs and pairs of Seven for All Mankind.

Legend has it that you built your denim empire on $2,000 made from your time working as a cab driver? Is this true?

“Absolutely. I graduated from university, travelled around Europe for a couple of years, and then started driving a cab. It paid the bills and, back in 1973, driving a cab in Toronto meant that you were kind of an outlaw. All the young guys were driving cabs. We’d get together after a night’s work to party a bit—it was this whole subterranean lifestyle. But I knew that I wanted to do something, to build something, and that I wanted to work for myself. One night,  I picked up a gentleman in my cab; we started talking and I found out that he did alterations. He invited me to go to a party with him and his friends. I said sure. After that, I brought him a couple pairs of pants to fix. One day he asked me to go into business with him.”

What happened next?

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STYLE MAP: The Cat’s Meow

Owner Louise Cooper in The Cat’s Meow (Yes, that is a lettuce print on her dress.) Story by Justine Iaboni. Photography by Brendan Adam Zwelling.

The Cat’s Meow (180 Avenue Rd., 647-435-5875, thecatsmeowcouture.com)

Most people know The Cat’s Meow as the lovely vintage store whose window displays are probably the number one cause of fender benders on Avenue Road just before the lights at Davenport. What most people don’t know about the Cat’s Meow is that it’s the closest thing we have in Toronto to a fashion archive. Owner Louise Cooper knows just about everything there is to know about vintage clothing. Case in point? She can identify an original Schiaparelli by matching the engraved initials behind the buttons of a sweater with the French buttons the designer often used.

Your window displays are legendary.  Can you let us in on the behind-the-scenes of creating them?

“Lisa does all the merchandising for us—she has a fantastic eye for what goes well together. Our windows bring in about 80 percent of our business. Vintage never really looks good on the hanger—the dresses come alive on a mannequin. And we’ve had a couple of fender benders out front! Three or four times I’ll hear a crash outside and when I go out to look, it’s a woman who’s rear-ended another car directly in front of the windows!”

In fashion, the classics are being reclaimed by much younger generations—20-year-olds are wearing the Chanel flap bag. Do you find that your clientele reflects these changes?

“Definitely—we get young teenagers coming it to buy Chanel bags. I find that the younger generation really reflects what’s going on in the fashion world. Even 12-year-old bat mitzvah girls come in here and know exactly what they want—and that takes a real education and real confidence. These young girls come in and say, ‘I wanna look like Audrey Hepburn.’ I have to stop myself from saying, ‘How do you even know who that is?’”

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LETTER FROM…London

Grace Carroll, our girl in London, takes a trip to Oxford with her brother, Jackson, for some old-fashioned fun. A regular contributor to The Style Notebook, Grace is a Toronto fashion writer who moved to London to “conquer the fashion world” and live with her rock star BF.

Hot weather and extra sweaty tubes have hit London—a getaway to the lovely English countryside is calling. I don’t really care that it’s only my brother Jackson’s second day in London. When I say it’s time to go, we go.

I’ve arranged for us to take a day trip to Oxford and visit my friend Neil, one half of Toronto’s fantastic duo, The Carps. Currently completing his last year at the prestigious university, he is a musician with style, looks and brains (p.s. girls, he’s single!). We take the Oxford Tube, a modern double-decker bus equipped with AC and WiFi for the 90-minute journey. Conveniently, it picks up and drops off passengers at a number of central London spots every 15 minutes and allows you to purchase tickets upon boarding. At £15 a pop per round trip, it’s one of my favourite ways to get out of the city on a whim.

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STYLE MAP: Love of Mine

Story by Justine Iaboni. Photography by Brendan Adam Zwelling.

Love of Mine (781 Queen St. W., 416-368-4999, loveofmineboutique.com)

Anna Damelin’s infallible inner compass has made Love of Mine the coolest place to buy jewellery in Toronto. Her multi-faceted store is a collection of her favourite things from her heart to yours. Upon entering, a wall of colourful ceramic butterflies welcome you, while Alexis Bittar and Wendy Nichol pieces sparkle delicately in the distance.

A few of my loves? The kitschy pop-up, pavé diamond skull and bowtie rings that Anna brought back from New York, along with a pair of golden chicken feet by Swallow that are absolutely useless and irresistibly charming.

What’s the idea behind Love of Mine?

“I’ve always liked so many different things, and I just decided to put them all together. In Love of Mine, everything is curated—everything in here is hand-picked by me. I only pick things that I would love and cherish, and would have hanging on my own wall at home, or would wear on myself. It’s very personalized here.”

What are the most exotic and unexpected pieces currently in stock?

“The pieces by Swallow are phenomenal. She does the gold-plated heart paperweight, but not a cutesy heart, it’s like an actual biological heart. Stunning. The most unexpected piece I have in store right now is also from her collection. My husband thought I was completely crazy for having ordered them—they are two chicken feet, dipped in gold. That’s it. They don’t have a function; they don’t hang, they’re too light to be paperweights, they’re just there. And you know what? People love them! I keep selling out of these chicken legs. Who would’ve thought!”

How do you choose which designers are represented in the store?

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LETTER FROM…Edinburgh

The shifting moods of Edinburgh. Story and photography by Charlotte Herrold, a Toronto writer who is pursuing a Master’s in creative writing at the University of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is a moody place. One minute the sun is out and the sky is as blue as The Saltire flag; blink and the city is shrouded in fog so thick you can’t see five feet in front of you. As I type this letter, the view from my window—usually composed of spires and turrets and tiny chimneys (and if I lean far enough to the right, in the distance, the Castle!)—is a blanket of white, like someone has pulled the cable out of my TV and the screen has gone blank.

It’s really no surprise that this is the city that inspired the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Was Stevenson not simply personifying the schizophrenic weather? Or was he writing about the Janus-faced layout of the city itself, divided into the Gothic Old Town and the Georgian New Town? Edinburgh is a city rife with such juxtapositions of old and new: vendors on the Royal Mile sell clan tartans in every form from traditional kilts to cell phone holders; one of the longest surviving pubs in the city centre (dating from the sixteenth century) sits next to a French restaurant that boasts “Established 1998.”

It’s this very duality, this changeability that can make the city look unfamiliar on an evening walk down the same streets I’ve wandered for the past 10 months.

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LETTER FROM…Rishikesh, India

The author (and BF, in sunglasses) making an offering to Hindu deities. Story by Jordan Porter, a Toronto fashion writer, who is on a year-long trip around the world.

While travelling in India, the Boyfriend and I decided we couldn’t miss out on the famous Ganga—no, not that kind of ganga, naughty readers—so we packed for a trip on the Rishikesh Express and headed to the Land of Aummm to experience the sacred river in all its glory.

Set along its banks, in the foothills of the Himalayas, Rishikesh is a holy city, home to many a saffron-robed monk. As it’s the “World Capital of Yoga,” you can tap into your cosmic consciousness through the teachings of Vedanta at the Ashram Brahmavidyapeetham, or find a little inner peace in one of the many yogic retreats dotted along the river’s banks, as The Beatles famously did in 1968, penning over 40 songs during their stay.

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LETTER FROM…London

Meet Grace Carroll, a Toronto fashion writer, who moved to London to “conquer the fashion world” and live with her rock star boyfriend. She’s smart, super stylish, and just a bit cheeky. We love her. You will too.

My younger brother, Jackson, has popped in to visit me in the big smoke for a week (or two, as he slyly mentions upon arrival) in the midst of his month-long summer Euro tour. I’m his second, earlier-than-expected stop after a romantic rendezvous in Paris with his long-distance lover went sour. In a bid to help him forget about his first nasty break-up, I do what any good older sister would do: ply him with alcohol, feed him vast amounts of artery-clogging foods, and promise him that he will soon stumble upon a dapper Englishman who will sweep him off his feet.

Recovering from the previous night’s arrival/forget-him celebration, Jackson and I warily gather ourselves mid-day to head into east London for a late lunch. Attempting to impress him with my-so-called “Fashionable London Life” we pop into 11 Boundary Boutique in Shoreditch, where I kiss-kiss with the shop girl (my friend Dana) before whisking him away to experience my favourite meal in the city.

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STYLE MAP: Independent Designers Outlet

Story by Justine Iaboni. Photography by Brendan Adam Zwelling.

Independent Designers Outlet (1418 Dundas St. W., 416-238-7045, shop-ido.com)

The term “outlet shopping” usually conjures up images of frenzied women coming home from Buffalo, wearing five layers of Rodarte for Target dresses in an attempt to evade those tenacious Canadian customs officers. Back in Toronto, Lara Stephenson has, thankfully, given a whole new meaning to the word “outlet.”

The designer of Revolve Clothing, Stephenson is also the owner of the Independent Designer’s Outlet (IDO), which offers customers chic, reduced-price items from a wide range of local designers. And, although the clothes are overstock from last year’s collections, Stephenson selects only classic items that are easily re-invented, like the timeless LBD or a silk, patterned tunic from Dagg and Stacey. It’s a win-win: Shoppers get sweet deals on high-quality, non-outlet pieces and independent designers finally have a space into which their closets can overspill.

When people hear the word “outlet”, most of them think about rummaging through racks of ripped clothing—the word carries negative connotations. IDO is a totally different experience. Why did you choose to call it an outlet?

“I always wanted ‘outlet’ to be in the name of the store, but my intentions for IDO were different from what the term makes people think of. I think the main difference is quality. I wanted IDO to be a place where designers could sell their overstock, but at the same time, all the brands we stock make really high quality stuff—and we won’t have a gazillion XXS’s or one sample size of something. We usually get in a full range of sizes from our staple brands like Juma.”

What’s the hidden gem that’s in-store right now?

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STYLE MAP: LAB Consignment

Story by Justine Iaboni. Photography by Ian Warong.

LAB Consignment (in the studio behind Silver Falls, 15 Ossington Ave., labconsignment.com)

The first time I went to LAB was for the store’s launch party: K-OS was spinning, flashbulbs were popping, and celebrities from the invite-only guest list were forming in cliques around the consignment merch on display. On my second LAB visit, things were much more low-key. I chatted with Lauren Baker, LAB’s owner and no-big-deal It girl on the backyard patio, which was complete with a ruby red BBQ and empty bottles of Veuve Clicquot.

LAB used to be synonymous with monthly pop-up sales that would cause spontaneous buzz and happiness in unsuspecting areas of the city. Now that Baker has opened her first-ever, permanent location, the waiting is over for deals on gently used, almost new designer fare like vintage Trussardi handbags, Rich and Skinny jeans, or a knitted Marc by Marc Jacobs summer sweater. The bad news? We may never want to shop retail again.

What does it take to make it into the LAB closet?

“The piece has to be contemporary, within two years, and it has to be in impeccable shape. The only mall stores I’ll accept are Club Monaco, Banana Republic, Aritzia (no TNA), and of course I accept major labels and designers. I’ll take vintage if I feel it’s on trend.”

What’s the difference between vintage and consignment? You chose to put a consignment store in the back room of a vintage boutique. Would someone walking through the space, going from Silver Falls into the LAB notice a transition of sorts?

“I’m so happy you asked that question. People have been calling LAB a vintage store because there’s a misconception that vintage is synonymous with resale and consignment, which it’s not. Vintage is a garment that is 20 years older or more. So the ’90s wouldn’t be vintage but the ’80s would. Consignment is just another term for resale—the majority of clothes in LAB are contemporary; most are less than two years old. [Silver Falls and LAB] have got a bit of everything in this space—furniture, vintage, and consignment. [laughing] We’re like a mini mall between the two of us!”

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