A Little Slice of Britain in West End Toronto

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By: Karim Rashwan

Take a stroll through Toronto’s trendy West Queen West neighborhood between Niagara and Shaw Streets, and you’ll notice something decidedly unique about this five block stretch.  It is lined with, arguably, the largest and one of the best collections of British men’s fashion anywhere in the city, possibly anywhere in Canada.  Designer brands such as SimonCarterFred PerryOliver Spencer, and Ben Sherman all make their home on this quirky Toronto street.  All of them are the only Canadian location, with a couple even being the only North American location.  

With such a large concentration of men’s British fashion in one area, you would be forgiven for thinking this is Toronto’s answer to London’s famed Savile Row or Jermyn Street.  While Queen West doesn’t have the bespoke tailor shops that those streets are so well known for, these designer brands have still managed to find their place in one of Toronto’s most eclectic and cutting edge neighborhoods.  Simon Carter was the first among them to set up shop, bringing $150 dress shirts to the area for the first time.  They obviously had the right idea because in July of this year, Simon Carter will celebrate its sixth anniversary in the hood.  The only freestanding, mono-brand Simon Carter store in North America – in fact the only one outside of England – it was the first one in the world to carry the full line of accessories and clothing and also just so happens to be the largest Simon Carter store in the world.

Sitting with store owner Cedric St. Louis on a frosty Monday morning, he tells me how he got into retail and became affiliated with Simon Carter in the first place.  “I’ve always wanted to have a store.  When I was back in school, you would have a career counselor come to you and ask you what you wanted to do, and I said I wanted to have a retail store.”  Working his way through the retail scene in London and Toronto with the likes of Holt Renfrew and TheGap, Cedric moved on to wholesaling, primarily representing British brands such as Paul Smith and John Smedley, and eventually became an agent, which is when he stumbled upon Simon Carter for the first time.

“I was flipping through a magazine looking for British brands to represent…and came across a pair of cufflinks which I thought were really original”, Cedric says to me, as he reaches behind a glass counter and shows me a pair of the patented cufflinks.  Known as Aspirin Cufflinks – think James Bond meets headache treatment – the top of the cufflink unscrews, turning the accessory into a pill box.  Cedric picked up the phone, contacted Simon Carter, and asked him if he could represent him in Canada.  Thankfully, Simon agreed (after a few attempts), and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Today, Toronto’s Simon Carter store not only sells to its loyal base of fashion-forward retail clients, but it also wholesales to other Canadian stores such as Gotstyle and Simons, as well as Bloomingdale’s across the U.S.  In addition to the six freestanding stores in England (3 in London, 2 in Buckinghamshire, and 1 in Yorkshire), Simon Carter is also sold at a who’s-who of high end department stores – Harvey Nichols, Fortnum and MasonLibertyHouse of Fraser, and that little known British temple of fashion called Selfridges.  You’ll also find Simon Carter carried at Lane Crawford in Hong Kong and David Jones in Australia.  Simon will often collaborate with his retail partners to design exclusive private label accessories for them, for example, Simon Carter cufflinks for Harvey Nichols. 

Speaking with Simon himself from his London base, he tells me that he is enormously proud of the Toronto store and that its success has exceeded his expectations.  He sees Toronto as the right fit for his brand and feels that the city exudes a certain, unique style.  “[It’s] a city where I could definitely live”, he says to me.  When I ask Cedric why he thinks Toronto embraces British fashion so much, he tells me “Toronto is a happy medium between London and New York”.  He also refers back to the days when Brit Pop invaded Toronto in the 90’s and credits much of the city’s eclectic style to that scene.  And why Queen Street West in particular?  Well, Cedric makes no bones about the fact that at the time the rent was more appealing than Yorkville.  But it’s more than that.  Queen West clientele tends to be more experimental with fashion and not as label-driven as Yorkville.  Sorry Yorkvillians.

In the UK, Simon Carter is known as the “King of Cufflinks” but at the Queen West store you’ll find that it’s about a 70/30 split between clothing and accessories.  It carries Simon’s full line of dress shirts, knits, ties, suits, outerwear, and accessories, including watches, wallets, and key chains.  The Westend clothing collection tends to be more of the mod 1960’s look, whereas the Mainline collection leans more towards a contemporary style.  Simon tells me that he and his team takes pride in the quality of their clothing, and that commitment and attention to detail is easy to see as you work your way through the store.  There is no doubt that Simon Carter brings something to the Toronto men’s fashion scene that you won’t find anywhere else.  There’s just enough of a classic look to appeal to the traditional business man, but step outside the box a bit and you’ll find dress shirts with floral prints, and prints that include bicycles, gingerbread men, and a world map. 

So if you’re looking for stylish clothing with a classy edge, look no further than Toronto’s “Little London”.  If you’re lucky, you may just catch Simon himself on one of his visits to the store.
Simon Carter is located at 754 Queen Street West, Toronto (647) 428-7545

The Westend collection includes (all prices in CAD):Cufflinks: $75Watches: $165Shirts: $110Suits: $695
The Mainline collection includes:Cufflinks: $80-$195Watches: $95-$750Shirts: $125-$235Pants:  $185Suits: $750-$1,295

Article content and photos all by Karim Rashwan

Simon Carter website: www.simoncarter.ca



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