The Zappacosta family has been a fixture in Toronto’s clothing and fashion retail industry for generations; and the family’s success dates back to their grandfather Fernando, who was a bespoke tailor in Little Italy on College Street.
“That’s where the family business started. My dad grew up with his father being a tailor,” says Philip Zappacosta, Chief Operating Officer of Nanni, Belstaff, and philip – three fashion stores the family owns and operates in Toronto’s Yorkville Village.
Fernando’s passion for the industry was quickly parlayed into Tony Zappacosta becoming an entrepreneur, and alongside his wife Bernadette, he opened a chain of eight stores in the 1980s. The stores operated under the name Fenzi in several Cadillac Fairview malls, and enjoyed a successful reign until Fenzi was eventually sold.
“The reason he sold it was because he was getting to a scale where he was losing touch with the customer when you get too big. He likes to be with the customer,” says Zappacosta.
“My dad said ‘so let’s then find something else unique’. He was always the kind of guy who would go to Italy and look for new lines and things that weren’t in the marketplace. So Nanni was a unique belt line that at the time Madonna was wearing…Michael Jackson was wearing. Billy Idol always wore Nanni belts — it was jewelry. It was a unique concept. He discovered this line and got the rights to the line for Canada. Very quickly his client base followed him and said you can’t just sell all belts. Nanni was originally just an all-belt concept store. Really innovative and unique. An accessory shop essentially, but that quickly evolved into a menswear store.”
Today, the family operates three brands in Toronto’s Yorkville Village, formerly Hazelton Lanes. Nanni opened on the site back in 1991. Canada’s first and only Belstaff store opened in September of 2017, and philip opened about five years ago.
Nanni and Belstaff have two separate storefronts, but they are connected internally, and the philip store is very close by.
“So what we’re doing here is creating an intimate environment for our clients. They’re specialized stores. We bend over backwards for our clients. Nowadays everybody can shop for anything and everything online so why would they come to us? Because they have fun and they know if they need anything in a rush or they need special tailoring or a special favour, shipping, it’s all the things, the services, that makes them feel special at the end of the day,” says Zappacosta.
“In all of our stores, we basically curate a premium product line because it’s Yorkville. The profile of our clients is that they’re generally more affluent, sort of leaders that are community-minded. They’re leaders in their industry,” says Zappacosta. “It’s a premium product. It’s affordable luxury.”
Nanni is strictly menswear, carrying lines such as Emporio Armani, John Varvatos, Goodman, and Robert Graham, and various other Italian lines. The store also continues to carry the well-known and celebrity-worn Nanni belts from Milan.
The Belstaff store, the brand’s first standalone location in Canada, has a look that the company notes exudes an air of understated confidence and modernity, true to the essence of the designer English brand. The store carries men’s and kid’s clothing and introduced a women’s line this fall as well.
“(Soccer legend) David Beckham is a spokesman so it’s a little more contemporary. Cool, casual wear with a big focus on leather jackets. It was founded in 1924 and it’s got a motorcycle heritage as well. A little edgier,” says Zappacosta. The brand is known mainly as an outerwear brand and everything is made in Italy. The product is fashionable and durable, with its leather and waxed cotton jackets performing well in all elements, particularly rain and snow.
Leandra Zappacosta is leading the Belstaff store, and she explains that since it opened about a year ago, the brand is attracting an entirely new shopper, as well as drawing existing clients from the family’s Nanni and philip stores. New clients include locals as well as tourists who are increasing frequenting the Yorkville area.
Philip Zappacosta says the philip store grew organically from Nanni. “It became a little bit higher end. So we carry more of the designer labels. We’re [servicing] more of your executive-type people here,” explains Zappacosta.
“Yorkville Village is a neighbourhood mall that is basically exploding outwards. So they’re trying to become a community-minded type of a mall that has everything from a great health club to a Whole Foods store to different eatery options and high fashion men’s and women’s. It’s a ritzy neighbourhood,” says Zappacosta.
He says the team at the stores is simply an extension of the family. “It’s all about our customers. Every business can say that but at the end of the day we form these relationships with these clients. There’s a friendship that forms and there’s a trust as far as their image because these are guys that have graduated to a level where they’re now executives or owners of their own business… It’s more about just having an experience and having an image that reflects their positions of power. It’s image consulting. That’s what it comes down to.”
The Zappacosta family isn’t just big in the fashion industry. In the world of professional football (soccer), Davide Zappacosta (Tony Zappacosta’s nephew) plays for the Chelsea F.C. in London UK. The family is also known in the music scene, led by renowned musician, troubadour and actor Alfie Zappacosta, who is Tony Zappacosta’s first cousin (Alfie wrote the hit song ‘Overload’ for the Hollywood film “Dirty Dancing” starring Patrick Swayze. In Toronto, a street was recently named ‘Zappacosta Drive’ (near Weston Road and Finch Street) in honour of Alfie Zappacosta, known as one of the most gifted and respected musical talents, who grew up in Toronto and attended Emery Collegiate Institute.
What does the future hold for the Zappacosta family and their retail endeavours? Philip Zappacosta says that he’s on the lookout for more prestige brands, particularly brands from Italy that focus in the menswear area, though other luxury brands could also work as the family continues to grow its business. While future of business is flexible, one thing is certain – the family will continue to focus their efforts on the Yorkville Area, which Philip Zappacosta says is Canada’s fashion centre.