After spending many years under the radar, Toronto-based clothing design firm Call & Response has begun to move into the spotlight. A popular label among musicians, including stars such as Cher, Shania Twain and the late Prince, Call & Response has quietly developed a global reputation for its edgy hand-made clothing, purely through word of mouth.
Lori Marcuz and Cathy Robinson are the designers behind Call & Response, which launched 16 years ago. “We just started making clothing,” says Robinson. The label has a store at 702 Queen Street West that doubles as its clothing production studio.
Marcuz describes Call & Response’s ethos as “design without boundaries: personal, experimental, raw & refined.” The brand’s collections include plenty of fringe, zippers, snaps and studs. Items range from black and grey to boldly dyed colours, and the extensive range of materials and textures used include leather, silk, suede, shearling, sequins and antique tapestry, among others. “We’re always looking for different types of materials,” Marcuz says.
Both music and musicians are big sources of inspiration for both designers—particularly 1960s/70s-era stars such as Stevie Nicks and Jimi Hendrix. Marcuz and Robinson listen to music all the time when designing and making clothing in their Toronto store. In fact, even the name of the label—Call & Response—is a musical term.
From day one, the label’s designs have attracted “creative spirits,” according to Marcuz, including rock stars—both “real and imagined.”
“We have this rather unique clientele,” Robinson says. “Very progressive people who are interested—in a time when individuality is mass-marketed—in seeing something that is truly individual.”
In 2011, the label was approached to make clothing for world-famous musician Prince. During the five years that followed, Prince continued to request apparel from Call & Response and wore their garments unaltered at many high-profile public events, such as the Grammys and various magazine cover shoots.
“That sort of took over for five years,” Robinson says. “We were just listening to music and making clothes as fast as we could and as well as we could, because you didn’t know where they were going to end up.”
Call & Response would send Prince a full box of garments at a time, and then immediately start working on the next box. “He essentially bought anything we made,” Robinson says.
Since Prince was “intensely private,” she adds, the brand didn’t promote the fact that the star was a customer until they were given permission following his death. Nonetheless, many of the musicians associated with Prince also became customers during that period, including 3RDEYEGIRL, Liv Warfield and other members of the NPG.
Call & Response is also popular on the Canadian music scene, with clients such as opera singer Measha Brueggergosman.
Although marketing and publicity have not been top priorities throughout Call & Response’s history, the brand has recently begun to attract attention for its edgy designs and its high-profile client list. A 2018 article in Vogue, for example, profiled the brand’s work and its relationship with Prince.
Beyond its music industry clientele, Call & Response sells its clothing through a limited number of independent retailers in the U.S. and through its Toronto storefront, which consistently gets a lot of traffic, according to Marcuz.
“Queen Street is a really good place for us to be,” she says. “We get a lot of tourists, but we still have a lot of locals who will walk by and they’ve never been in before and they love it, and they get hooked.”
Marcuz and Robinson enjoy being able to interact with customers in the same space where they’re creating the clothes, since they can get an instant reaction to their designs and creations. “We get to feed off of what people say,” Marcuz says.
The brand has also attracted customers from around the world through its website, which showcases a broad selection of its merchandise.
Megan Harman is a business reporter based in Toronto. She writes about topics including retail, financial services and technology. Megan covers Toronto’s retail industry through her blog Retail Realm (torontoretail.wordpress.com). Follow her on Twitter at @meganmharman.