How one Canadian retailer is breaking the mould.
At a time when Canadian luxury players are facing unprecedented competition in an increasingly dog-eat-dog market, one retailer has managed to avoid the conversation altogether. For Montreal-based Ssense – which launched in 2003 as a fashion boutique in the Old Port and is now a global e-commerce force—it’s business as usual. But then again, Ssense has always operated outside the comfy confines of the traditional fashion sphere. How? With unconventional buys, strong connections to art, music and creativity and a sophisticated blurring of streetwear and high fashion long before Yeezy and Vetements made it de rigueur. Ssense’s success has been built on doing things entirely its own way.
The company started out as a physical storefront 14 years ago, and COO Bassel Atallah, who founded it with his two brothers, Rami and Firas, says they had their eyes on the digital prize from day one. “It was the early days of the Web, and Rami saw a big opportunity in luxury e-commerce,” says Atallah. “Back then, brands were very reluctant to sell online, so we opened the store to make them feel a little more comfortable with the concept. Then, in 2006, we launched the website. We’d all finished our studies by then and had more time on our hands.”
That’s right – finished their studies. CFO Firas, the eldest, was just 25 years old at the time, CEO Rami, 24, and Bassel, 21. In other words: They’re Millennials—a fact that, combined with their blatant fashion-outsider status (their backgrounds are in banking, computer engineering and mechanical engineering), might explain their unorthodox approach. “We cater to a Millennial audience because we are in that age group ourselves,” says Atallah. According to Ssense, almost 80 percent of its customers are between 18 and 34—an astonishing stat for a luxury retailer, given that, among high-end brands, luring Millennials has become the golden ticket no one knows how to cash. It’s a huge win that Atallah attributes to an internal culture of innovation and outside-the-box thinking. “If you come to our offices, you’ll see that the average age of our employees is in that bracket as well,” he says. “Millennials are hyper-connected; they live in the present, and they tend to make the trends instead of follow them—there’s a real energy to that.” Let’s state the obvious: Building a luxury business around selling $1,500 hoodies and $2,000 sneakers to 22-year-olds is risky, to say the least. But given that Ssense now employs over 300 full-time staffers, receives 32 million page views a month and has had 82 percent compound annual sales growth since its first year, it looks like it’s working.
Atallah insists they didn’t initially set out to challenge the status quo or upend the system. “We were young and didn’t have a lot of experience, so we naturally took a more analytical, engineering approach,” he says. “It was a lot of trial and error, more by need than by intention.”
This year will see Ssense continue to swim against the retail current. The company is in the process of constructing a five-storey David Chipperfield-designed flagship store in Montreal. Set to open later this year, it will be not only eight times larger than its original shop but also, according to Atallah, fully “digitally integrated.” When pushed for more information, he says that with the rise of digital, “the concept of physical retail is undergoing its biggest transformation in history.” He also adds that whenever the concept of merging online and offline is introduced, “people tend to expect a ‘store of the future.’ We are rethinking the role of the physical space as a means to crystallize our brand vision in a tangible way.”
The decision to invest in bricks and mortar in an increasingly digital culture may seem, again, counterintuitive, but that’s what we’ve come to expect from Ssense. “Almost 90 percent of sales in the luxury industry still happen off-line,” says Atallah, “so there is definitely a huge opportunity there, not only financially but also in terms of making another connection with our customer.” And as a self-admitted “Canadian retailer with a global mindset,” taking that IRL connection beyond Montreal via physical flagships in other cities will be the next step in Ssense’s boundary-busting vision. “We want to continue to build Ssense into the best company it can possibly be—to achieve its full potential,” he says. “We’re growing at a fast pace, and there’s a lot going on, but there’s plenty to be excited about in 2017.”
Gather your friends, put on your favourite dress and join us for an exclusive evening for the official launch of the new feminine fragrance by Guerlain. Be the first to experience the fragrance inspired by Angelina Jolie. Indulge in hors d’oeuvres and cocktails as you wander the exquisite Guerlain boutique and receive an exclusive appreciation gift with your purchase. PLUS, all guests will receive an exclusive parting favour.
110 Bloor St. W, Toronto.
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Tickets: $25* (for two guests)
Space is limited
Click here to RSVP and confirm your donation of $25*.
*Partial proceeds will be donated to the UN Refugee Agency
Image by: Kiera Spronk
The designer told us about her unexpected new collab, her design process and what’s next for her brand.
Hayley Elsaesser’s designs scream "fun." Walk into her Queen West boutique on a cold winter day and you’ll instantly be transported to a much brighter, happier place. It’s not surprising that her cool, colourful aesthetic draws superstars like Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry to her clothing. So when Taco Bell reached out to the designer to create a one-of-a-kind Taco coat, saying yes was a no-brainer.
Miley Cyrus in a custom look by Hayley Elsaesser. (Getty Images)
“I’m always working with the purpose to produce a collection,” says Elsaesser. “So it was really fun for me to work on something that would be purely creative, something that I could just have fun with.”
The designer told us a little more about the unisex taco printed coat (which will be available for one lucky winner in a social media giveaway), and offered a sneak peek of what she’s working on right now.
“There are a lot of people who are very passionate about Taco Bell. If you’re a super-fan taco lover, it’s the perfect coat for you. It’s a winter jacket, the fabric itself is meant to be waterproof. If you’re eating a taco and you spill, it’s waterproof. It has an open-ended zipper, it has insulated pockets, so you can keep your tacos and your drinks warm, or just keep your phone and your keys in it. So it was meant to be a dual-purpose coat—for a taco super-fan, and as an everyday streetwear coat.”
“This was a fun breath of fresh air to work on. I love doing collaborations because it’s an extra challenge for me—to take something that I’ve never worked on and put my own spin on it. I can design prints in my sleep, so this was something outside of my everyday norm.”
“First I start thinking about an idea that I want to work on, something that I’m intrigued by at that particular time. For example, for the last collection I had the concept of My Little Pony, so that was about looking back and nostalgia. I have one set idea that I start building around, and then from there I develop a bunch of prints, and it’s like a puzzle for me, figuring out how to put it all together. Prints can be kind of crazy, so you have to be able to make them cohesive.”
“I’ve just done a presentation in New York, which is something I’ve never done before, and it’s really fun to create an atmosphere. It’s something that I wasn’t really able to do at Toronto Fashion Week in the past. I do love the runway, because I feel like it’s more exciting, it’s revealing one look at a time, so it’s a spectacle. And then for a presentation it's a little different—everything’s out there and you can have a closer look.”
“Designing takes a lot out of me. It’s just working non-stop and it’s really emotionally intense. I put a lot of myself and my feelings into my prints. So after I do a collection, I just need to take a little bit of a breather. There’s still work to be done—I’m doing a tradeshow next week. I’m just taking a break from the designing part so I can be refreshed when I start my new collection.”
“Footwear is a dream of mine. I love shoes in a huge way, but I haven’t had that opportunity yet. I’m currently working with a makeup brand, which is really, really exciting for me. I like to keep busy and keep on challenging myself creatively, and I love exploring all the different fields of what I’m interested in.”
It only took three years, but finally we're getting some intel on how actor / mere mortal George Clooney met human rights lawyer / bridal pantsuit wearer Amal Alamuddin.
Since the announcement of their impending twins (congrats again guys!) the informational floodgates on the couple have opened, which is why we're getting this gem of a "meet cute" story straight from the lips of George himself.
As told to David Letterman, the two met when Amal visited Lake Como as a friend of a friend. George "called and wrote" for months before Amal would go out with him, which you know, seems about right.