Our fave fashionistas on Instagram this week.
Our fave fashionistas on Instagram this week.
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.”
Céline spring 2017 RTW Image by: Imaxtree
One writer's take on the oft-misunderstood shoe that is “safe but not sensible.”
Fashion watchers say that the kitten heel is ubiquitous this spring, but is it? Since the kitten heel is neither as flat as a crepe nor as high as a flagpole, much gets dumped into its medium-sized category that isn’t kitten, or, really, even feline, at all. In fact, it’s easier to say what a kitten heel isn’t than what it is.
It is certainly not a stiletto. Neither is it square, squat, sturdy or stacked, even if it’s medium height. What makes the Dior slingback with logo strap, Prada sandal, pointy Acne Studios slingback, Loewe moccasin and Céline babushka slipper kitteny is the indentation right at the top of the heel, called the “seat.” It makes the heel look like a comma. Sometimes, it’s so bent in that it looks like a cartoon shoe that has skidded to a screeching halt. And although the heel is shaped like an hourglass, it is imperatively skinny because a fat hourglass-shaped heel is for high kicks and tap dancing. “They give your leg a pretty silhouette,” says my friend Sabine. “And if you have full calves, kitten heels make them taper away and disappear.”
Christian Dior spring 2017 RTW (Imaxtree.com)
Kittens are great in-between shoes. They are safe but not sensible, dressy but not ditzy, stylish but not slavish. Which is why they were the heel of choice for Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy (and still are for Michelle Obama).
But what do we really think about the kitten heel? It isn’t a heel that inspires heated passion. By nature a compromise shoe, the kitten emerged in the 1950s as a “training” heel for younger girls. Designed for one’s first tentative steps in what was then the high-speed foot race for husbands and high heels, kittens are cute, tasteful, elegant and demure. They are the Baby Duck that comes before champagne. They are the quinceañera of footwear.
Givenchy spring 2017 RTW (Imaxtree.com)
That said, cats have their claws and so do kittens. When the heel is spiky and the toe pointy, like last fall’s white Balenciaga bootie, it can be an interesting, aggressive shoe. Diana Rigg wore a black leather bodysuit and kitten booties as she kung-fu-chopped villains in the ’60s TV show The Avengers. Sharp kitten heels, torn fishnets, bird’s-nest pompadours and gobs of black eyeliner was how punk icons Exene Cervenka, Siouxsie Sioux and PJ Harvey rolled in the 1980s and early 1990s. These were not women of moderate taste, as the kitten heel is wont to express. This shows that it’s a shoe with plenty of wiggle room for personality and, possibly, even rebellion—a shoe exactly suited to our times.
There's a dramatic moment around the middle of Rosamund Pike's new film, A United Kingdom: Pike, playing a British woman who falls in love with an African king (based on a true story!), faints in the middle of a dusty road, collapsing after driving through the heat while heavily pregnant. Her husband, thanks to the machinations of a racist government determined to end their interracial union, is stranded on the other side of the world, and she's about to give birth to their first child, while knowing she might never see her man again. Suffice to say: It's a tense, emotional scene in a movie that's not lacking in heart-wrenching, gut-punching moments.
But when Rosamund lets us in on a little secret about how that scene was filmed, well...it certainly changes how you'll re-watch it.
"I had to fall down," explains Pike, over the phone from her London home. "We were in a terrible rush, and there weren't any knee pads or elbow protectors. Since nobody else was coming up with anything else, my dresser and I came up with the best possible use for panty liners with wings—I put them all over my body! I finally understand their purpose."
Here are four other surprising things we learned from the 38 year old actress about her new film, in theatres today.
Rosamund Pike as Ruth Williams, a real life Londoner who married the King of Botswana (David Oyelowo).
1. They shot in the exact house that the real life couple the movie is based on lived in
"We shot on location in Botswana, and we used the first house they lived in. The feeling inside there is pretty powerful. There was something magical in there. It gave me goosebumps at the time. It's rare that something like that happens, but it's great when it does."
2. Towards the end of the film, Rosamund's character steps out of her house to find the women of her husband's kingdom singing for her. Turns out, that was entirely spontaneous:
"When I came out of the house and they were singing like that, it was the most mind-blowing thing that happened to me on set. I just dropped because they were not asked to sing that song, and yet they were caught up in the moment enough to be playing the moment for real, singing that song about how the king's wife is bright like the morning star."
3. She finally got to work with long-time pal David Oyelowo, who plays her husband
"His laugh is the best thing. It's the most generous, big-hearted, sexy thing. I mean, it’s amazing. We’ve been friends for some time and I never knew we’d have this magical chemistry. I mean we could both play the part, but I didn’t know we’d find something so magical, which I think comes from our passion for the project."
4. Rosamund took away a very valuable personal lesson from making A United Kingdom
"Just being around the director Amma Asante and David, they’re both political, they’re both passionate about the place of people of colour in the film industry and just being around that dialogue all the time was very inspiring to me."
From left: Alexander Wang, Christopher Kane and Lacoste Image by: Imaxtree
The basic knit is reinvented and a new trend is born.
When was the last time you thought purposefully of a cardigan? The button-up knit with preppy roots emerged as a hero piece on the runways of New York and the message continued in London. Like denim and the white button-down before it, the cardigan was taken apart and reinvented by the likes of Christopher Kane, who presented holographic, slightly oversized versions. In New York, Alexander Wang sent model Stella Lucia down his party-ready runway in a loose, borrowed-from-dad knit that read as anything but precious. Lacoste, Ulla Johnson and Dion Lee took a fuzzier approach, while Tory Burch and Victoria Beckham represented the more sophisticated end of the spectrum.
The takeaway? Whether undone, artsy or preppy, the cardigan is infinitely versatile and, for the first time in many seasons, covetable.
Christopher Kane Image by: Imaxtree
Tory Burch Image by: Imaxtree
Victoria Beckham Image by: Imaxtree