Best of the City 2010: Toronto’s top shopping

Best of the City 2010: Toronto’s top shopping

Left: Robber’s shirt-dress, Chasse Gardée’s sandal, Ella and Elliot’s dishware for kids, Harry Rosen’s cufflinks; Right: Canuck kitsch at the Drake General Store (Image: photographs by Jay Shuster; cufflinks courtesy of Harry Rosen)

Men’s madras shirt
Jonathan and Olivia
49 Ossington Ave., 416-849-5956

Madras is the hot new plaid, in light organic cotton and shades of fern green, henna red and clementine. Our favourite madras shirts, carried by Jonathan and Olivia, are by Engineered Garments designer Daiki Suzuki, who interprets the pattern with sensei authority. The label on each piece admonishes, “Imperfection in fabric is part of its character.” So deal with it. The neo-preppy look (shirts layered on top of a fitted T, worn with skinny shorts and oxfords) works equally well way downtown and in a cabin in the woods. From $205.

Organic kid stuff
Ella and Elliot
188 Strachan Ave., 416-850-7890

Bamboo is the go-to material for phthalate- and plastic-fearing parents. At Ella and Elliot, a gallery-like shop that takes a monastic approach to a child’s environment, the eco-friendly ethos extends to a line of minimalist handmade tableware. Tokyo’s Funfam designs its educational dishware like jigsaw puzzles. The Manners Eating Set ($250) consists of nine finely woodworked utensils small enough for toddler digits, plus four plates and a bowl, all nested in the carved spaces of a slim-profile wooden tray. It’s educational, too: the set is imprinted with little icons that allow kids to distinguish fish fork from dessert fork. The entire thing packs up in its own bamboo plaited box.

Condo garden supplies
Summerhill Nursery and Floral
301 Macpherson Ave., 416-922-6902

City garden centres never look like this: a movie version of a nursery, gloriously open and rambling—big, bold blooms here, luscious tomato plants there, the gurgling sound of water features and maybe even a den of magical elves tucked behind that bush. Best of all, it’s a no-attitude zone for newbie condo owners who want to turn their teensy balconies green. Before you come, check your building’s rules around plant life (some boards are bizarrely strict), measure your space, record the hours of sunlight it gets, and have a rough sense of what you want to plant. Lettuce? Basil? Sunset hyssops? Dwarf Japanese maple? Then ask a staffer to help you navigate Summerhill’s hectare of perennials, annuals, exotics, shade plants, urns, statuary, herbs, gardening magazines, floppy hats and patio furniture.

Boat shoes
Cole Haan
101 Bloor St. W., 416-926-7575

The return of preppy chic shows no signs of abating. Boat shoes are an essential, and Cole Haan’s versions get our vote for the range of colours and all-out comfort—wearing a pair is like wearing pillows. Nautical types with a playful bent will opt for the men’s three-tone Yacht Club model (a cousin of the Sperry Top-Sider), available in white, blue and red, or white and two shades of blue ($175). Sober sailors can opt for trad all-navy, grey or red ($190).

Canadiana gifts
Drake General Store
1011 Yonge St., 416-966-0553
(plus two other locations)

What began as an outgrowth of the Drake Hotel is now a trio of shops that tread the fine line between kitsch and cool. There’s an emphasis on local miscellany: Shannon Gerard’s hand-crocheted moustache pins ($8), RCMP-themed cocktail napkins ($5) and Radio-Canada shoulder bags ($40). Even the Jenna Jameson colouring book ($30) is the work of an OCAD grad. The witty selection matches the personalities of Carlo Colacci and Joyce Lo, store managers who are also the creators of Shared, a line of super-soft Ts. As for cross-branding, the stores offer jars of the hotel’s homemade granola, mixed berry and apple jam, and ginger- and chili-seasoned trail mix (from $5).

Fixed-gear bikes
Urbane Cyclist
180 John St., 416-979-9733

The welcoming downtown co-op carries folding models (beloved by space-obsessed bike nuts) and old-fashioned Dutch-style cruisers, but the trendiest pair of wheels is the fixie. On a single-speed fixed-gear bike, there are fewer parts (no rear brake, derailleur, shift levers or extra sprockets) and a perfectly straight, much shorter chain, making for a lightweight, easy-to-maintain ride. They’re standard issue in the courier world and have caught on with the average city cyclist because they accelerate quickly, are a snap to manoeuvre through downtown gridlock and come with built-in cred. For individualists, the gearheads at Urbane will build a one-of-a-kind fixie from the ground up ($780–$1,000), equipping it with hand-built wheels, which are infinitely stronger than factory-made counterparts.

Diaper bags for dads
Jack Spade at Holt Renfrew
50 Bloor St. W., 416-922-2333

Every time a baby is born, a little dudeness dies. But dads can draw the line at what kind of diaper bag they’ll carry. Forgo the specialized mommy ones with 30 pockets and candy-coloured polka-dot prints. All you need is something well designed, streamlined and big enough for a couple of Pampers and necessary extras. It should sling over the shoulder for hands-free utility, and Velcro open in a flash. We love Jack Spade for giving guys several understated options made of water-resistant nylon canvas, in such masculine shades as khaki, brown and black. Jack’s messenger-style bags even treat new fathers to exterior zipper pockets and sleeves for their iPods. Not that you’ll ever have time to listen to music again. From $235.

Boyfriend shorts
Tabula Rasa
745 Broadview Ave., 416-465-4450

At her new Riverdale boutique, Jennifer Park sources vintage 1970s women’s slacks in wool, cotton and even leather to turn into modern roll-cuffed shorts (from $35). They’re more sophisticated than Daisy Duke–style cut-offs, though you can find DDs here, too, in premium Japanese denim by IT Jeans ($59). Park will also hunt down styles and sizes for custom requests.

clog alternative
Chasse Gardée
1084 Queen St. W., 416-901-9613

Clogs may be experiencing a John Travolta–sized comeback, but for the kitsch averse, these leather A’Détacher sandals have the same carved wood platform heel (they’re handmade in Peru) without making you look like you belong at a tulip festival. Already a hit in Paris, the shoe is deceptively comfortable and summer appropriate. $375.

Quince Flowers
660 Queen St. E., 416-594-1414
(plus one other location)

“We’re not seeing the very stark style anymore, like calla lilies in a vase and nothing else,” says founder Rosemary Little. That’s never been her bed of roses, anyway. Little is a diehard floral romantic, and her 13-year-old business caters to clients as aesthetically minded as the res­taurateur Mark McEwan and the women’s club Verity. This year, Little favours a muted palette of sandy-coloured blooms, with hits of purple (orchids are hot) and “not quite chartreuse and not quite lemon,” she says. Graphic foliage is key: hosta or rounded galax leaves, often wrapped inside vases. Centre­pieces $75, delivery charge $12.

Chambray shirt-dress
863 Queen St. W., 647-351-0724

SJP has her Halston pantsuits, but we prefer that other disco-era staple, the shirt-dress. Our favourite is by American prepster label Steven Alan, which has turned its classic button-ups into a knee-length frock of lightweight, organic chambray that’s more at home at Ossington bar Camp 4 than Studio 54. $210.

Mid-century modern furniture
75 Jarvis St., 647-428-7265

Located in a corridor of upscale condo towers, whose status-seeking owners it serves, Filter looks beyond scratched teak sideboards of suburban-bungalow contents sales to focus on collector-quality Danish modern finds. Owners Mike and Amy Mason travel north and south of the 49th parallel for what’s still most in demand in vintage furniture: Eames, Jacobsen, Probber, Saar­inen and Bertoia. Then they mix in dramatic, often humorous decorative objects (like vintage models from anatomy class) spanning the post-war years through to the ’70s. A pristine George Nelson CSS storage wall unit in walnut with built-in desk ($6,295) was found at Toronto’s defunct Unilever factory. As for quirk, there’s a ghostly railroad-crossing sign and oil paintings of stern professorial gents.

cocktail gear
Studio Brillantine
1518 Queen St. W., 416-536-6521

Like a toy shop for design freaks, this west-end spot carries a mix of weird and wonderful housewares and gift options. Display cases at the back contain a curated cross-section of shiny bartending tools laid out with surgical precision. Always wanted a fancy swizzle stick? Carl Mertens’ stainless steel model expands telescopically into an elegant little whisk and comes with a carrying case ($69). Bottle stoppers? Look no further than Gianni Versace for Rosenthal’s delightfully insane Medusa heads ($135). Alessi’s crystal cocktail shaker by Australian industrial designer Marc Newson eclipses its garden-variety confrères ($118), and an assortment of apple corers, juicers, olive spoons and fruit knives meets every imaginable garnish need.

Camping gear
Mountain Equipment Co-op
400 King St. W., 416-340-2667

MEC, the closest thing there is to a couturier of camping, could turn Anna Wintour into an outdoorswoman. Its 4,000-square-metre retail banquet serves wanna­be campers as well as earnest survivor types who appreciate the finer design of super high-tech tents, a specialty. Engineered to be featherweight but resilient, the Carbon Reflex by MSR is a standout: a three-
person yellow dome so portable (only 4.8 pounds, with carbon fibre poles) that you can move camp every day. If the tent’s $599 price has you choking, the Wanderer 4 may be a couple of pounds heavier, but it’s less than $300 and sleeps three people with room to spare.

Limited edition T-shirts
Model Citizen
279 Augusta Ave., 416-703-7625

Playing in indie bands a decade ago, style-setter Julian Finkel was always the guy who said, “I’ll make the T-shirts.” At his seven-year-old shop in Kensington, he does just that. His Ts ($34) are made in a backroom studio, where he silkscreens images based on found art or his own drawings and photographs. Typical choices include enigmatic bearded men, cool bikes (the “Vélo love” series), native emblems and a picture of an old Led Zeppelin cassette tape. Finkel also teaches Silkscreen 101 on-site, a class in vogue for budding T printers (alternating Sundays, $175).

Obscure scents
176 Cumberland St., 416-928-0700

Tucked at the base of the Four Seasons is an oasis for fragrance freaks. Frederico Campos and Nahla Saad, Noor’s owners, have a nose for such old-fashioned brands as Florence’s citrusy Santa Maria Novella and Pen­haligon’s, a London maker of woodsy men’s colognes and English fern shaving creams. Al Oudh, a new scent by L’Artisan Parfumeur, sparked a waiting list last year after bloggers extolled its intense aroma of cumin, musk, vanilla and cedar ($155). It smells, quite frankly, like sex.

Harry Rosen
82 Bloor St. W., 416-972-0556

Twenty years ago, London investment banker Robert Tateossian found his true calling designing tastefully eccentric cufflinks. Today, his namesake line is a must for the sartorially savvy jet set. The selection at Harry Rosen includes miniature working compasses in non-tarnishing rhodium plating (from $195) and classic designs with semi-precious stones set in sterling silver (from $360).

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