Addicted To Retail (ATR) presents: Stussy's new flagship store revisits Toronto's streetwear legacy.
Stüssy’s first flagship store opened in New York City in 1990. Located in SoHo, the neighborhood was a far cry from the shopping mall it feels like nowadays. The SoHo of the late ’80s was known more for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s SAMO© graffiti and affordable rent. Before Stüssy, some of the neighborhood’s best-known shops and haunts included fashion boutique agnès b. and Olive’s, a deli and cafe that still runs today, albeit a few blocks from its old location.
Shawn Stüssy’s main partner in the SoHo store was Brit-in-New York James Jebbia, who at the time ran UNION, a men’s boutique known for trafficking in cult English labels like Duffer of St. George and other gear that complemented underground club culture.
Meanwhile in Toronto, another British expatriate was riding a similar wave. Roger O’Donnell, keyboardist for seminal English rock band The Cure, opened up his Uncle Otis boutique in 1991. The shop brought in labels like Stüssy to its shelves, helping push the brand’s awareness in Toronto while becoming a big part of Toronto’s discerning retail legacy.
Throughout its 37-year lifespan, Stüssy has generally occupied the grey area between curated fashion boutique, community space, and youth-oriented brand. In some ways, it’s become lost in the aftershocks of the culture it helped create. Founder Shawn Stüssy left the brand in 1995, and Jebbia focused his efforts on a new store, Supreme, handing the Stüssy and UNION reins over to Mary-Ann Fusco and Eddie Cruz.
Stüssy New York’s present-day outpost on Wooster Street actually used to be UNION’s New York shop before it moved fully westward and continues to thrive under Chris Gibbs, one of its longtime employees in New York and a Canadian himself. Today, SoHo is teeming with flagship stores whose roots can be traced to the International Stüssy Tribe, like A Bathing Ape and Supreme, as well as modern-day torch bearers like Palace, which had an opening day that was so packed it got shut down by the NYPD.
But in Toronto, Stüssy also cemented itself as one of the cornerstones of street culture. One of its most important figures is Matt George, who has worked in Canadian retail since he was 19, when he opened up sneaker shop Goodfoot. In 2005, he opened Nomad, a boutique that specializes in cult brands and upscale fashion labels. By that time, Uncle Otis had switched owners three times—O’Donnell moved out of Toronto in 1994. Current owner Donnell Enns carries a mix of brands like Maharishi, wings + horns, Filson, and Norse Projects.
When Stüssy made formal plans to open chapter stores in Toronto and Vancouver in 2008, they partnered with Matt George to do it, who tapped creative director and scenic designer Willo Perron to design the interiors. Perron grew up with Stüssy in his periphery. Before the flagships opened, he bought the brand during trips to New York or at a skate shop in Montreal.
“I grew up skateboarding and doing all of that shit, so they were always kind of in my landscape,” he recalls. Perron particularly liked how Stüssy “straddled this idea of local and international at the same time.”
The facility at 431 Richmond Street West became known as “The Complex” among Toronto’s style cognoscenti, housing Stüssy, Nomad, Goodfoot, and Ransom, George’s own footwear brand. The Complex functioned as a community hub of sorts, and also became an incubator for some of the city’s most culturally-savvy youth. Abel Tesfaye hung out there long before he was The Weeknd, as did a lot of future OVO members, like Drake’s manager Oliver El-Khatib, who worked at Ransom. Drake even modeled for a Ransom lookbook in 2009.
“A lot of those people I’ve known before they really popped as musicians,” says George. “They were staples in that 431 Richmond Street conglomerate.”
Gentrification soon came for Matt George’s mini-retail empire, but fortunately for him he owned the building. He sold it and moved Nomad further down Queen Street West, and Stüssy reopened in 2010 on the corner of Ossington and Queen Street West, in a building that also housed local cafe Sam James Coffee Bar. The reopening was feted with the release of a “Screwface” chapter collection, referencing The Screwface EP by Toronto rapper Theology3.
At the same time, Toronto’s streetwear retail scene began to dwindle. The city’s independent sneaker shops closed down, as boutiques like Stolen Riches, Cartela, and North Trooper shuttered. Goodfoot eventually fell victim to the epidemic too, leaving a goodbye message on its now-defunct website: “We’ve seen our market change significantly over the last few years. And, as it has changed direction, so too have we. Thus the decision to close Goodfoot and shift our focus onto new opportunities has been made.”
Part of the reason may be that as the lines between fashion, streetwear, and sneakers continue to blur, Toronto’s shops have gotten considerably better too. On Dundas, Blue Button Shop caters to fans of cult Japanese labels like Hender Scheme, Pure Blue Japan, and Engineered Garments alongside a myriad of designer adidas collaborations. Over on Toronto’s east side, Haven offers visvim, nonnative, COMME des GARÇONS, Nike, and Wacko Maria.
In 2015, Stüssy’s Ossington location was sold to make way for American watchmaker and bicycle company Shinola, leaving Nomad as George’s lone flagship in the city. Sam James Coffee Bar also had to leave.
After a year without a presence in Toronto, Stüssy recently opened up a new flagship on Spadina, just a stone’s throw away from its original location, which is set to become a series of luxury condominiums.
“It just feels like a great new beginning a little bit. I think it took six, maybe eight months to find a new location, and we landed there,” says George. “Even more full circle is working with Willo, who’s been a friend and worked on these first stores with me. There was no other person that I really wanted to link up with.”
Perron’s concept for the Chinatown shop is a refined construction site. He describes it as a “Japanese-Scandinavian Home Depot.” Furniture is made from sandbags and cinder blocks, and feels more experiential than the standard retail concept of clothes emotionlessly displayed on a rack. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of rustic yet minimal, but also Perron’s own callback to streetwear’s intrinsic workwear inspirations, citing Big Ben and Dickies as specific examples.
Sam James Coffee Bar has also set up shop in the new space, and the grand opening included a series of exclusive tees and sweats done in collaboration with the Sam James, graffiti artist KWEST, Sneeze magazine editor and Bootleg Is Better founder Avi Gold, and Canadian skate brand Clubgear.
Community has always played a big part in Toronto’s street culture and in Stüssy itself. Perron says there’s always been a bit of that in the DNA of what he and George have worked on.
“One of the things I wanted to get away from is linear retail, where everything is sort of on a 90-degree grid,” he says. “There’s a whole coffee bar filled with plants. It’s a natural place where you can hang. It’s not a cold retail space, where if you’re not buying anything you should keep it moving. It has a bit of a dynamic to it.”
In the same way Stüssy’s first Toronto chapter store was a place that functioned as a hub for the city’s young creatives, George and Perron hope the new space can somehow empower the next generation. George wants the shop to appeal to a cross-section of customers, from DJs to skate kids to super-informed fashion heads.
“We could have just opened a store that people have seen before. We have the fixtures, but we’re here to do retail well, and we’re going to stay and do that,” says George. “I’m super excited about it when everyone else is like: ‘We don’t really need to do retail.’”
241 Spadina Ave
Monday-Friday: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.