By Craig Patterson
Unique Chinese luxury brand Sheng Tang Peony has entered the Canadian market with its first storefront on Toronto’s Yorkville Avenue. The boutique features a range of fashions and accessories for both women and men, and is one of only a handful of locations globally for the esteemed brand that features some handmade pieces that can take months to create. It’s another notch in the belt for Toronto’s Yorkville Avenue, which is transforming to become one of Canada’s leading luxury retail destinations.
Sheng Tang Peony recently opened in a 1,300 square foot storefront in the 99 Yorkville Avenue complex in Toronto, featuring an upscale interior that includes antique Chinese furniture and fixtures. A wood dressing room screen is hundreds of years old, as are fixtures such as a wall carving. Walnut wood fixtures throughout the space create an elevated look with edgy artwork featured throughout. Contained within are impressive artisan fashion pieces as well as accessories and beautiful jewellery, some of which is priceless.
The Toronto boutique sells a range of beautiful ready-to-wear pieces as well as made-to-order pieces that include fashions and even furniture. Sheng Tang Peony utilizes high-end and luxurious silk, (including mulberry silk) cashmere and some linen in its designs.
Many of the ready-to-wear pieces in the store feature a loose and fluid Chinese-inspired design, which can be worn both in the day and evenings. Some pieces are simply designed using luxurious fabrics that include silk, linen and cashmere. Other pieces are more ornate, featuring luxurious embroidery that includes imperial embroidery techniques on silk, silk organza, silk velvet, and gambiered silk, which is a lacquered silk treated in a special mud to create a unique look and texture. A range of men’s fashions are also available, ranging from simple designs in luxurious fabrics to more ornate designs with hand-embellished detailing. Artisans in China hand-make all pieces for the brand.
Some might be tempted to display a Sheng Tang Peony garment rather than wear it — one hand-embroidered vest for women in the Toronto store features intricate designs including 18-karat gold embroidery and semi-precious stone buttons. Other designs are less costly and feature a range of designs that range from simple to ornate.
A wide range of jewelry, many pieces being one-of-a-kind, feature filigree and kingfisher feather colouring which lasts hundreds of years without discolouration. Kingfisher feather colouring is a long-lost craft from imperial artisans that Ms. Zhang revived, with all feathers collected from Sheng Tang Peony’s bird farm. The production process is lengthy, and the effect is dramatic.
A range of cufflinks and earrings were made from ancient pieces of china that were found in porcelain kilns administered by governments in imperial dynasties. That includes antique bowls and vases that Sheng Tang Peony’s designers have incorporated into modern cufflinks and earrings, utilizing 925 silver. Other jewellery pieces are made from silver, 18k gold or white gold and in some cases, gold overlay. Included as well are precious and semi-precious stones. Several pieces in the store are antique and are technically not for sale and are displayed to showcase beauty and heritage of the craft.
Sheng Tang Peony’s handbag collection, which is handmade with plant-dyed rattan, come in a range of styles. Products are designed to be durable and to last for years, with many featuring smooth mango wood handles in a range of styles that can be worn casually or to more formal events.
A collection of high-quality silk scarves are available in the store, ranging from smaller handkerchiefs to larger-style multi-wearable silk scarf. Sheng Tang Peony also has a collection of large, high-end embroidered scarves called “Kashmir” that are made for charitable purpose to support children in conflict zones. Some can be worn as a shawl. Much of the product is colourful with traditional Chinese designs, differentiating Sheng Tang Peony from other luxury stores located in the area.
Sheng Tang Peony says that each piece is unique and one-of-a-kind, embracing “quality over quantity”. The brand is vertically integrated as it owns its own silkworm farm that makes silk into wearable fabric, and designer Sarah Zhang designs each piece individually. It’s all part of a dedication to history, heritage and art, which are central concepts for the brand.
The brand describes its designs as being “infused with contemporary oriental style and ingenious delicateness to showcase a revolutionized and innovative presentation of the beauty that is ‘Made in China’".
Ms. Zhang is also a contemporary Chinese artist who was born into a textile family in China’s Jiangnan region, which is known for its textile designs through various dynasties over the centuries. She began creating designs as a child, including creating ornate embroidery designs that reflect the brand’s current offerings. Her love for the craft led to her founding the Sheng Tang Peony brand in 2008.
The new Sheng Tang Peony boutique is a welcome addition to Toronto’s Bloor-Yorkville area. The store offers products not found in other luxury retailers in the neighbourhood, and it is located alongside some of the world’s leading luxury brands. Next door is a two-level Christian Louboutin boutique that opened in the summer of 2016, which kicked-off other luxury brand announcements for the street. In November of 2017, Chanel opened an impressive 8,550 square foot storefront and a couple of weeks ago, Brunello Cucinelli opened its largest store in North America in First Capital Realty’s 102-108 Yorkville Avenue complex. Versace, Stone Island and other tenants will join it this year.
Other luxury brands on Yorkville Avenue include Off-White, which opened its first store in North America at 83 Yorkville Avenue in early 2017. A Kiton boutique, operated by multi-brand retailer V Hazelton, is steps away from the only Canadian storefronts for luxury watch brands Richard Mille and Audemars Piguet. Yorkville Avenue will continue to see more luxury brands open stores when First Capital Realty redevelops its 101 Yorkville Avenue complex that will include space for three large flagship retailers as well as other spaces for retailers and restaurant concepts. First Capital Realty will also eventually add upscale tenants to other buildings it owns in the area, while other landlords are also upgrading their properties in anticipation of a flood of affluent residents descending on the area which will become one of Canada’s top clusterings of luxury brand stores.
Sheng Tang Peony is the latest international brand to enter the Canadian market by opening a retail store. Last year, more than 30 international brands entered Canada by opening storefronts, down from a record of more than 50 brands in 2017. It appears that 2019 could surpass last year’s number of international brands opening stores, with more announcements to come in the weeks ahead.
Now located in Toronto, Craig is a retail analyst and consultant at the Retail Council of Canada. He's also the Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for the past 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees. He is also President & CEO of Vancouver-based Retail Insider Media Ltd. Email Craig: firstname.lastname@example.org