By Craig Patterson
A unique luxury lifestyle retailer called WDLT 117 has opened in Toronto’s Bloor-Yorkville area. The dramatic space features a range of brands and unique styles, many of which have otherwise been unavailable until now in Canada. The 3,500 square foot two-level shop occupies the corner of the beautiful recently restored mixed-use 7 St. Thomas Street complex that is diagonally across from the Windsor Arms Hotel, and steps away from the city’s famed ‘Mink Mile’.
Founded by luxury fashion veteran and visionary Jason Morikawa, the new WDLT 117 concept store aims to offer fashions and other products that Toronto’s wealthy would typically seek in larger cities such as New York City, London or Paris. Included is a mix of fashions for women and men as well as accessories and other unique items that have caught Mr. Morikawa’s eye.
Many of the products in the space are edgy with a mix of fashion, art and design. “Our selections are not for everyone”, says the WDLT 117 website. “A client may come and love everything. Or they may come and not understand. They may giggle. But ultimately, we hope that they will come, have their interest piqued, and learn something new about their taste. In that moment, in contact with WDLT117, a moment of growth occurred.”
Guests are encouraged to come and relax and check out what’s in the store — a state-of-the-art Slayer espresso machine that provides beverages to visitors exploring books, artists, design and fashion. Mr. Morikawa explained that the store will continue to see changes to keep things fresh. Portraits of some famous Torontonians, taken by well-known international photographer Adam Katz Sinding, are featured in the store for the next couple of months as an example.
WDLT 117’s website explains how the store’s design is “intended to showcase the contents. The art, the furniture, and the fashion all speak exactly as intended”. Furthermore, future temporary activations will include partnerships. “We are open to all types of collaborations and welcome creators of all kinds to get in touch and explore with us,” the website says.
Some of the brands featured in the new store are exclusive in Toronto and even Canada, with many names that may be obscure. Staple luxury brands include Issey Miyake/Pleats Please, Paco Rabanne and Sies Marjan, and the store will also introduce customers to a host of exciting up-and-coming designers currently unavailable in the marketplace. Many of the products and designers available in the store can also be found on WDLT 117’s website.
Most of the fashions in the store are for women, though there’s also a rack of men’s clothing on the store’s second floor. Mr. Morikawa said that he would be bringing in more men’s fashions as WDLT 117 continues to evolve.
Mr. Morikawa explained how Toronto’s immense wealth and multicultural makeup prompted him to open the new storefront. Many of Toronto’s wealthiest travel internationally and as a result, many local retailers stock ‘safer’ fashions that appeal to a more conservative buyer.
Mr. Morikawa has more than 18 year of experience in buying edgy luxury fashions for other retailers. Prior to launching his own retail venture, he was the Managing Director of the Fifth Avenue Club at Saks Fifth Avenue’s Canadian flagship store in downtown Toronto. For more than 11 years prior to that, Mr. Morikawa worked at Holt Renfrew with his most recent role being Director, Exclusive Buying Services. He was also one of the head buyers of former ‘World Design Lab’ at Holt Renfrew’s Bloor Street flagship in Toronto — the World Design Lab housed an edgy roster of designers in a similar fashion to his own WDLT 117 storefront.
On its website, WDLT 117 says that it is “off the beaten path both literally and figuratively” with a target market being a “specific elite group of people interested in brands that are also off the beaten path”. Regarding its merchandise, the company notes that the brands contained within “have recognition, but not representation. That’s where we come in.” The store’s name itself is a take on the word ‘wanderlust’ with the “7” referencing the address of 7 St. Thomas, as well as the number “11” referencing the the corner unit’s position within the stratified development.
The award-winning 7 St. Thomas Street complex, which includes retail space as well as offices above, is one of the finest examples of heritage retention and redevelopment in Canada. The upscale 93,000 square foot complex, designed by Hariri Pontarini Architects, is unique in that its upper-level office spaces were purchased rather than leased. Six restored and modernized 1880’s-era heritage buildings act as the base for a rounded glass tower above that is outfitted with undulating fritted glass with a frieze motif that is said to have been inspired by the heritage buildings at its base. WDLT 117 itself occupies a stratified 5,200 square foot three-level space, with two levels of retail space open to the public.
The 7 St. Thomas complex is located at the southeast corner of Sultan Street and St. Thomas Street in an affluent residential area just steps south of the famed Bloor Street West ‘Mink Mile’. The prestigious Windsor Arms hotel is diagonally across the street, and residential buildings such as 1 St. Thomas and 77 Charles Street West are known to house some of Canada’s best-known personalities — Drake once lived at 1 St. Thomas Street, for example, and former HBC President Bonnie Brooks recently sold her condominium unit at 77 St. Charles.
WDLT 117 is the latest addition to Toronto’s Bloor-Yorkville neighbourhood and it will act as a draw for those seeking unique fashion and other items that aren’t from the typical ‘mainstream’ luxury brands that line Bloor Street West. Steps away from WDLT 117 are storefronts for brands such as Hermes, Zegna, MCM, Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and others, and Holt Renfrew’s currently under-renovation flagship is a short walk to the east on the same strip. More good things are coming to the area that will also act to draw new shoppers.
In a few months, Dior will open its largest store in North America in The Colonnade at 131 Bloor Street West, and Eataly will open a 50,000 square foot hybrid grocery store/restaurant at the Manulife Centre at 55 Bloor Street West. With Apple and other retailers set to open nearby, Bloor-Yorkville is finding its place as one of the world’s most significant high-density luxury lifestyle destinations. And with thousands of new residents set to move into the area over the next several years, as well as new hotel announcements such as the new Andaz Hotel at ‘The ONE’ at 1 Bloor Street West, there will be even more customers for retailers in the area that is seeing an incredible transformation.
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: email@example.com