When Monocle, the magazine-turned-retail operation founded in 2007 by writer and editor Tyler Brûlé (and termed the “world’s most pretentious magazine” by Askmen.com) recently opened its largest-yet boutique and 'bureau' in Toronto’s Little Italy neighborhood, one could have reasonably expected the store's directors to be enthusiastic about the city itself. But you'd be wrong about that. Adding to a small but distinguished list of metropoleis that includes London, New York, Tokyo, and Zurich, Toronto marks one of Monocle's largest buying demographics -- and yet it remains a blight on Brûlé’s all-powerful esthetic eye.
On the eve of the Toronto opening, Brûlé had harsh words for the city’s real estate, saying that not one of its neighborhoods possess an abundance of attractive buildings. But nevertheless, Monocle is surging ahead with its latest intitiation, stocking its boutique, like its magazine, with curated wares both esoteric and eclectic, and carrying what Toronto Life terms “kitsch chic” merchandise with a high level of platform integration.
Among these, two signature fragrances are on offer, the result of a collaboration between Monocle and Antoine Maisondieu, the perfumer for Comme des Garcons. A second collaborative effort is on view, a complete line of luggage from Porter, the airline whose identity was branded by Brûlé’s advertising agency, Winkreative. Then, woven into the vintage bric-a-brac (not for sale) that was sourced by Brûlé’s artist mother, are Japanese-designed iPhone cases, windbreakers, boutique furniture, digital radios (with a dial set to Monocle’s broadcast), stationary, ceramic wine cups, a small selection of music and books, and clothing selections from designers like Orlebar Brown andSunspel. It’s a store designed for a gadabout Generation X-er looking to complement his custom-made umbrella collection while fingering yarn neckties and the backpack briefcase. It’s the 21st century’s answer to the flâneur, one who stands perfectly still.
While the retail side of the boutique occupies a scant 238 square feet (strangely making it the largest Monocle boutique yet), a broadcast studio and office dedicated to its magazine and design agency fills the rest of the 1,240-square-foot space.
The brand started (and continues to exist) as a globally focused magazine, and now includes an online radio station and internationally-dispersed Monocle bureaus, such as this one.
Brûlé and Emily Smith, Monocle’s director of communications, spoke recently of the brand’s desire to infuse each store’s overall look with the feeling of its host city.
Regarding their disdain for Toronto's aesthetic, however, the Globe and Mail asked the lingering question: why expand Monocle’s presence in a city that didn’t run among the magazine’s Top 25 cities list (again) this year?
“Canada is the fourth- and sometimes fifth-largest market for Monocle,” Brûlé explained. Besides, he noted, Monocle stores have a history of defining the places they occupy. He adds that the neighborhoods where his New York and Hong Kong stores opened became destinations only after his stores arrived. We will wait to see if Toronto responds in kind.