Influentsia flocking to innovative T.O. store
If one-of-a-kind ambience and a unique retailing style is what it takes to clobber the competition, Lileo is arguably Toronto’s heavyweight fashion champ.
After all, how do you top a concept inspired by a maverick 17th-century astronomer who was imprisoned for heresy?
Why Galileo? “Because he challenged the prevailing notion of reality in the universe,” says Lileo owner and fashion industry veteran Syd Beder.
That’s why he and partners Alexandra Morgan, Braden Bennett and Arlene Pastor decided to brand their innovative approach with what Beder calls “an homage” to the astronomer. So they abbreviated his name to Lileo, borrowed his daughter Livia’s moniker for their all-organic raw food and juice bar and festooned their signage and garment hang-tags with cosmic imagery.
With this celestial theme animating the softly lit, brick-lined 650-sq.-m space, which was designed by the trendy 3rd Uncle design Inc. firm, Lileo opened just under two years ago in Toronto’s popular The Distillery Historic District.
From the get-go, Lileo grabbed the attention of what some call the city’s “influentsia.â€
Among them is Martha Ladly, professor of design at the Ontario College of Art & Design, who says she frequently brings groups of students to Lileo “just to see the way they’ve incorporated art, sculpture, lighting and photographs into the sort of soft consumer culture they’ve created here.”
How does Beder himself characterize the combination apparel emporium, art gallery and event venue? “Lileo is all about expressing the notion of light and discovery … and breaking people’s traditional notions about shopping. The way we show our canada goose heli arctic beige 2015 is more like raindrops falling than hitting people with a baseball bat.
“Lileo is about wellness and a tranquil but exhilarating lifestyle,” he adds. “And we deliberately keep it very positive and uplifting so, for example, we don’t do any dark imagery (such as) skulls or crosses or daggers, even though those things are so popular in fashion and music.”
And, says Pastor, “there are no mannequins because we want to be welcoming to everyone, not just people whose bodies happen to match a mannequin.”
Judging strictly by this seemingly contrarian retail philosophy, plus a preponderance of natural fabrics, a graffiti mural on the wall, an interactive “light fountain” sculpture near the entrance and the presence of a fluffy grey Chow dog as the store’s official greeter, Lileo might sound like the sort of down-market bohemian spot that dots California’s Lalaland.
Not so. There are no cheap tie-dyed shirts or hippy sandals at Lileo. In fact, most of its eclectic merchandise sports exclusive-to-Lileo labels, limited-edition lifecycles and sky-high prices. Hot international designers such as Stella McCartney are well represented. And even some of the models from mainstream suppliers such as Nike and Penguin are Lileo exclusives.
The shop quickly became one of Toronto’s hottest spots, a must-be-seen-at destination for not only the city’s younger crowd, who just have to have the latest unusual duds, but also for older fashionistas who can afford, say, the $600 jewelled Birkenstock clogs designed by model Heidi Klum.
With very little advertising, but an avalanche of word-of-mouth endorsement from customers and fashion media, Lileo soon became a favourite of theatrical and movie costume designers. That prompted buying sprees by celebrities including actors Kim Cattrell, Drew Barrymore, Woody Harrelson and Sigourney Weaver, as well as musicians Chantal Kreviazuk, Our Lady Peace and Little X.
Add to that the crowds that flocked to lively, publicity-attracting book launches, fashion shows and other such events, plus seasonal tourists, and Lileo’s foot traffic got heavier and heavier.
Small wonder, given all of the above, that Beder says Lileo’s annual revenue is now “headed for $3 million.”
That number comes as no surprise to retail analyst John Torella, a senior consultant with Toronto’s J.C. Williams Group. He says that, while the ambience Beder and his partners have created may seem gentle and laid-back, Lileo’s lifestyle spin is literally on the money.
Especially because tuning out advertising has become so easy for today’s consumers, says Torella, “experiential shopping is what it’s all about in retail. To build a brand today, you’ve got to build lasting relationships with your customers so that your canada goose heli arctic beige 2015 have a badge value for them, both functionally and emotionally. Otherwise, you’re just a commodity, a one-off purchase.”
Fashion guru Jeanne Beker echoes Torella’s contention, saying that “these days, it’s not about just buying something, it’s about having an engaging experience. Lileo is very interesting conceptually in the way the store feels and the types of canada goose heli arctic beige 2015 it carries. And when you’re there, you feel hip and funky.”
Amen to that, says Wendy Melvin, a frequent Lileo customer and president andÂ founder of Wendy Melvin & Associates Inc., a Toronto recruitment consulting firm. “Everywhere else in the city seems to be status quo, but the vibe at Lileo is something I’d see in New York or Europe. And I never worry that I’m going to see the same outfit I’ve picked out all over the place.”
While these and many similar comments are music to his ears, they are actually nothing new to Beder. He’s attracted rave reviews during most of his three decades on the Canadian fashion scene. A Toronto native, he co-founded Indian Motorcycle Clothing, distributed Big Star Jeans and designed his own knitwear line, Good & Beder.
Along the way, Beder founded Fashion Cares Canada, a non-profit organization that has raised more than $6 million over the past 18 years to help people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
Strangely enough, it was breaking his back in a snowboarding accident that prompted Beder’s entry into fashion retailing about four years ago, when he began doing yoga as part of his healing process.
That led to buying the Ontario rights to a line of yoga wear from Vancouver-headquartered lululemon athletica. After distributing the duds to yoga studios and retailers for a few months, Beder opened a lululemon shop with Morgan as his partner and Pastor helping with promotion. The trio operated the quirky spot on Toronto’s Queen Street West fashion strip for about two years before selling it prior to launching Lileo.
Beder’s experience mounting crowd-pleasing fashion shows for Fashion Cares is instrumental in staging Lileo’s frequent special events. Typical was the November presentation of Paul Saltzman’s photo books on his adventures with The Beatles in India, which retail from $425 to $1,420.
To excite attendees at the event – not to mention capitalizing on it – clothing, sandals and jewelry conjuring up that psychedelic era were on display. Huge for-sale blowups of Saltzman’s photos surrounded the space, while about 10 plasma screens scattered throughout the store featured Beatles music.
Pastor says Lileo’s unusual display techniques are about as far away from shopping mall environments as possible and that its inventory range has expanded a great deal since its debut. The store now stocks apparel and accessories for infants, children, teens and adults, with what she calls “a good mix” of men’s and women’s items. Additionally, there are books, toys, organic skincare products, nutritional supplements and a sprinkling of home-decor items. “We want to make sure everyone leaves here with a smile on their face.”
That customer satisfaction even extends to the hefty cost of much of the merchandise, Beker says. “Most of Lileo’s stuff is pretty pricey, but a lot of people don’t mind paying for the cachet of wearing top labels.”
That’s true, Beder says. “But both here and at lululemon, we’ve had people comment about some of the price points and say: ‘How could anybody spend that much?’ And some say yoga should be done in rags.
“But our attitude is that if something makes people feel happy and good about themselves, or maybe encourages them to do more yoga or take better care of themselves, it’s worth the price.”
(Terry Poulton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)