OVO Robson

Crew love.

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It is entirely plausible that it was a rather ordinary day when Aubrey Drake Graham met Oliver El-Khatib amongst the racks of a popular Toronto boutique. Perhaps it was not unlike the day that film writers Nick Frost and Simon Pegg met in a Mexican restaurant in North London—or any other chance meeting resulting in a bromance that changed not only two lives, but millions of them.

It was 2008, and the Degrassi: The Next Generation actor sought a transition from (Canadian) television star to musician. Having left the beloved series in 2007, Graham (let’s just call him Drake) joined forces with creative director El-Khatib to begin a business partnership; their fledgling label, October’s Very Own (OVO), soon grew from a MySpace page to a bona fide music powerhouse. As for Drake, it’s safe to say he is now one of the most famous rappers on the planet.

These days, OVO Sound manages and produces not only Drake, but also a handful of aspiring rap and R&B artists, who undoubtedly benefit from their co-founders’ collaborations—with a never-ending list of top talents including Lil Wayne, Rihanna, 2 Chainz, Kanye West, and Justin Bieber.

The success of a 2014 pop-up shop was the precursor to the decision to roll out OVO as a retail venture. El-Khatib has always maintained that the development of the product line was out of necessity: the OVO management team, performers, and crew needed practical and versatile garments that would get everyone through stadium security but would also represent the company at business meetings. Since then, the streetwear brand has garnered fans around the world, and in addition to online sales, there are seven brick-and-mortar locations—including a new spot in Vancouver, which opened in December 2018 to significant buzz.

Like the music label, OVO retail has grown through the strength of strategic collaborations, which started with Roots Canada, followed by Nike’s Jordan brand, Canada Goose, Timberland, Medicom Toy, and Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. In Vancouver, the owl-branded streetwear and winterwear pieces sell next to plush Woolrich pillows; Murakami keychains; Medicom bears; lighters and ashtrays; writing journals; water bottles; and the latest drops of Timberland boots.

Similar to when Off-White quietly unlocked its doors on Vancouver’s anonymous Eihu Lane, the windows of the OVO location (the former Boys’Co space next to Club Monaco) on Robson Street were papered over in mid-November with what appeared to be the brand’s signature owl, though at the time broker Martin Moriarty was tight-lipped as to who had taken possession of the space. But the Dec. 15 launch was confirmed when OVO tweeted the date with a teaser: the availability of the coveted Takashi Murakami x OVO collection. The siren call proved irresistible, and the street began to fill with fans before the doors were even open; by noon on launch day, the collaboration was sold out.

The 2,000-square-foot store is similar to all the other locations opened to date: it is long and narrow, with white walls, recessed racking, and wood-panelled flooring. Lacking the luxurious marble interior of Toronto’s Yorkdale location, though, this foray onto Robson feels like a long walk-in closet, and the overall effect is sleek but lackluster.

Over the shopping-heavy holidays, store security allowed groupings of 10 people at a time to be let inside, with a relatively steady lineup of a dozen or so patiently waiting under cloudy skies with umbrellas. On one such day, a hoodied sales associate shares that the experience working here is superior to that of his previous retail experience a few blocks east on Robson, where every shift ended in re-stocking chaos. At OVO, only one of each item is racked, and then every purchase is retrieved from the back room and individually sealed in plastic sleeves.

While one would not be faulted to think that the store plays all Drake music all the time, the staff actually have control over what drifts through the speakers. The only catch is a no-play list, which is comprised of tracks by anyone “beefing with Drake.” That means no Kanye West and no Pusha-T are in rotation, as the Twitter tirades and diss tracks will show—though the greatest retribution of all might just be the continued success of a business born from a chance Toronto meeting.


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January 4, 2019