When shopping in Toronto, browsing the stores along the bountiful Queen West with a Dark Horse Espresso Americano in hand, one would be sorry to skip over Smoke + Ash. Its simple exterior logo is a friendly precursor to what lies within: a fresh, forward-thinking take on the latest in women’s fashion. The selection of dresses, shirts, and skirts is small, neutral, and basic, but these items are anything but boring; here is a place for women with a smart, finely-tuned approach to style. At Smoke + Ash, though, it’s about more than the clothing. “We try to create an integrated lifestyle shopping experience,” says owner Jaya Kahlon. “We have the apparel and footwear, but we try to integrate and complement those core items with more lifestyle goods like apothecary, candles, independent magazines, and accessories. We want to create an engaging lifestyle shopping experience—you come in and find things to integrate not just into your wardrobe, but into your daily routine.”
The store began as Sauvage, which was open for two-and-a-half years. After some stylistic soul searching, though, Kahlon redid the entire space and rebranded as Smoke + Ash, which has been open since March. It’s a prime example of the boutique 2.0: bright, clean, minimal, and highly curated. Every clothing rack and display table is placed just so, and each product earned a place. Nothing is carried in Smoke + Ash just to fill the space—everything has purpose. It’s a combination of the world outside and the one in Kahlon’s head. “We’re paying attention to what girls are wearing on the street and the trends in Toronto—I think Toronto definitely has its own distinct style, so I’m definitely cognizant of that—but it’s also weaving in my own personal take on things, things I think are cool and interesting that maybe I’m not seeing around, but things that I really like and feel strongly about,” explains the 34-year-old. “So I think it’s kind of a blend of those two influences that defines our aesthetic.” There are hyper-local brands, such as the Trinity Bellwoods-made Crawford Street Skin Care; Vancouver‘s Woodlot; plus an international selection, including Senso footwear from Australia and Just Female apparel from Demark.
Growing up interested in fashion, Kahlon always knew she wanted her own store—and it was only natural that she set up on the long-trendy strip of Queen Street West. “I love everything about Queen West—it’s such a vibrant, fun place,” she says. “It attracts so many different types of people and has an eclectic, open-minded vibe; and it’s where I see myself and my customers.” And though there is no shortage of stimuli on the busy strip, Kahlon says each shop does a good job of differentiating itself and promoting its own identity, and many of the retailers are friends. Smoke + Ash also has a blog on its website, which features cool brands, reading lists, and local women doing interesting things. It’s symbiotic and circular, a mighty little store much greater than the sum of its parts.
Smoke + Ash, 644 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario, M6J 1E4, Canada, 647-770-0443.
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