The Narwhal brings high-end and ethical threads to an area predominantly devoted to culinary and decor shops. Not to be confused with Narwhal Art Projects on Queen St., it's Rosedale's newest retailer - a sophisticated clothing boutique lined with local designer duds and rare imported brands. The Narwhal vs. Narwhal name war may have left a little tarnish on the store's opening festivities, but it's nothing a dab of polish can't handle. And, this is one polished little space.
If you arrive at No. 8 Price Street, though, you won't find it. Instead you'll be greeted by a dead-end corridor of offices, and be forced to sheepishly visit neighbouring Advice From a Caterpillar to admit that you're lost. Narwhal Boutique's technical address is of no help when looking for the shop. Store co-owner Sydney Wills shares my frustration. "I wish they'd give us a new address." Apparently her mail is continually delivered next door. The shop is actually accessed via an alley off of Price St. and overlooks The Beer Store parking lot.
Despite the awkward location, Narwhal has been enjoying decent traffic in its first few weeks of business. And maybe the hidden spot is part of the allure. It's like a private clubhouse with a secret backdoor entrance, where fashionistas gather to devour yummy designer lines, smug with exclusivity. But a variety of price points makes the store entirely accessible and unintimidating.
A gorgeous Rachel Comey panel dress at $575 is way out of my league, but I could conceivably afford (on a good day) a pair of midnight blue denim Tripp skinnies at $75. Charlie My Love camel studded flats ($435) have glossy saturated purple soles. Oh, the attention to detail! But, Dolce Vita cement-hued suede platform booties are more my speed at around $200. If I ever have burn money, I'll upgrade my shopping status from "window" to "actual" for a Myne birdie-print tunic ($350).
Wills and partner Marisa Buchkowsky come from varied backgrounds in fashion, interior design and retail. They combined their efforts to bring little-known lines to the Toronto market, focusing on ethically made North American brands. Canadian designers like ChloĂŠ Comme Parris and Rachel Hawkes Cameron join the ranks of USA-made Apiece Apart and Bodkin. Some overseas goods were just too amazing to pass up, though.
Narwhal is the only shop in Toronto to carry Preen Line out of the UK, for example. Wills tours me through the merchandise wearing a slouchy tunic made by Parisian line IRO, another of the shop's imports. Rounding out the collection are Thierry Lasry shades ($399-499) and Atelier 688 cushions fashioned from recycled silk aviation maps.
While Narwhal is predominantly a women's clothing shop, the adorable retro Fjallraven backpacks are clearly not gender-specific. There might just be something for everyone. The spiteful greetings of Mean Cards are sure to keep any disinterested shopping companion amused while you peruse the racks. And, antiques and curiosities (including a suspended 7-foot narwhal tusk) dotted throughout the shop provide additional distraction.
Okay, "accessible" is relative. Narwhal may still be an out-of-the-question shopping locale for the city's thrift-seekers, but it's worth a browse, at least. Unique-to-Toronto brands, ahead-of-the-curve fashion inspiration, and vintage-y charm are sure to draw an eclectic mix of destination customers.
Photos by Dennis Marciniak