It was a blistering hot day on September 3rd, 1985 when Club Monaco, “Great New Ideas by Alfred Sung,” the latest concept of the enterprising partnership between Monaco Group and Canada’s most celebrated fashion designer, Alfred Sung, opened for the first time on Toronto’s trendy Queen Street West. It was a bold foray for the preppy shop, moving into a neighbourhood that had been a cradle of punk in the city for years. Prior to its opening, a large canvas enveloped the building to resemble a brown paper package wrapped in a string, sent to Queen Street from the principality of Monaco. When opened, the front facade was a painted representation of the world famous casino of Monaco.
Present that day were George Yabu and Glen Pushelberg (original Club Monaco interior designers), Michelle Lloyd (assistant designer), Christine Ralphs (visual display), Helen Duma (publicist), Alan Gee (ad agency director), Ray Minard (in charge of food at the espresso bar), Saul and Joe Mimran and of course Alfred Sung, quiet and smiling in immaculate white.
The Queen Street store was one of three stores that launched that fashion emporium, including Hazelton Lanes and West Edmonton Mall. The approach was simple and the concept, new and exciting for the time. Visual elements were kept as basic as the products. Yabu and Pushelberg speak of the store interiors as “wood being the colour of wood and elements of wit, such as the boxing ring in the centre of the store where mannequins will be displayed.” It was an idea that was first presented to Easton’s as a boutique concept within the department store, a place for men and women to shop together - a first at the time. But even more, it was a lifestyle with all the accoutrements that went with it; Eaton’s passed on the concept but the Mimrans were confident and certain their concept would gain popularity among young Canadians.
The opening Fall 1985 collection featured a grey Melton car coat, a natural-cowhide leather knapsack and footwear, a pencil case containing eight natural pencils, lambswool sweaters in 12 colours, pleated pants, logo embroidered pinpoint oxford cloth shirts and sweats in a variety of neutral and high coloured hues, emblazoned with the Club Monaco logo. Sweatshirts, the epitome of anti-fashion and comfort were best sellers and the logo sweatshirt went on to become a Canadian staple of the late 80’s. Preppy utility pants, British Isles-style sweaters and the striped “French-dressing” cotton tees were also big hits. The line had what one might call a continental flavour that reflected the best of what kids were wearing on the streets of Paris, London and Milan. It was Alfred’s own personal style and preference for “the basics” that inspired the Club Monaco look. He says “Club Monaco is just basically how I like to dress myself, in very casual, comfortable clothes. I believe in a simpler form of dressing. I’ve always loved the classics and I’m more comfortable and confident if I’m wearing something classic, something simple but well-made.”
The first Club Monaco store on Toronto’s Queen Street West where it still stands today. Designed by Yabu Pushelberg, the store was outfitted with bare MDF wood fixtures and a boxing ring at the center of the store for mannequin display.
Club Monaco stores opened in the first four years at the rate of one a month. Every store featured a facade of a sandcastle casino, but none were cookie-cutter, each retaining its own unique neighbourhood flavour. The Beach store, in the trendy Toronto neighbourhood had a cape-cod feel with a lifeguard station display area from skylights above, and a small juice bar covered by a cabana beachscape tromp d’oeil. Later the 6,900 square foot Eaton Center location featured a restaurant and flower shop.
The collection was only sold in the Club Monaco company-owned or franchised stores, under the same name. That distinguished the designer brand from other competing brands also sold at major department stores. Club Monaco was a destination for young shoppers seeking simple fashion solutions.
In 1987, Monaco Group decided success demanded some sort of operational split and decided to separate the ALFRED SUNG name from Club Monaco to give both brands a chance to grow independently. Joe’s responsibilities grew more concentrated on Club Monaco, while Saul and Alfred took care of the ALFRED SUNG business under the new name of Mimran Group Inc.
Club Monaco was sold in the spring of 1999 to Polo Ralph Lauren, in a much publicized acquisition.