Casual wear is having its hey-day, and this is a trend that we were on top of way back in the 80s and 90s.
Starting with the launch of the Club Monaco brand in 1985, we've had a deep commitment to apparel that conveys a casual lifestyle.
The evolution of this polished casual concept continued in April 1991, when Mimran Group Inc. licensed the rights to use the ALFRED SUNG trademark to Etac Sale Ltd., a public apparel company, to introduce a dynamic retail concept for men and women, simply called ALFRED.
The chain launched with a Hazelton Lanes flagship in Toronto and quickly rolled out 20 additional freestanding stores across Canada. It drew on Alfred’s affinity for clothes that are relaxed and stylish and featured primarily denim and chino with a preppy calculation and control. Billed as “basic essentials”, the inspiration stemmed from Sung’s nostalgia for the army surplus stores he used to frequent as a cash-strapped student in New York, which evolved into the concept of an everyday uniform
Casual clothing in general is a fairly modern development which started back in the Jazz Age of the 1920s when sportswear became more a popular alternative to uncomfortable formal wear. By the 1950s, clothes started to take on a more unisex style, which is a shift that took place alongside a boom in suburban department stores and changes to culture in general. The ALFRED look which came later, and that of its contemporary brands was in-line with these shifts towards designing comfortable yet still classy apparel.
The ALFRED stores offered a minimal palette, minimal confusion, but also major relief for all those who found shopping a chore. It was an attempt to get back to what Sung calls a, “pure look” - an infallible look that doesn’t require the wearer to think much before getting dressed. In a world where there is much else to think about other than day-to-day fashion, Sung’s less-is-more ideology with this project proved that simplicity has longevity and shouldn’t mean boring. In fact, Sung says, “Individuality comes with how you wear the clothes. It’s how, for instance, you wear your shirt. How you combine pieces and colours along with accessories to create your own style.”
The ALFRED stores’ purist sensibilities in Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria were a strong counterpoint to the cluttered jeaneries of the era and gained widespread approval among a mixed age group. They reflected the frugality of the 90’s with jeans at $48, basic logo t-shirts at $15 and fitted khaki pants around the $35 mark ($80, $25 and $60 in today’s prices respectively). Khaki, navy and white dominated the mood, but the concept was dynamically different from other fundamentalist chain stores of the time like The Gap, or Benetton. Alfred’s designs elevated the basic apparel with interesting details. There were ordinary white cotton shirts, but also some with band collars and other collarless, inspired by antique nightshirts. Alfred reinvented the polo shirts as long-sleeved, full-buttoned shirts with ribbed collars and cuffs. Roomy hand-knit, cotton cable-stitched sweaters completed the cozy, natural feel of ALFRED.
To help open the stores, on August 12 1992, Canadian Olympic medal winners Silken Laumann and John Wallace appeared at the Hazelton Lanes location for a PR event. They signed autographs and posed for photos while decked out in Alfred’s essential basics apparel.
The stores were appreciated by a mixed age group of clients, including many outside the target audience of 18-35. Although much of the collection had a gender-defying style that corresponded with the androgynous trend of the era, women customers tended to outnumber men, who plundered the stores for tonally correct shirts and jeans.
The look was completed with a corresponding accessory line that included baseball caps, cotton socks, dog tags, belts, military-style watches and leather goods - to add a flourish to the elementary basics.
In 1995, Etac Sales Ltd., due to the financial conditions of its other divisions, shut its doors and closed the existing ALFRED stores. Because of the structure of the relationship, Etac’s demise had no direct legal or financial consequence as they relinquished all rights to the brand, which were repatriated by Mimran Group Inc. in the same year.
This retail concept of casual wear was ahead of its time. These days people don’t want to spend as much time thinking about their wardrobe and picking out clothes.
Could it be Alfred was onto something with the uniform? Wouldn’t we prefer to not want to think about what to wear in the morning?