Beloved Canadian label Smythe opens its first boutique next week
My heart sinks. I’ve interviewed Andrea Lenczner and Christie Smythe many times since they launched Smythe, their internationally acclaimed fashion line, in 2004. Seems I forgot about avoiding the “B” word.
“’Basics’ is a dirty word,” they say — and I mean they as in plural, the pair of designers, rather than as genderless pronoun. Lenczner and Smythe always give interviews as “they,” with the sentiments expressed attributed to both of them. It reflects the unique symbiosis it has taken for the label to make it to the 18-year mark and still be moving forward with new brand extensions.
We are talking not-basics because their brand-new (and first-ever) boutique, which opens its doors to the public tomorrow, will carry both their “core” collection and the full collection of their current season, in this case, pre-Spring 2022.
Launching the same day is the brand’s first fragrance — also called Smythe — in eau de parfum form, as well as eau d’interieur, a.k.a., home fragrance. It was created with Julian Bedel, the co-founder of an Argentina-based niche perfumery house called Fueguia 1883. In it, sandalwood anchors primary notes of cedarwood and patchouli and sub notes of clove bud and bergamot.
This first bricks-and-mortar outpost is located in Summerhill, on the stretch of Yonge Street between MacPherson and Roxborough. The store design is a collaboration by Canadian celebrity interior designers Ashley Botten and Tommy Smythe (who is Christie’s brother; creative talent runs in the family). The result is airy and textured, with sculptural marble furnishings against raw brick flooring set in a herringbone design. Coats hang in frames like works of art.
As Tommy says: “Ashley is the designer of Andrea’s homes, and I have collaborated with Christie on hers.” Though he has known Botton “since before the cellphone was invented,” this was the first time they had worked together, or with anyone else for that matter.
“They were friends, too,” they say of their dream interior design team, “so it was kind of like our collection.” Lenczner and (Christie) Smythe were friends first, also, dating back to their days at McGill University. Smythe went on to work in design for the Gap, and Lenczner became a buyer for Holt Renfrew. When they quit their day jobs. they began Smythe together based on a simple ideal: the perfect blazer. One of those perfect blazers was launched into the stratosphere when Kate Middleton wore a navy version with gold buttons while boarding an airplane at Heathrow, shortly after she joined the Royal Family in 2011. The plane was headed to Canada for her first royal tour with husband William; by the time she landed, the blazer was famous — and coveted — around the world. The fitted single-breasted piece was renamed the Duchess Blazer in her honour.
Smythe has also been embraced by Kate’s sister-in-law Meghan, who was familiar with the brand from her years in Toronto, and Hollywood royalty including Reese Witherspoon, Halle Berry, Charlize Theron, Viola Davis and Chelsea Handler. In fashion royalty, Gigi Hadid is a fan. And for Canadian celebrities, Bianca Andreescu and Nina Dobrev have been snapped in Smythe gear.
Fashion is a tough business, and few labels, especially in what the Smythe partners refer to as the contemporary space, have such longevity. There have been a few standout stories in Canadian fashion recently, with young Toronto designer Kathryn Bowen breaking through with custom gowns for Kim Kardashian, and the phenomenal red carpet year Greta Constantine designers Kirk Pickersgill and Stephen Wong had (landing gowns on Viola Davis and Cynthia Erivo, not to mention young poetry sensation Amanda Gorman, who wore their yellow dress on the cover of Time).
The Smythe duo feels the secret to their continued success is maintaining a passion for interpreting the zeitgeist. “Our job is to take fashion from the high level and make it resonate with someone walking down the street in Canada,” they say, “in a softer way that is wearable.” Their method worked: The brand is wholesaled today in Nordstrom, Holt Renfrew, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue among others, as well as Shopbop online.
Since that original blazer, many more blazer shapes were developed (especially notable is their classic equestrian silhouette), along with pants, dresses, blouses, knitwear and sometimes denim. Textiles are their jam: “We get really, really excited about textiles,” they say. “The store is an opportunity to present the collection the way we want it to be seen, in its entirety.” That kind of narrative dialogue with customers isn’t always possible with wholesale clients, who most often buy collections in pieces they think will be the hottest sellers.
When you think of Smythe, you likely think of that fitted Duchess blazer. But actually, the collection as a whole often has what the pair call a boyish or oversized feel. As for the pre-Spring items you will see in store at opening, they describe them this way: “It’s very colourful, clear colour, bold pops like a citrine, bright pink, a dinnerplate-floral background for a crazy pant, a beautiful blue peacoat with what we call a ‘broken’ elbow, a point-collared shirt, a lounge blazer with a massive cuff. There is an acid yellow we love in three pieces: a mohair outerwear jacket, a drapey Japanese silk blouse and an equestrian blazer.” The whole effect, they say, is “really happy and definitely in weights that are heavier than spring proper.”
Alongside the full seasonal collections is what is now a core line — which never changes, and never goes on sale — called SmytheHouse, launched in the fall of 2020 as an online pandemic pivot that turned out to be wildly popular. The line arose because, mid-pandemic, the designers were “re-evaluating what matters in life, asking what elements bring joy and cleansing and those that do not.” The result is a line of favourite silhouettes, in seasonless fabrics designed to be the foundation of a woman’s wardrobe. “We’d call the SmytheHouse pieces interesting and fashion forward and timeless. The pieces are exclusively at the store or on Smythe’s e-commerce platform.
A new line of SmytheHouse suiting just launched, made of fabric that has stretch in two different pant bodies and two different jacket bodies, “so you can mix and match depending on what you like and what suits you,” say the designers.
The thing that allows them to sleep at night, they say, is that they are designing clothes meant to last. After all, Kate has reworn her Duchess blazer now umpteen times. “Our customer has grown up with us, but we have a really broad range of customers, and we hope the bloom is off the rose of disposable clothing. We love the fact you can use [the pieces] more and wear them longer, which will also appeal to younger customers who are making an investment purchase.”
Lenczner and Smythe say they are looking forward to meeting more customers by having a store, especially one with a neighbourhood feel. “We can see someone having lunch at Quanto Basto and popping in to shop. It isn’t as daunting” — and you don’t have to dress and make up so much — “to nip in here as opposed to going to Bloor Street. We hope it’s fun and easy and friendly.” A good consumer connection for a successful long-term brand built on friendship.