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How a Montreal-based online retailer is trying to brighten up Vancouver's menswear scene.
It’s no secret that some men in Vancouver need help when it comes to filling out their wardrobe. Fittingly enough, a former Vancouverite is trying to help them out. Ethan Song, co-founder of Montreal-based online retailer Frank and Oak (and a 2007 graduate from UBC’s faculty of applied sciences), was recently in town to open the company’s first Vancouver store in Gastown.
Song liked what he saw, too. “I’ve noticed that guys are much more fashionable than they used to be.” That doesn’t mean there isn’t still some work to be done, mind you. “Vancouver has the extremes. It has the guys who are super trendy, and you do see some of them on Main Street or in Gastown. But it also has a bunch of guys who only care about the outdoors and don’t really care about fashion at all.”
Frank and Oak, which was created in 2011, aims to serve the silent majority that sits in between those two sartorial solitudes. And while it made its bones as an online purveyor of affordable but intriguing menswear—a hybrid of fast fashion retailers like H&M and Zara and online brands like Bonobos—it’s opened a series of brick-and-mortar storefronts this year in fashion-friendly neighbourhoods across Canada’s major cities.
Gastown, Song says, was a logical choice for its first Vancouver store. “In Montreal, we’re in Mile End. In Toronto, we’re on Queen West. In Calgary, we’re on 17th Ave. So it made a lot of sense to be in Vancouver, and to be in Gastown.” The timing, he says, is also a good fit given the city’s ongoing evolution—one that he thinks is taking it away from its notoriously casual aesthetic. “There have been a lot of athletic trends coming out of Vancouver. It’s yoga, obviously, but everything around snowboarding or skateboarding has been an influence. But Vancouver as a city is becoming a more international city and a more urban city, and I think Frank and Oak definitely fits into that trend.”
What separates Frank and Oak from some of the other menswear retailers out there? For one thing, Song says, it actively tries to make the shopping experience less intimidating, both by limiting the available options and rotating them on a regular basis. “If you go into a traditional men’s store, there will be 50 suits—50 grey suits. What’s the purpose of that? In our case, we’ll offer three colours of one basic shape, and that really simplifies it. And next time you come, it’ll be a different one.”
Speaking of colours, Song says that men should be willing to dabble in it a bit more aggressively than they have in the past. Here, too, Frank and Oak is trying to make that as easy as possible. “Men tend to be risk averse when it comes to colour. But when they come to our store, they’ll see a lot of things in colours that are much bolder than they’re used to—mustards and burgundies and things like that. I think in this day and age, men can wear other things than just navy and black, and I think that colour can add a lot to one’s personality.”
His advice for easing into unfamiliar areas of the colour wheel? Go slow, fellas. “A lot of guys, when it comes to colour, they get confused because they don’t know what to do with it,” he says. “But if you wear simple black shoes and simple black denim, you can throw on a burgundy shirt and it won’t seem that bold. If you wanted to throw in a colourful tie? Just wear it with a basic navy suit and it won’t be too much. That’s always my tip—if you’re going to add colour, add it with one piece and not the whole outfit.”
316 W Cordova St.frankandoak.com