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Canadian Womenswear Label Takes Experiential Retail to the Next Level

Laurence & Chico open a slow fashion cafe in Vancouver
Laurence & Chico open a slow fashion cafe in Vancouver | © Leila Kwok
With showrooms all over the world, these luxury Canadian designers opted to open a slow fashion café in lieu of a traditional brick and mortar flagship.
Laurence & Chico open a slow fashion cafe in Vancouver © Leila Kwok

Canadian designers Laurence Li and Chico Wang, the duo behind the bold, luxe womenswear and accessories line Laurence & Chico, have built a label on the principle of finding whimsy in everyday life. “Vancouver is a very casual city. Comfort is definitely what people here treasure the most,” says Li. “However, there are still many creative individuals that do dress up. That’s why for our line we are creating fun, chic yet comfortable pieces.”

A look from the SS18 Laurence & Chico line © Leila Kwok

The latest endeavor for Laurence & Chico, which has showrooms throughout North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, is a café in Vancouver, where people can shop the Laurence & Chico lifestyle experience. “We knew our fashion label was going to cater to a very specific clientele and market, but wanted more people to be able to experience the Laurence & Chico culture and story,” says Li.

A look from the Laurence & Chico SS18 collection © Leila Kwok

Li, the brand’s illustrator and muse, draws on humor and youth culture to animate drawings that define the playfulness of the label. Wang, the brand’s creative director, has had stints at McQueen, Givenchy, Miu Miu and Lane Crawford, where he developed what he calls a fusion of “street aesthetic and light-luxe craftsmanship.”

“I met Chico in NYC at our time at Parsons [in New York City],” Li says. “I used to have a diary of illustrations inspired by our daily life that Chico found one day. He was taken aback by the designs and suggested we print these illustrations on postcards. We took those printed postcards and set up a stand in Soho and sold more than $1,000 in postcards our first day selling. That was when we knew our aesthetic resonated with the market, and we then expanded into T-shirts, sweatshirts, scarves, and to what you see know as Laurence & Chico.”

A look from the Laurence & Chico SS18 collection © Leila Kwok

This mentality represents a trend within the fashion industry for brands to connect with their customers in more holistic ways. In a world where Instagram shopping and e-commerce caters to speed and efficiency, experiential retail offers customers a chance to engage with a brand’s ethos. To give their customers a taste of the lifestyle the brand is selling along with garments and accessories, Li and Wang opened the Laurence & Chico Café in summer of 2018. “Instead of having to splurge on a dress or jacket, we wanted to offer the opportunity for people to be immersed into our world by walking into the cafe and having a $3 cup of coffee,” says Li. Developing an accessible way for customers to live the brand is key in curating an audience.

Cafe treats from Laurence & Chico © Leila Kwok

“Experiential retail gives the opportunity to introduce a lifestyle. We want to create a memorable yet different experiences for our clients,” says Li. “We do this by creating seasons just like for our runway shows, for our menus and interior design by changing it up every few months. We do not want our customers to get bored.”

Experiential retail is also a welcome antidote to fast fashion, as it creates an immersive engagement that can connect people to their possessions in a more intimate way.

Why is this important? According to a 2016 Greenpeace report, the world has doubled its production of clothing from 2000 to 2014, and much of it has become disposable. “People can buy anything with competitive pricing and fast, free shipping while they are playing on their phones,” says Li.

To cultivate an atmosphere where people can slow down, the café aims to engage the senses. The food menu and interior will change every season according to the fashion calendar (spring/summer and fall/winter). Local chefs create a custom menu, bringing the vibrancy of the Vancouver food and drink scene to the café. In addition to culinary delights, customers can shop the café’s furniture and home decor, all which has been designed by Li and Wang.

Laurence & Chico Café

833 Bute Street, Vancouver BC Canada

Café hours: Every day, 11am-11pm