Vintage Toronto Ads: Adam’s Knicker Knack

Originally published on Torontoist on August 25, 2009. This is one of numerous Vintage Toronto Ads posts where I let my imagination run free…usually during a morning lull at my then day job.

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Globe and Mail, September 30, 1971.

Once upon a time, the managers of Eaton’s men’s clothing department were preparing a hiring call for designers for their 1971 fall line. Just as they were about to post the position, an eccentric designer approached the retailer with a portfolio of exciting ideas. The man called himself Adam, and rumour had it that he had been a rising star in the fashion biz until overwork and several personal crises induced a nervous breakdown. He now believed he was the Biblical figure whose name he had assumed and claimed many of his ideas were simple suggestions delivered nightly by a higher figure. Most of the time these ideas had worked, but even “the first man of fashion” had his off days, such as the time he tried to sell an American department store chain on a line of fig leaves dyed to match the colours of fall.

Intrigued by Adam’s enthusiasm and willing to put aside his eccentricities, Eaton’s hired him. Shortly after his hiring, Adam heard his invisible advisor speak two words: “knicker knack.” Rushing into the office the next day in an excited state, Adam flipped through every magazine in the office to find out what the words meant. He came upon an article on the revival of styles from the 1920s and decided that he had received a hint to resurrect Jazz Age golf knickers. What could be more elegant? Adam even hoped that the proper publicity push would make “knicker knack” a lasting expression.

Alas, this was not to be. Tweed knickers for men failed to catch on with the general public and Adam was soon let go. Convinced that “knicker knack” still had mileage, the last anyone heard of Adam was a deal he made with a snack food company to use the expression as the name of a Cracker Jack knockoff. It was also said he no longer received tips at bedtime.

We weren’t able to find a matching “Eve” line of clothing, but we did find another elegant Eaton’s ad from the same newspaper that allowed female shoppers to unleash their inner harlequins.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Family Craftsmanship for Urban Feet

Originally published on Torontoist on August 19, 2008.

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Toronto Life, January 1975.

Though one tends to think of Roots as primarily a clothing retailer these days, it was a trendy shoe that launched the chain 35 years ago this month.

After studying several retail business ideas, company founders Michael Budman and Don Green settled upon the growing craze in the early 1970s for the Earth Shoe, a Danish-designed piece of footwear whose heel was lower than its toe. After failing to secure the Canadian franchise for the Earth Shoe, the budding entrepreneurs designed their own version. After a meeting with Bata to produce the line flopped, Budman and Green contacted the next shoe manufacturer listed in the Toronto Yellow Pages. The Boa Shoe Company, operated by the Kowalewski family, agreed to produce 120 pairs of negative heel shoes.

The first store opened on August 15, 1973 at 1052 Yonge Street in the Crescent Road Apartments complex across from Rosedale subway station. The building, constructed in 1927, was designed by Charles Dolphin, whose other Toronto buildings included the Gray Coach Bus Terminal on Bay Street, the Canada Post Delivery Building (portions of which were integrated into the Air Canada Centre), and the Consumers’ Gas Showroom at 2532 Yonge Street (now a Puma store).

In Team Spirit: A Field Guide to Roots Culture, Geoff Pevere outlined how quickly the store took off:

On day one, the store moved seven pairs of the “Roots Shoe” at a hefty $35 a pair. Hardly through the roof. The next Saturday thirty pairs walked out the door, which meant the doors could remain open-for another week. The following Saturday, for reasons only slightly less fathomable than the Seventies themselves, the ethereal forces of fashion faddism converged above the little shoe store on Yonge Street, and they were smiling. There were lineups around the block. The shoes sold out, and there were waiting lists for customers at the end of the line.

By the time the negative heel fad burned out a few years later, the store had introduced other styles of footwear and made its first moves into clothing and leather goods lines.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Why Can’t You Set Your Monkey Free? (or Chimp Change)

Originally published on Torontoist on May 20, 2008.

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Toronto Life, September 1969.

How can an advertiser go wrong when they hire an adorable simian to help pitch their product (or not-quite-as-cute, as testified by the venerable gorilla suit mascot of Active Surplus on Queen West)? The old “aww, aren’t they cute” factor kicks in to such a degree that it may not matter what colour the model’s outfit is or that the “jungle” is a merely a cluster of trees next to a suburban pond or farm.

As for the fate of two of the listed locations, 92 Bloor West would have been located at or near Bellair Street (Roots, Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma are listed at 100 Bloor West, Harry Rosen on the opposite corner is 82), while the Oakville branch operates as a menswear store.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Danforth Rising

Originally published on Torontoist on November 27, 2007.

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Toronto World, March 11, 1921.

As the 20th Century dawned, Danforth Avenue was a muddy road that served as the northern boundary for the eastern portions of the city of Toronto. Between 1909, when the city made its first major annexation on the north side of Danforth, and the appearance of today’s ads in 1921, the area we now know as “The Danforth” rapidly changed from a semi-isolated mix of farmland, villages and church reserves to a series of residential neighbourhoods well connected to the rest of Toronto.

Two key factors that spurred growth were the implementation of streetcar service along a newly paved Danforth in 1913 and the opening of the Prince Edward Viaduct five years later. Market gardens that had filled the area were quickly replaced with homes, while businessmen such as Joe Barnes set up shop along Danforth (though we have no record of how many young men and their fathers were happy to shop for suits together). Names of landowners, such as the Playter family, lived on in streets and neighbourhoods.

Today’s advertisers were among the businesses and real estate companies featured in a special advertising section spotlighting the neighbourhood in the long-defunct Toronto World. With slight modifications, the following introduction could easily apply to condo or subdivision projects 85 years on:

Toronto’s growth in the last twelve years could not be more strikingly illustrated than by the phenomenal development of the Danforth district. Twelve years ago one or two stores only stood isolated along the Danforth highway; today the same highway is a bustling business street fully two miles in length, with the reputation of being one of the best shopping districts in the city, a claim well substantiated by a large and continuous patronage from outside points. Danforth is a residential district and promises to maintain that distinction. Sub-divisions offering the most attractive home-sites in the city are now being put on the market and these will prove highly remunerative investments, either for homes or for speculative purposes, for Danforth is the vanguard of Toronto’s progress. Last week $40,000 in home-sites was the turnover of one land agency on Danforth Avenue. People are seeking to establish homes where land values are now reasonable and where they have the advantages of such a convenient shopping district as Danforth Avenue.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Signaling Fall at the Eaton Centre

Originally published on Torontoist on September 18, 2007.

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Source: Toronto Life, September, 1985.

Fall officially arrives this week, a season that signals fresh starts. While some changes signal endings, such as leaves changing colour, events ranging from the first day of school to the launch of the new slate of television shows are opportunities to forge fresh paths. Shopping malls are no exception, as stores unveil their fall wardrobes in which consumers can strut their stuff at the office or on the town.

But is the interplay of fabrics at the top of every consumer’s mind?
The clearest signal that this ad sends out is its age. The colour scheme, the half-reversed headline with a skinny font, the tilted photo with neon background, and the contrasting moods of the model add up to a pure 1980s layout.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Shoulders by the Grange

Originally published on Torontoist on July 10, 2007.

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Source: Toronto Life, December 1984.

To borrow a line from an old Saturday Night Live parody of Talking Heads frontman David Byrne’s fashion sense, you may ask yourself “why such a big suit?”

Village by the Grange opened on McCaul St in the mid-1970s as a mixture of residential and retail spaces. Any secrets the complex held by the time this ad appeared were hidden in each model’s shoulder or loose jacket. The toll of those stuck in narrow passages or otherwise injured by wide clothes across Toronto during the mid-1980s is unknown (though if anyone wants to check the police accident records, your perseverance will be admired).

If you look at the Emy’s model from a certain angle, her outfit resembles a heart—raised curves at the top, narrowing to a point by the waistline. A subliminal suggestion that anyone would love to wear this, or an early hint for Valentine’s Day gift ideas?

BEHIND THE SCENES

Now that “Vintage Toronto Ads” was rolling along, I began buying cheap used copies of old magazines to widen my selection of source material. This was one of the first from a batch of mid-1980s issues of Toronto Life I found at a bookstore along Yonge Street (I want to say ABC, but don’t quote me on that). Dated fashion quickly became handy if I was in a hurry to write the column, or when the inspiration well ran dry. I might collect some future installments together, since I usually didn’t have a lot to say – the images told a better tale than I could. What more is there to say about the ridiculously puffed up shoulders on the Emy’s model?

There will be more about Village by the Grange – rebranded in recent years as Yorkville Village – in future posts.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Sheer Unisex

Originally published on Torontoist on June 19, 2007.

Vintage Ad #118 - Matching Pants

Source: Toronto Life, October 1969.

The late 1960s were a time of throwing off the shackles of traditional societal gender norms, including the rules surrounding who could wear lace pants. Unisex clothing popped up on runways mid-decade, reaching suburban malls by the time today’s ad appeared.

Opened in the winter of 1964, Yorkdale’s original anchors included Eaton’s (recently converted into the H&M/Old Navy wing), Simpson’s (now The Bay), Dominion (now Holt Renfrew) and Kresge’s (the five-and-dime progenitor of K-Mart). The mall was strategically located for accessibility to two major expressways, even if one (the Spadina, now Allen Road) was never fully built. Fairweather is still among the tenants, though its Big Steel Man division, which existed as its own chain in the 1970s and 1980s, vanished years ago.

Our models appear ready to toss off their pants quickly, but for different reasons—while she may be ready to discover free love, he looks shellshocked by the new style; too emotionally detached to enjoy any amour. Sheer nervousness, perhaps? A bad audition for a part in the Toronto production of Hair (mounted at the Royal Alex a few months later)?

As for those with less-than-svelte waistlines, they were sheer out-of-luck.

BEHIND THE SCENES

If memory serves, this was one of the first installments to gain traction around the interwebs, if only for the silliness of the image. I suspect the market for men’s see-through white lace pants was limited for any number reasons – personally, I’d feel like I was wearing a tablecloth.

Going through these early entries, I’m struck by how slight some of them are compared to what Vintage Ads evolved into (especially its second run, where the posts were effectively mini-Historicists). No wonder I could knock them out in a hurry at the time.