Turned off by Paris ’high cost of living, a French couple have relocated here to bring an affordable Parisian clothing boutique to Queen West.
Before opening Canon Blanc (679 Queen St. W.), their month-old boutique devoted to Parisian style in Toronto, Matéo Masquelier and his wife Caroline ran a similar business back home. “We had a little shop together in the second arrondissement—we were selling accessories and jewelry from different designers. And it was working well, but we were a little tired with France, because it’s a lot of taxes—and living, it costs a lot.”
Given that he was born and raised in Paris, the decision to leave the city was a serious one for Masquelier. “It was very difficult for me, because I’m a real Parisian,” he says. But in terms of where to go, the choice was clear. “It was very easy to [decide] that it was Canada—it’s big, it’s beautiful, there are a lot of different places. So we say, ‘Okay, we want to go to Canada; and we start our visa [application process]—but we had to wait two years for our visas and it was very hard to get.”
After their paperwork finally came through, the couple embarked on an initial fact-finding trip to Canada. “We came two weeks to Canada our first time—we went to Montreal first, then to Toronto after. The city is nice, the people are very kind and there are lots of different things to do, so we said, ‘Okay, Toronto, definitely.’
“We came back to France and closed our store. Six months after, we came here and we found the shop very quickly,” says Masquelier. “First of all, [we looked at] Yorkville, but it was too expensive brands; it’s not our market, not at all. Later we heard about Queen West—from Bathurst to the park—and say, ‘Okay, definitely here.’”
Masquelier says Canon Blanc’s concept “is to bring the Parisian lifestyle,” however, he doesn’t necessarily mean the clichéd notions of glamour that many North Americans associate with the city. “It’s [about] the middle-class people,” says Masquelier. “The real Parisian is like the real guy from Toronto—he goes to the little store that he knows or the little restaurant where there isn’t a lot of advertising about it, but the food is great. He goes to the restaurant where it costs $10—that’s the real people.”
The Parisian style that Masquelier hopes to bring to Toronto is “more casual with more streetwear.” But Canon Blanc customers aren’t limited to purchasing strictly from clothing and accessory lines like Commune de Paris 1871, Petit Bateau, Homecore, and Macon et Lesquoy. Nearly everything in the store, including the shelving used to display Mad et Len candles and the stools in the change rooms, is for sale. “As soon as you enter the shop, you can buy anything you want,” says Masquelier. “If you want something, you ask and I sell it to you.”
While importing products incurs some significant costs, it’s important to Masquelier that he’s able to charge the same prices at Canon Blanc as he would back home. “It’s very expensive to have a shop in Paris, but with the duty and the cost of transportation it levels out,” he says.
Masquelier feels that, through fair pricing, he’s able to tap into a market looking for something more affordable than high-end designer goods but without having to resort to fast fashion brands like H&M, where the quality—as well as the circumstances under which the clothing is produced—can be dubious. “You can find some very low brand or very high, but in between is very hard. I’m between. I want to give good fabric and shape with good quality, but that is very hard. Lots of women say it’s nice to have finally something different with a good price. I hear lots of ‘good price’ and I’m very happy, because that’s in my concept. We’ve only been open since maybe one month now and we’ve had some customers come back twice or three times already and buy something.”
As for how Masquelier has been adapting to his new city? He’s quite happy with his choice and, in particular, with our air quality: “If I compare to Paris, the pollution is very low here, so you can run outside‚you can’t do that in Paris.
“And you can have an iPod in the street! When I saw that I was like, ‘No way!’ I mean, in Paris it’s impossible; someone is going to grab it. The violence is very high.”
Up next, Masquelier has plans to expand the range of the store slightly, no doubt prompted by his affection towards his new home. “During the winter, I want to bring in one or two designers from Canada,” he says. “Just one or two, because I want to keep my Parisian feel, but I want to also work for my new country. Because I didn’t come just for my business, I want a life also here.”