Ann Taylor brings classic womenswear to Canada with first store outside U.S.

TORONTO – When Ann Taylor decided to open a storefront outside the U.S., the famed brand didn’t have to travel far when settling on its first international location.

The New York-based retailer and creators of classic womenswear opened for business at Eaton Centre in Toronto on Friday.

The store joins the ever-swelling ranks of American and international chains that have set up shop here.

Canada is proving to be fertile ground for foreign retailers seeking to broaden their customer base beyond their home countries.

Whether through advertising, visits abroad or online purchases, many prospective consumers in Canada have previous exposure to their brands long before they establish bricks-and-mortar locations closer to home.

Ann Taylor spokesman Andrew Taylor said the retailer sees Canada as a great market and it was a “natural first step” to launch their first international store north of the border.

“We’re really excited by the growth opportunities in expanding beyond the United States, and we think Ann Taylor enjoys strong consumer awareness here — and demand,” Taylor said in a phone interview. “So, the store opening is a wonderful opportunity for us.”

Lisa Axelson, Ann Taylor’s head designer, said she never isolates the brand’s clientele to one specific woman or demographic.

“I think that we are relevant to young women in their 20s coming out of business school, I think we’re relevant to 30-somethings established in their career, and we’re dressing women who are in their 40s and 50s,” Axelson said during a preview event at the Toronto store.

“It’s really about a point of view around being polished and feminine; being able to dress in a versatile way and be appropriate for the different demands of your life whether it be work, a big powerful meeting, a presentation or a black tie event.”

While images of actress and celebrity spokeswoman Kate Hudson and other models are featured throughout the sleek new Toronto store, don’t expect to see any of Ann Taylor — because she doesn’t exist. Interestingly, the origin of the store’s famed moniker isn’t drawn from an actual person.

Richard Liebeskind, the late founder of Ann Taylor, opened his first shop in 1954. As a gift, Liebeskind’s father gave his son rights to one of his best-selling dress models named “Ann Taylor” — a design embodying the well-dressed woman.

By 1983, Ann Taylor had expanded from being a regional to countrywide brand with nearly 50 stores across the U.S.

Currently, New York-based parent company, Ann Inc., operates both the Ann Taylor and LOFT brands under its umbrella.

LOFT was founded in 1998, and offers a range of feminine fashions including sweaters, skirts, denim and dresses, along with shoes, accessories and maternity wear.

Axelson said Ann Taylor is more about style rather than trends, with the brand’s foundation built on what she calls “perfect pieces” — classic elements in the closet updated each season to ensure they remain modern and relevant.

The designer said a trip to Paris served as a big inspiration for the fall line.

“It’s really about the fantasy of 60s Parisian ateliers and some of the couture shapes that you saw out of (fashion) houses like Dior and Balenciaga,” Axelson said.

“The soft-dropped rounded shoulder; the nipped waist on a peplum top that just has a little bit flounce around the hip. Bringing interesting shape and toning it down in a way that it feels really modern and sculptural and wearable.”

Separates steeped in rich shades including blue, purple, pink and burgundy were dotted throughout the store, with blouses in silk and lace, floral print blazers, knits and coats colouring the shelves and racks. Necklaces, colourful scarves and animal-print heels were among the range of accessories on display.

Taylor said the pricing in Canadian stores will be the same as the U.S.

The Ann Taylor and LOFT MasterCards will be accepted as a form of payment north of the border, Taylor said. He added that Canadian clients could theoretically apply for the cards either online or while visiting U.S. locations.

The Ann Taylor private label credit card cannot be used in Canada. Taylor said the retailer is looking at other ways to ensure current Ann Taylor and LOFT non-MasterCard carrying card members will be able to enjoy their benefits in the store’s Canadian locations.

Taylor said the retailer is currently developing its global shipping capability through its e-commerce site which will allow for shipping to countries outside of the U.S., specifically Canada. They expect this to be live by next spring.

Ann Taylor is set to open its second Canadian location at Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto on Nov. 16.

While Ann Taylor is looking to expand and is exploring different regions within Canada, Taylor said they don’t have any conclusive information at present related to future store locations.