Take ten million trees, 3.9 million people, 180 languages and dialects, the 7th largest stock exchange, the longest street in the world, and a renowned film festival. Throw in universal healthcare, the 8th largest LGBTQ2 pride parade, and the most rollicking Caribbean street festival anywhere, and you have Toronto. North America’s fourth largest city might also be its least understood and, with a broad mix of cultures, the hardest to classify. At times, the scene here can seem disparate, caught between affected grunge and unsettling flash, complete with a campy cadre of overdressed socialites. But then again, part of this metropolis’s beauty lies in its ability to make most anyone feel at home.
Indeed, for the city’s purpose-driven movers and shakers, Toronto is a creative launchpad unlike any other. Here, 16 entrepreneurial, innately stylish and impressive women share their cultural index, proving there’s much more to the city than some guy called Drake. (On that note? Make like a local, and don’t call it “the six.”)
Bambii, DJ and producer
This musical force fuses her Jamaican roots with a worldly sound influenced by Toronto’s multiculturalism and her constant travels. Considered an authority in the underground scene, she recently started a biannual event called JERK, a platform for club, electronic, and global music. Style-wise, Bambii has a preference for the latest from local designers with a gender-neutral approach. She is currently working on her first EP that will be released in the spring of 2019.
Her spot: “Ali’s Roti because it represents the strong influence Caribbeans have had on Toronto’s overall culture and is super authentic. Our food, music, and dialects can be found replicated here in a lot of different ways. I don’t think Toronto would be special without it..”
Hidden gem: “Nazareth on Bloor street is the best Ethiopian food in the city. I would always order the lamb tibs and a veggie platter.”
Going Live: “My favourite venue in the city is the Drake Underground. It’s not too big or small and they have really good sound. I literally can’t enjoy a night out without a venue that cares about quality sound.”
Pro tip: “Avoid King street night life at all costs. The best spots are not necessarily right at downtown core. Exploring neighborhoods either west or east end will give you a better view on what the city actually has to offer. My favorite part is my own neighborhood, Parkdale. So many communities overlap here and it’s where a lot of artists I respect also live.”
Fashion fix: “S.P. Badu, By Pseudonym, and Creeeps are all brands started by young people of color trying to push alternative and gender non-conforming aesthetics. Toronto fashion can be really normative and even conservative at times, so I appreciate their fresh perspective.”
Local view: “The biggest misconception is that Drake is the only thing Toronto has going for itself. There are multiple scenes packed with young artists pushing different sounds that fall outside of the mainstream. The one notable change I see in the city is the rising Ballroom scene. I think that it’s empowering a lot of talented queer people of color here to create their own platform and express themselves. The city’s creative narrative is unfairly dominated by straight cis men and there is so much more happening here.”
Chloe and Parris Gordon, designers of Beaufille
Creating Canada’s answer to The Row, these collaborative sisters and co-founders are the rare birds of Canadian fashion. They’ve cultivated both a strong local and global following while still calling Toronto home. With Chloe designing womenswear and Parris handling the brand’s jewelry offering, their designs fuse feminine tailoring with a sophisticated subtlety that sets them apart. This year, they added home objets to their collection, and introduced a shoe collaboration with Reike Nen.
Their spot: “The Toronto Reference Library is very dear to our hearts and process. We typically start designing a collection by perusing books here, stumble upon something totally unexpected and get really inspired. The ‘70’s interior and architecture is stunning and inspiring in itself. It’s minimalist, retro and futuristic at the same time.” -Parris
Fashion fix: “Our friends at Smythe have built a really amazing Canada-based business, and serve as mentors for us. Sid Neigum has a really interesting approach to making clothing, and has some truly unique pieces and construction.” -Chloe
Dine out: “French diner Le Swan recently reopened under Jen Agg and is literally perfect. I don’t care how many steak frites you’ve had, theirs is a must eat!” – Parris “For work lunches, we pick up from Bolt near our studio: delicious salads, bowls and soups are go-tos.” -Chloe
Wellness win: “I couldn’t live without Misfit Studio for workout classes.” -Parris
Local view: “Toronto feels like an underdog of a city on the global scale; you really have to hustle to make things work on an international level from here. We’re proud to be a part of that—working hard against the odds.” -Chloe
Jen Lee Koss, retail consultant, investor, and Brika co-founder
Since moving for love a decade ago (her husband is Norwegian Olympian Johann Koss), this accomplished American cellist has embraced all things northern. With business chops honed at Harvard and in private equity, she is the co-founder of BRIKA, a retailer that curates artisanal finds and small brands through pop-ups, an online marketplace, two standalone stores, and concept shops. With four children under eight, she is one of the most productive (and socially active) women in town, counting former Oxford roommate Chelsea Clinton as her best friend. It’s no surprise, then, that she also acts as a liaison for international brands looking to crack the Canadian market.
Her spot: “The Broadview Hotel is just a block away from our second Brika store and it was developed in partnership with a real estate company that I sit on the board of. It’s a gorgeous historic building (and former infamous strip club!) and has been a real marker for how hip and exciting this area is becoming.”
Chief Canadian trait: “I play in a women’s hockey league once a week. It’s the best workout and break from reality ever. When I moved here, I thought when in Canada, do as the Canadians do. Also, I’ve learned to take my foot off the urgency pedal. People used to tell me that I was so ‘American’ when I first got here. I couldn’t figure it out. I think there is definitely a different pace and sensibility that contributes to a better quality of life.”
Hidden gem: “I have grown up eating Korean food. We go to Seoul House on Dufferin pretty much every Sunday for a big family meal. It is a total hole-in-the-wall Korean BBQ place, but legitimately delicious. My parents gave it the authentic seal of approval.”
Going live: “I love the concert series at The Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall. It is a smaller venue with incredible acoustics and diverse programming, from classical to contemporary.”
Fashion fix: “Tanya Taylor. She’s from Toronto and I get stopped everywhere I go when I am wearing her designs. My hidden gem is a shop called Vintage Couture run by Lynda Latner and her daughter Yael. I have literally found gowns the evening before a major event (a gorgeous Oscar de la Renta number when my husband received the Order of Canada, or a black Chanel strapless number for the Academy Awards).”
Weekend getaway: “I have deeply embraced the cottage culture. We have a little island outside the city on Stoney Lake. It is very rustic and beautiful, and it feels like going to camp. In the winter, we go skiing every weekend in Collingwood.”
Mary Ratcliffe, furniture designer and builder
From a transforming a ‘76 Airstream trailer to handcrafting large-scale dining and coffee tables using her own signature stain blends, Ratcliffe’s custom woodworking has made her indispensable to the city’s keenest design eyes. She channels what she dubs Canada’s “elegant toughness” into her commanding creations made of local hardwood. She’s launching her first made-to-order line of furniture in 2019.
Her spot: “I have always loved the AGO. Since the Frank Gehry renovation, they have really stepped up their game in terms of the artists and exhibitions they bring to the city. My husband and I had our wedding reception here this past spring during the Yayoi Kusama exhibition, which was completely unforgettable.”
Date night: “There are so many wonderful new restaurants in Toronto, but I keep going back to Marben, which is owned by dear friends; the food is always impeccable. The menu changes constantly but currently I can’t go without ordering the Ricotta and Carrot Curd.”
Pro tip: “Steer clear of Dundas Square, the Eaton Center, and Liberty Village. Toronto has such wonderful neighborhoods that are brimming with cool independent shops, galleries, cafes, and restaurants, but you won’t find any of that in those aforementioned spots.”
Design eye: “Visit Porch Modern, an incredible collection of curated iconic interior design. The store is by appointment, but is worth a visit if you are looking to see decor pieces and art like you’ve never seen before.”
Guilty pleasure: “A late night cheeseburger at Rudy; it’s the best burger in the city, hands down.”
Huda Idrees, founder of Dot Health
Tech entrepreneur Huda Idrees’s new app is focused on creating an easy way to consolidate every Canadian’s medical information, from lab reports to prescriptions and vaccination records. Since moving to Canada from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to study at the University of Toronto, she was an early employee at breakout tech companies WattPad, Wave, and Wealthsimple.
Her spot: “The Distillery District is the first place I tell people visiting Toronto to go. It’s a national historic site that is home to some of the city’s best art galleries, restaurants, and local design studios. It also hosts to the city’s Christmas market, where you can have hot apple cider amidst the best caroling and decorations.”
Hidden gem: “I love Toronto’s underrated, underestimated East End, from Scarborough Bluffs and the Beaches, to the Don Valley Parkway and Leslieville. There is so much character in the old industrial buildings east of Yonge Street.”
Dine out: “Rickshaw Bar is a South East Asian restaurant at Queen-Bathurst. The chef and owner Noureen Feerasta is a Cordon Bleu grad and whips up some of the best food in Toronto. Her menu rotates seasonally—my favorite entree is the spicy Chicken 685.”
Art crawl: “The Aga Khan Museum in North York puts together eclectic, historic, and unique exhibits in a stunning setting.”
Going live: “The Second City Theatre for stand-up comedy. They train some of the best new comics.”
Local advantage: “Toronto is a city of immigrants. I’ve worked at companies that were started by them and have grown to global behemoths. I love that this city and this country punches well above its weight and is a beacon of hope in a world inching towards dystopia. It makes me feel like I can accomplish anything.”
Berkeley Poole, vice president of creative for Hiku
After stints working abroad for Barney’s New York and Visionaire, Poole returned to Toronto and applied her forward-looking eye to high-design cannabis group Hiku (in case you missed it: marijuana is legal in Canada now), owner of local favorites Tokyo Smoke and Van der Pop. Poole uses her work to evolve the narrative surrounding the industry, challenging stereotypes and stigmas, and repositioning cannabis as a facet of people’s lives, not a defining characteristic.
Her spot: “Dim sum is a must when you visit Toronto, which has a huge Asian population and some of the best Chinese food in the world. The dim sum at Crown Princess is tight. The atmosphere is also absurdly opulent; the walls are marble on marble, the waitstaff wear French maid outfits, there are English tea pots and instrumental elevator-music versions of ‘90s pop songs softly playing in the background. It’s everything you could ever want in a dining experience.”
Night out: “These days there aren’t any ‘go-to’ clubs. It’s more about the DJs who tend to throw parties in various random warehouses or venues. My favorites at the moment are Nino Brown and Chippy Nonstop. Better to follow them on IG to see where they’ll be spinning.”
Fashion fix: “S.P. Badu, a genderless clothing line by Spencer Badu. I love the pieces because they feel futuristic yet familiar, as if they’re actually from a vision of the future. WCROW is a newer brand focusing on core pieces with the most thoughtful attention to detail, fit, and tailoring.”
Chief Canadian trait: “A love of cottages. They’re such a beautiful experience that everyone needs to have. I remember going to the Hamptons when I lived in New York and thinking that the whole vibe was so wrong. A cottage is about going and really bonding with the people you’re there with. Taking in nature, cooking as a group, relaxing and doing quiet activities; it’s very wholesome. Why leave town to replicate the hectic vibe of the city?”
Her hood: “Roncesvalles. It’s all strollers, puppies, and babies but also some of the best shops to get groceries, Polish foods, and all things artisanal. It’s close to High Park, which affords you the chance for some ‘forest bathing’ right in the city.”
Local advantage: “I truly think that public healthcare impacts people’s lives for the better in a multitude of ways. A big part of why the creative community thrives here is because if anyone is ever to get into an accident or has health complications, they’re taken of. That allows people from all walks of life to go all-in pursuing their passions.”
Sarah Rafferty, actor
On Instagram, this accomplished yet self-effacing star describes herself simply as “Bath enthusiast and that redhead on Suits.” She’s also a graduate of Yale’s drama school and, after seven years on the popular USA-network legal drama which shoots around town, a treasured Torontonian. Remarkably, the film industry in Toronto provides 28,000 jobs and brings in approximately $1.5 billion each year. When Rafferty’s not memorizing rapid-fire lines in her role as the show’s quick-witted executive assistant, she can be found exploring her adopted home with her Finnish husband, two young daughters, and dog Rupert.
Her spot: “When we’re shooting on location, our trailers park near the Cherry Beach marina which has one of my very favorite views of the gorgeous Toronto skyline. I’ve occasionally crawled up onto the roof of my trailer to just soak it in.”
Going live: “Home games in Toronto are my favorite live entertainment. Raptors, Leafs, Jays, you can’t lose. The feeling is always electric and, as a deep appreciator of all thing Canadian, I get a little choked up every time I hear the crowd sing ‘Oh Canada.’”
Favorite things: “For beautiful home furnishings, hit Mjolk and Inabstracto. If you love rotisserie chicken, head to Flock. And the coffee culture has got to be one of the best in the world. Check out Dark Horse, Boxcar Social, Sam James and Dineen.”
Fashion fix: “Judith & Charles for their classic pieces, Dean Davidson for beautiful jewelry, and lately I’ve been stalking Beaufille on Instagram. I have an amazing and versatile collection of outerwear. You’re always going to need some sort of layer here. I have a closet of Therma Kota, with a few pieces from Sentaler and Mackage sprinkled in as well.”
Must try: “My very favorite vodka brand is the Canadian Georgian Bay Spirit Co. It’s the smooooooothest.”
Local view: “I have a deep steadfast love for Toronto. We’ve built beautiful family memories of sugar shack visits, bike rides, autumn leaf piles, all in embrace of a vibrant and loving school community and beautiful neighborhood. When we are out and about shooting Suits, frequently in the wee hours of the night, Torontonians come out to support us and offer more love than we ever could have imagined.”
Claudia Dey, writer and co-designer of Horses Atelier
In tandem with her work as one of the city’s most cherished writers, Dey runs a fashion brand with her friend Heidi Sopinka, inspired by their love of vintage. The downtown Horses Atelier, decorated with Toronto Ink Company tests, has become something of a pilgrimage for those craving waisted flight suits, puff-sleeve jackets, and signature slip dresses. Dey is best known for her writing inThe Paris Review, the play and film I, Claudia, her book How To Be A Bush Pilot and for her equally poetic personal style. In 2019, she will continue touring for her latest critically-acclaimed novel, Heartbreaker.
Her spot: “The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. I love the quiet and spare design of this building. It has a grace and is the antidote to architecture as showmanship. The Free Concert Series—from music inspired by the diaries of Virginia Woolf to brilliant Cree artist, Tomson Highway—makes it one of the most accessible venues in the city.”
Art crawl: “The Clint Roenisch Gallery. I love the clean lines and stark interior—all with a punk rock feel. Roenisch is an original thinker and, with his partner, Leila Courey, has created an entire world out of that space: our sons can lie on sheepskins while we talk with the painter, Harold Klunder, over an outdoor bonfire, and Jennifer Castle sings in her ghost vibrato beside canvases that make your heart swell.”
Tip sheet: “Saturday karaoke at Owls Club. Diner breakfast at Skyline Restaurant. Films at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Nails at Pinky’s. Vintage denim at Public Butter. Aquatics and tea at The Banya Russian bathhouse. Jukebox at The Communist’s Daughter. New plays at Crows, Buddies in Bad Times, The Theatre Centre. Books at Type, Flying Books, Ben McNally, Queen Books.”
Stay here: “The Gladstone Hotel. Or a houseboat on the harbor.”
Heather Rigg and Magdalyn Asimakis, curators, writers, and co-directors of ma ma gallery
After earning their institutional stripes at the prestigious Art Gallery of Ontario and The Whitney in New York, this dynamic duo recently co-founded a non-profit contemporary art space, ma ma, which, after its soft launch, will begin exhibitions and programming in the spring of 2019. Rigg also serves as curator of artist-run center Gallery 44, while Asimakis curates independently for some of the city’s most progressive collectors.
Their spot: “401 Richmond is home to incredible artists, galleries and arts organizations that are open to the public, including Gallery 44, where Heather works.” -Magdalyn “Last year, the building was in a precarious position when the province threatened to increase its taxes so much that it would displace everyone inside, but luckily it was spared. It is a beautiful old building with this gorgeous courtyard.” -Heather
Lunch go-to: “Farmhouse Tavern, down the road from ma ma’s first location. Their burger is our favourite.” -Magdalyn
Going Live: “The Burdock brewery has a small music venue. The sound in there is amazing if you want to hear emerging musicians.” Magdalyn
Hidden gem: “My friend Michelle Levine designs a line of jewelry called 6 that I love. It is sold at 6 by Gee Beauty -Magdalyn
Local view: “The small-scale arts community in Toronto has become increasingly vibrant and critically engaged. A lot of the reason we started ma ma was to contribute to that, and work through some questions around art and pedagogy. There is lots of space for it, which is exciting.” -Heather
Devin Connell, founder of This Is Crumb and owner of Delica Kitchen
As a restaurateur, chef, and TV personality with a keen eye for food styling, Connell recently launched a digital lifestyle platform focused on inspiring home cooks to be more spontaneous. Though she’s a member of the city’s culinary cognoscenti (her family founded the uber-popular Ace Bakery), she has an unpretentious approach to entertaining—not to mention a dream kitchen—that has drawn local comparisons to Gwyneth Paltrow.
Her spot: “I love exploring Kensington Market. It’s still got a bit of grittiness which I hope it never loses. Where else can you find the best bread in the city (Black Bird Baking Co), the best fish monger, (Hooked), and the best chocolate, (Chocolates by Brandon Olsen) amongst the best vintage clothing stores in the city? I feel like it’s one of the most authentic and least commercial neighborhoods in the city that feels truly ‘Toronto.’”
Lunch spot: “Brother’s Food & Wine. I think it’s one of the most special restaurants in the world. I love sitting at the bar and ordering the beef carpaccio with crispy artichokes, with a crisp glass of white. I never know what wine I get because Chris, the owner, always picks the perfect one for me.”
Neighborhood favorite: “Joso’s. It’s an institution and serves the best fresh fish in the city. Its decor is quite bizarre (think lots of topless photos and ‘sexy’ sculptures, red walls and white table cloths), but it makes me laugh and I love it. I always order the grilled Orata with the risotto Milanese.
Food scene: “I’ve been amazed at the influx of incredible world class restaurants and food shops opening up over the last few years. David Chang opened Momofuku, Daniel Boulud opened his namesake at the Four Seasons, and Eataly is coming next year. They are choosing Toronto because there is so much talent and incredible things coming out of here, and they want to be a part of it.”
Rana Florida, CEO of The Creative Class Group
Together with her husband, renowned urbanologist and academic Richard Florida, this dealmaker (not to mention tastemaker) overseas a boutique advisory consultancy working with brands from Converse to Starwood Hotels. The Floridas’ work advocates for the importance of cultivating urban environments that foster creative growth and innovation. The author of Upgrade—Taking Your Work and Life From Ordinary to Extraordinary, she also covers the business beat for Fast Company and Huffington Post.
Her spot: “The Evergreen Brickworks, a former brick making factory turned public green space, discovery zone, farmer’s market, and art gallery. Turning a rundown industrial site into a vibrant green mecca is place-making at its finest. It’s so amazing to have this much nature in one of North America’s major cities.”
Cafe select: “Nutbar. I love their coffees made with their own blend of organic cashew, almond and coconut milk. A great healthy lunch or breakfast is Matcha Morning bowl. And if you’re feeling under the weather, get the Ginger Bomb.”
Dine out: “Giulietta. It has so many tasty dishes for a vegetarian, like the wood-roasted peppers and indulgent cacio e pepe.”
Design eyes: “Toronto has so many talented designers, from Yabu Pushelberg, Colette van den Thillart and Studio Pyramid for interior design, Bruce Kuwabara and Frank Gehry for architecture, Beaufille and Greta Constantine for fashion.”
Rajni Perera, artist
Perera’s paintings and sculptures are both locally and internationally coveted, from Art Dubai to Miami’s Project Gallery, and a forthcoming solo show at Saskia Fernando Gallery in her hometown of Colombo, Sri Lanka. In the new year, she will take up residency with design duo NorBlack Norwhite and show at Spring Break Art Fair NY.
Her spot: “The MoCA because it’s a brand new institution in the west end, hosting my first museum show. My work is curated alongside collaborations with makers and practitioners who are important to me and make me feel nurtured and at home doing what I do.”
Fashion fix: “Nep Sidhu’s brand Paradise Sportif. His work fluctuates between adornment, magicwear and spiritual armor. My friends NorBlack NorWhite make exciting, wearable, and super easy-going immigrantwear. Their philosophy of integrating and uplifting artisan communities in Southeast Asia is inspiring and beautiful.”
Local view: “For white settler women things normally go well. For indigenous women, things have been horribly and criminally bad for a long time. For black and/or immigrant women, which is who I am, things are a lot harder. We get left out of things and are systematically underpaid and taken advantage of although we are normally more qualified. I have always fought for better for myself and all of my fellow warriors, and we will gradually force a change.”
Must-try: “Soma Chocolate. They are an internationally acclaimed award winning chocolatier with two locations in Toronto and it’s a huge problem for me because they are geniuses.
Sarah Gadon, actor
Though she may be an in-demand and incandescent screen star with a distinctly old Hollywood allure, Gadon still manages to stay in Toronto a large portion of the year. A favorite of director David Cronenberg since she co-starred in A Dangerous Method, her latest credits include Netflix’s Alias Grace, an upcoming turn in True Detective Season 3 and a lead role in Semi Chellas’s latest film American Woman.
Her spot: “Cabine by Nicholas Mellamphy. Nicholas is a fashion legend and harbinger of style in Canada. He also happens to be a friend and mentor, and he just opened an incredible studio that I get to play dress up in.”
Pro tip: “If you’re flying into Pearson airport, take the UP Train into the city. It goes directly to Union station, is super affordable and fast. Union station is beautiful and has lots of great little Canadian shops. Also, make your restaurant reservations in advance.”
Shop talk: “Ca Va De Soi is a family-run company that has the best luxury cotton and cashmere. Go to Coolican & Company for gorgeous handmade furniture; I invested in their Adelaide bench. I’m also coveting Lisbeth jewelry, Clyde hats, and everything cozy from Reigning Champ.”
Chief Canadian traits: “I care deeply about universal healthcare, public education, and maple syrup.”
Local view: “The city has exploded in terms of population which is great, but the affordable housing market is in a state of crisis, and so many of the people that made Toronto a beautiful and diverse city are being pushed out. My friend Charles Officer made an incredible film about it called Unarmed Verses.”
Sage Paul, artist, designer and artistic director
As one of the visionaries behind Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, Sage Paul not only creates her own collections, but is a tireless proponent of her fellow Indigenous designers. Throughout her work and countrywide workshops, Sage questions stereotypes and racial bias while providing a platform for other makers to shine. Up next, she’s producing Curtis Oland’s commissioned work as part of the the British Council biennale exhibition during London Fashion Week and will be teaching an Indigenous fashion studies course she created at George Brown College.
Her spot: “The ferry to Wards Island. Prior to European contact, the Toronto Islands were (and still are) sacred lands. That reminds me to love that space, treat it like my home. Everything has a spirit.”
Dine out: “Try Ku-Kum Kitchen’s tasting menu. I go for the trio tartare starter, braised elk striploin, and the sweet grass creme brulee.”
Art scene: “I’m in awe and deeply inspired by the programming and work Wanda Nanibush, Indigenous Arts Curator, does at the AGO. I love the what Melanie Eganand her team at the Harbourfront Centre do. The Textile Museum just put up an incredible show curated by Lisa Myers called “Beads, They’re Sewn So Tight.”
Fashion fix: “Warren Steven Scott designs beautifully girly womenswear and has quickly become known for his Salish laser-cut earrings. MOBILIZE really excites me. They are a Cree streetwear company with a commitment to Indigenous women and the next generation. Catherine Blackburn is impeccable, she’s an artist and jewelry designer using beads and other materials.”