The Vancouver high life is more likely to call to mind visions of the city’s thriving cannabis culture or the North Shore mountains — majestic and snow-capped as seen from the city’s downtown waterfront and close enough that you can scoot over and squeeze in a hike or a few ski runs on Cyprus before brunch — than it is to evoke high style.
The birthplace of Lululemon, Vancouver is a city where “athleisure” rules and kombucha flows on tap, more renowned for its crunchy, outdoorsy lifestyle than for its flair. Stereotypes? Sure, but these things do typically exist for a reason; a glimpse of the vegan, gluten-free menu at the doughnut micro-chain Cartems is just one of many confirmations that Vancouver’s image is no exception to that rule.
Despite its rugged reputation, the City of Glass glitters, and not just for the predominant steel and glass architecture for which author Douglas Coupland nicknamed his hometown. With a homegrown fashion scene, stylish shopping and restaurants and an impressive offering of five-star hotels, Vancouver makes for a surprisingly chic getaway – only one that’s low on pretense and high on the laid-back sense of chill for which Canada’s West Coast is known.
A stroll down Alberni Street might be your first hint that there’s more to this town than yoga pants. The city’s answer to Rodeo Drive, Alberni and its neighbours, Burrard, Thurlow and Georgia, are on first-name bases with all the international fashion brands: Prada, Tiffany, Hermes and Gucci are just a few of the names that call these blocks home.
When Christian Dior opened its first Canadian standalone store here in 2015, the flagship became the largest Dior boutique in North America. (For now, that is: The shop, located inside the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, will soon be eclipsed in size by a 13,000-plus-square-foot Toronto location set to open this year. But Vancouver’s emporium dwarfs Dior’s retail outlets in places such as New York and Los Angeles.)
But cities don’t carve out a reputation for style with an abundance of international brands alone. From Alex S. Yu’s playfully haute streetwear – the Blanche Macdonald Centre alum’s designs have been featured in British Vogue and WWD Japan – to Catherine Regehr’s striking evening looks, Vancouver has a thriving local design scene, too.
At Secret Location, a 7,000-square-foot concept shop in Gastown, fashion gets the art treatment with white-on-white décor designed to highlight the colourful, deftly curated pieces inside. Founded by Surrey, B.C., native Carey Melnichuk, who studied textiles at the University of the Fraser Valley and fashion design in Milan, the six-year-old boutique was conceived of the idea that the one thing Vancouver was missing was a place where fashion and design were truly at the forefront, Melnichuk has said. And its presence alone is enough to earn Vancouver some significant style destination cred: Not long after its opening, Vogue Paris named the shop one of the 10 best concept stores in the world.
Just steps away, Vancouver’s casual, active vibe and stylish streak collide at Six Hundred Four (so-named for the southwest B.C. area code), a limited-edition sneaker gallery that commissions B.C. artists to design running shoes, of which only 604 pairs are then produced. And since a thread of social consciousness and sustainability runs through much of everything that happens here, 6.04 percent of the sales proceeds from each run goes to a charity of the artist’s choice.
While hotels are evolving into art galleries in destinations all over the place these days, even that concept takes on a uniquely stylish twist at the Fairmont Pacific Rim, where the hotel owners have a rotating collection of vintage couture on display in the lobby. Head upstairs to Botanist, the hotel’s recently re-envisioned restaurant. With its chic, verdant décor, Botanist is reaping accolades — for its design, its cocktail and wine programs, for executive chef Hector Laguna’s gorgeously plated dishes, rooted deep in the Pacific Northwest. At the hotel’s fifth floor spa, guests can immerse the rest of their senses in the region with the Coastal Mountain Retreat signature experience, a 90-minute exfoliation treatment and massage that’s an olfactory hit of pure B.C. — cypress, cedar and clary sage, infused into rich massage oils.
Back downstairs at the lobby bar, gain a new appreciation for the dresses on display with the Fashion Takes Flight cocktail trio, created by the hotel’s award-winning bartending team and inspired by the hotel’s couture collection. Amethyst silk chiffon by Alexander McQueen meets its match in the gin, lavender, lemon, Fino sherry- and sparkling water-based Act of Goddess. A 1929 vintage dress and coat from Lanvin, the oldest haute couture house in the world, inform the Roaring ’20s-inspired, Absinthe-containing Laced Up. And sheer layer upon layer of gossamer silk chiffon, designed by Coco Chanel, are echoed in the harmonious complexity of the Top Tier, made with Don Julio Blanco tequila, white vermouth, maraschino and grapefruit. This is style worth savouring.