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Retailer Edmond Creed helped put Toronto on fashion map

Eddie Creed went to agricultural college and intended to be a dairy farmer before deciding to go into the fur business.

Creed Family

Edmond Creed had an infallible eye for fashion and could spot a trend even if it whizzed by him at top speed. In the early 1950s, the Toronto furrier and clothing merchant found himself on the ski slopes in Gstaad, Switzerland, when he saw something astonishing: two young women in brightly coloured ski pants. If you were a skier in Canada in those dreary postwar years, you could buy any colour of ski pants so long as they were black. He followed the women to the base to ask who had made their ski wear.

This is how he discovered Bogner ski apparel, made in the Munich factory of Willy Bogner Sr., a former Olympic skier. Mr. Creed began to import and sell it at Creeds, the store his parents had built on a section of Toronto's Bloor Street called the Mink Mile.

"At first, my father didn't want to go to Germany," recalled Jack, Edmond's elder son. "The war had ended not that long before and he had served in the Royal Canadian Navy." When Mr. Creed saw how many of Mr. Bogner's workers in Munich were missing a leg or an arm, he had a change of heart. He and Mr. Bogner became friends.

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In 1959, his brother-in-law, Isadore Sharp, and father-in-law, Max Sharp, who were builders, proposed to construct a hotel on Jarvis Street and asked Mr. Creed and his friend Murray Koffler to invest. Mr. Creed, who regularly travelled Europe to buy clothes and accessories for the shop, suggested that they use the name of a Munich hotel that he liked: Vier Jahreszeiten, meaning Four Seasons.

"My father was 30 per cent partner," Jack Creed recalled. "He saw the name on a hotel in Munich and they went with it. They didn't spend thousands of dollars on a focus group back then."

The first Four Seasons on Jarvis Street was a hit and was eventually sold, as was the partners' second project, Inn on the Park.

"[While] building the first hotel, we had not intended to go into hotels; it was just a real estate transaction," recalls Isadore Sharp, whose Four Seasons chain went on to span the globe. "With the third hotel, I decided to make the hotel business my career. Eddie was always an investor until he divested his shares [at age 80], but was never involved in hotel operations. The amount of money he invested in the hotel was $90,000 and that turned into a multimillion-dollar return for him."

Mr. Creed died of congestive heart failure at his 200-acre farm in Schomberg, Ont., north of Toronto, on Aug. 12, at 94.

His investment in Four Seasons enabled him to sustain his elegant store on Bloor Street, west of Bay Street, even during downturns in the economy, until he could no longer do so. Creeds, by then run by his son Tom, declared bankruptcy in November, 1990, and closed three months later. It is still mourned by Toronto women of style.

Edmond Martin Creed, called Eddie, was born into the luxury business in Toronto on April 30, 1921, one of three children and only son of Jack and Dorothy Creed. His father had fled Russia in the wake of anti-Jewish pogroms that swept the Pale of Settlement between 1903 and 1906. These bloody events brought a wave of immigrants to Canada, most of them heading for Winnipeg. Jack, however, came by way of Paris, where he stopped to learn tailoring and the furrier craft. Says his grandson Jack: "He started working as a tailor with fur collars and cuffs. That's how he got into the fur business."

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He arrived in Winnipeg in about 1910 and, in 1915, wed a Winnipeg girl of impeccable taste, Dorothy Moscoviz. Within a year, having moved to Toronto, they opened the first Creeds store on Bloor Street, near Avenue Road.

Their small store catered to the carriage trade and, in addition to furs, sold a limited amount of conservative fashions, along with accessories all sourced by Dorothy.

Young Eddie attended the private Pickering College in Newmarket, Ont., then went to agricultural college in Guelph intending to become a dairy farmer, before deciding that the fur business offered more scope. There was another benefit: At 26, he met a beautiful 18-year-old saleswoman named Edie Sharp who was working at the store. The two were happily married for 67 years and produced six children.

Postwar, he began going to the European markets with his mother for couture and to the annual Hudson's Bay Co. fur auctions in Montreal with his father, where they mixed with trappers and traders.

"His love of fashion came from his mother – she was unbelievably talented. She bought gloves, huge counters full – purses, jewellery," son Jack says. "His father was the driver for fur coats. He loved to go to the fur auctions for pelts, and would match them, grade them – both Eddie and his father could do that, could take 1,000 mink pelts and grade them. It took 100 mink pelts to make a coat. Customers would look at the bundle of furs before they ordered."

The coats were made after Eddie's sketches. "Eddie was a real fashion guy," his son says. "He was interested in creating design – I don't know where he got his drawing ability."

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"I was in my early 20s when I started at Creeds as a model for Mr. Jack Creed [Eddie's father]," recalled Lisa Dalholt, who worked there 30 years, and eventually became fashion director and vice-president of the firm. She witnessed the transition from father to son. "When I first joined the company it was mainly a fur store and an accessory store. That's how fashion was – everybody was having their clothes made. It was formal; the salesladies all wore black. It was exclusive, club-like, a small store until Mr. Eddie Creed decided to expand to 30,000 square feet. When he expanded, everything changed."

Furnished with European antiques, Eddie Creed's store was very glamorous, according to Bernadette Morra, the editor of Toronto Life Fashion magazine, at a time when there was not much glamour in Toronto: "The prices were shocking, but when you went through those heavy doors, you were in another world.

"If you were a manufacturer in Canada in the 1950s, you would go to Paris, bring back couture clothes and copy them. In the sixties, things started to change; Yves Saint Laurent and Sonia Rykiel started to do ready-to-wear."

The younger Mr. Creed, already known to French and Italian fashion houses, was able to bring these designers to Toronto, eventually adding ready-to-wear by Chanel, Ungaro, Kenzo, Miyake, Christian Lacroix, Valentino and Dior, Maud Frizon shoes, Missoni knitwear and jewellery by Beni Sung, displayed in separate in-store boutiques. "It was another level above anything available then in Toronto," Ms. Morra said. "If you carried a Creeds shopping bag, that was a status symbol. It was really sad when it closed."

Ms. Dalholt recalled: "His father worked there until the end [his father died in 1971, his mother in 1955]. In the early 1960s, Eddie Creed took that amazing store and he became world renowned as an innovator. He brought in every label that has major resonance today. He was more aggressive than Holt Renfrew or Eaton's at the time, and he had a certain charisma. He put Toronto on the map as far as the fashion industry was concerned. We had customers from across the country; some came in their private planes."

Mr. Creed himself was perfectly turned out in suits made for him by Tommy Nutter on Savile Row and shirts imported from Florence. Later he wore avant-garde clothes by Japanese designers, but he was just as happy in hunting pinks, ski wear or jeans suitable for baling hay.

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He retired at 65 when his son Tom took over the store, but continued to supervise the fur workshop in the store's basement.

The recession and a further costly expansion pushed the store into bankruptcy in November, 1990. In February, 1991, at the end of the liquidation sale, 3,000 people reportedly turned up for the auction of the fixtures – everything from crystal chandeliers to giant perfume bottles – hoping to take home a souvenir of the fabled shop.

According to son Jack, who went into the fur storage and dry cleaning business, the real cause of the closing was the precipitous decline of furs, Creeds's core business: "Today, no one wants to be seen wearing fur except on the most freezing days of winter."

In his last decades, Mr. Creed took up painting and supported amateur sports. He co-founded the Nancy Greene Ski League to encourage young skiers, and started the Tournament of Champions horse shows and the George Knudson Oakdale Pro-Am, an annual golf tournament that raises money for cancer research. He helped show jumper Eric Lamaze, providing space on his farm for the equestrian's riding operation. Mr. Lamaze won an individual gold medal and a team silver at the 2008 Olympics and a team gold at the recent Pan American Games in Toronto.

Mr. Creed was predeceased by his two sisters, Cimone and Donna, and leaves his wife, Edie; children, Simone, Jack, Tom, Wendy, Dodie and Donna; 16 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

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