TORONTO — Not every brand marks its first flagship opening with a giveaway of weed cookies and ordained minister’s licenses. But outerwear firm Moose Knuckles is anything but your run-of-the-mill fashion label.
“Our customers have a rebellious mind-set. They like being entertained by our irreverence,” said Noah Stern, owner and chief executive officer of the Montreal-based brand, which launched in 2007 and has since amassed a global following thanks to its premium-down filled coats, leather jackets, artisan-crafted bombers and raucous campaigns geared toward the fun-loving person inside all of us.
Indeed, aside from its coats — which are all waterproof, wind-resistant and made with top, lightweight fabrics and hardware — Moose Knuckles’ focus on being audacious cemented its appeal among Millennials; earned its orders from Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and other leading retailers, and will enable it to expand to a total of 40 countries by the end of 2017.
“Moose Knuckles is a ‘no bulls–t’ fashion brand. We work hard, play hard and offend everyone equally. But we own this attitude with no apologies. That’s what makes people want to be part of the Moose Knuckles tribe,” said Stern, as he and creative director Steph Hoff sat on a long, lavish, plastic-covered sofa and watched a flurry of workmen complete the final touches to their first store inside the Yorkdale Shopping Center here.
With the aid of Canadian commercial design firm Burdifilek, Moose Knuckles’ industrial-flavored flagship “extends that counter-culture feeling we want people to experience,” said Hoff.
The space has hot-rolled steel walls, striated glass cabinets, infinity mirrors, floating shelves and hanging digital screens to stream video art. Unexpected elements also abound, like dressing rooms at the front of the store; a large, floating, fur-wrapped raceway that hangs from the ceiling and displays Moose Knuckles’ coats, and a two-story glass wall that exposes the silhouette of the stockroom.
Even the flagship’s front window, which is purposefully obstructed to mallgoers by a distorted Moose Knuckles’ logo, hints at all the quirky, complex refinement inside.
“The final environment was built on the idea of a cabinet of curiosities,” said Burdifilek cofounder Diego Burdi. “Unconventional was the expectation from Day One.”
“This is the classic ‘go big or go home’ project,” added Paul Filek, who, along with Burdi, has designed for Canada’s Holt Renfrew, Neiman Marcus and other luxury retailers and businesses across North America, Europe and Asia for nearly 25 years.
“We talk about disruption so much in today’s industry but these Moose Knuckles guys are all about disruption. They wear it on their sleeves,” said Filek. “As soon as we met we knew they weren’t just looking for shelves and hangers to put their stuff on.”
Their solution was a total immersion into the Moose Knuckles world, where shoppers can also find exclusives like the Moose Tribe hand-knit sweater from Vancouver Island, which was inspired by the traditional Canadian Cowichan sweater. Other finds include De Gaspe Mink Earmuffs created in Montreal by a multigenerational furrier and, of course, Moose Knuckles parkas featuring stretch goose down linings, ethically sourced fur accents and fully taped seams.
“This store speaks to the gravity of Moose Knuckles as a brand,” said Stern, who anticipates one to four more flagship openings worldwide in 2018.
“Here’s where we’ll do special one-offs and test runs on products as we evolve. But whatever we do will be of the most premium quality in that category,” said Stern. For example, Moose Knuckles T-shirts will always come from the best manufacturer in Italy. Their new $240 baseball hats are also tweaked with gold plating.
Yet more than anything, evolving into bricks-and-mortar gave Moose Knuckles new freedom to share its story with consumers.
“Now we can finally express Moose Knuckles’ fun, risk-taking vision with full creative ownership,” said Hoff. “This is a serious luxury space for a brand that doesn’t take itself or the fashion world too seriously.”