Nestled in a quaint turn of the century coach house just off the busy Queen Street boule’, Klaxon Howl is home to Robinson’s
blood, sweat and years of archives in wartime and old era memorabilia. A lot of times a brand who manufactures small runs and limited quantities likes being seen as an enigma, or in a niche that hates to expose who they are. That’s not the case with Matt and his proudly Canadian business. Sure he likes to separate the store from the hustle and bustle but when it comes to his own line it’s gotten tons of attention on runways and even the odd nod from Samuel L. Jackson out of all people.
Stepping into the shop you can tell that he’s used a meticulous eye adorning the shop as he has. The industrial racks and the various antiques all contribute to a feeling that puts you in another time period. Besides all the vintage goods and shop atmosphere, there’s his new concoctions in the KH line which are produced entirely in Canadian mills. Not something you hear often do you? On top of that, the lone other brand he’s picked up for the store edit is the young, independent collection
This is my first time in your store and my first time in Toronto actually, can you give a first time patron a little background information on things at Klaxon Howl?
Well we opened September 2005 at our previous location three blocks West of here on Queen Street. But it had been brewing probably for a good 4 years before that. I had been collecting military stuff, specifically for an archive for private label. We also did sell a little bit of military garb out of our other shop, Delphic. Which has been there since March ’98 on the corner of Queen and Manning. We were selling N2-B’s, N3-B’s, MA-1’s, L2-B’s, things like that. That’s before Canada Goose was kind of blowing up.
What’s your story, did you go to school for design or business in it?
Nope. I’m a high school drop out. I’m an artist and I’ve always had that artistic eye. I pay attention to things with an eye for detail. I’ve worked as an interior designer, as an architect.
Okay, well maybe you can expand on the layout of the shop then.
Well it’s all stuff that I like. It’s very masculine, rugged. It’s in a coach house so the space itself is very different than your regular retail shop. It’s got the multiple levels. There’s 7 skylights in here with a wood-burning stove. Carriage doors at the front but it’s still laid out like a retail space in terms of flow. It’s not much different than the other space, in fact the layout is almost identical except for the levels. Having the change rooms back by the cash and perimeter walls for racks and the 2 tables down the centre.
Why did you choose to get off Queen Street and basically come to a hole-in-the-wall type of spot?
Rent was a main motivator. I was deciding where I was going to go. My lease was up. It was forcing me to look at what my alternatives were. So deciding whether to stay on Queen, keep paying through the nose for rent. To stay in the spot or move a little bit farther east in this core where there’s a little bit more traffic. It was only three blocks East but it made a big difference for some reason. I don’t know why. Or trail blaze and make it a destination location.
Even though you didn’t move too far, I think you’re right. It has become a destination location nonetheless.
Yea but it’s still in the core. It’s closer to the action than the other location and it’s a stone’s throw from Queen Street. It’s not a destination location like Christine Dupont or somewhere like Liberty Village. With that said though, this is still in many ways a better location than our other location on Queen.
“we have a huge archive of stuff that we base and reference everything on. Construction techniques, fits, finishes, all those things. But we don’t do reproductions.
What’s your take on this core neighbourhood here, in regards to men’s retail fronts?
We’ve been here since ’98 so it’s obviously changed a lot since that time period. We were one of 3 clothing stores that were on the strip. There’s definitely an old guard from before. Most of those old businesses have gone and been replaced by new school. It’s sort of turned into a men’s shopping neighbourhood. There’s a lot of specific men’s stores.
We go through trends and cycles every few years, but what do you say to those who call this type of apparel a trend?
Menswear has always been based on this stuff. It is a trend of the moment it will probably wane but if you’re using good materials, you’ve got good fits, good construction and you’re doing classic pieces, they’re not going anywhere.
Like sailor tops. I’ve been wearing sailor tops since the early 90’s. But whatever I mean they come and they go. They become popular, they’re not popular. A stripe t-shirt is always going to find its way into a wardrobe. Whether you’re wearing it underneath something or you’re wearing it on its own. Like a pea coat or a military jacket or a trench coat. Some people say “Oh Barbour’s really popular right now and so is wax cotton” – well it was in the early 90’s and it was in the 80’s, and it was in the 70’s and the 60’s. It goes through cycles. Red Wing is the new Timberland but Timberland does much of the same with work boots and field boots. You know there might be a brand that becomes more popular.
How about your in-house brand, is it all inspired by older generations of clothing and tradition?
Yea, we have a huge archive of stuff that we base and reference everything on. Construction techniques, fits, finishes, all those things. But we don’t do reproductions. They’re sort of the foundation and sometimes there’s one detail from something, sometimes there’ll be four different shirts and details from each of them. Photographic reference, archival reference and you just make it your own.
694B Queen St. West