The fashion game in Vancouver is starting to run real high. With notables like Anna Wintour, Proenza Schouler, Pascal Millet, Rag & Bone and others who have recently visited our fair city just in the past couple of months, Vancouver is quickly positioning itself on the high fashion scene, particularly on the west coast of North America. This transformation is significantly driven by the selection of designers that shops will carry. We’ve already seen that selection expand with the arrival of Nordstrom, together with the likes of Holt Renfrew, The Room at Hudson’s Bay, and boutiques like Leone. Now, with the arrival of Cicino, a boutique located at 848 West Hastings, it aims to bring some of the cooler, independent luxury names in fashion to the city that aren’t as well known – yet. And that’s what makes a city a fashion game changer – not by the obvious names of Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci and Prada - but by the more independent labels who haven't been gobbled up by a luxury conglomerate and who create luxury without necessarily screaming out logos.
The Vancouverite recently sat down with Cicino’s top management team including Min Kuang, Founder & President, to understand what makes Cicino stand out among the competition (they kindly refer to them as ‘neighbours’) and what would bring Cicino customers back time and time again.
V: Congratulations on your grand opening this month. Tell me about that night – did it meet or exceed your expectations?
Min: We do believe it was a very successful grand opening for us. Nobody can forget about that moment. We were very happy that night.
V: What was the inspiration for you to open this boutique?
Ida (marketing for Cicino): We see Cicino as a social platform, not just as a boutique – but really a destination to bring people together through events and love of fashion and to add more of an entertainment lifestyle to Vancouver.
V: Why Vancouver? Why not Toronto or anywhere else in Canada?
Min: We chose Vancouver because the four of us (on the management team) all live here with our families. This is home. We discovered while living here, though, that it’s hard to find specialized, high-end designer clothing in the city so we decided to be the ones to deliver many of those brands here.
V: So Gillian, I’ve heard that you’re the Jeanne Beker of China. Tell me about that.
Gillian: Yes that’s correct. Many years ago, I worked at a TV station for a fashion program back in China. I followed many designers, models, and went to Fashion Week; so working with Cicino and being able to bring my knowledge to the team is my dream come true.
V: Who is your favourite designer(s)?
Gillian: John Galliano, Tom Ford.
V: So why did you choose this location (West Hastings) for Cicino?
Min: We want to create a buzz for West Hastings; I have been working on this street for over 10 years. Look at Leone today – they have been in the market for over 20 years. Before we launched Cicino here it was very quiet every night. And now that Cicino’s opened, the street shines brighter and livelier each night – I’m proud of it. We’ve just opened over a month but now many people already know about Cicino.
V: Talk to me about the change in style with the way Vancouverites are dressing. We’re starting to see bigger names and cool, independent European designers come here. Are you seeing a change with the way Vancouverites see fashion?
Min: Yes, I think Cicino is bringing about this change. We look at our designers today, over 35 different brands and we see a variety of styles including luxury, including contemporary designers and street fashion. Our buying team has great vision along with our local Paris team; they look at different brands that appeal to our customers.
Ida: At Cicino, we especially curate all our designers and brands. There are certain brands you’ll see at other department stores or boutiques because it’s based off the general demand of fashion customers. And then you’ll see brands like Pascal Millet who hasn’t been carried anywhere in Vancouver or Canada and who has an interest in entering not only the Canadian market but also the Asian market. So us coming into this business, we came at a perfect time and meeting (Pascal Millet) was almost fate. We had such a great connection and fostered such a great working relationship. A lot of the brands we do carry, we carefully position ourselves from other competitors or neighbours – really curate them to our customers.
V: So it seems like it’s a collective effort in curating the right designs to come in. How do you know what to bring in?
Ida: I think the combination of everyone’s different backgrounds; Min being in business and finance, Gillian being in media, entertainment and fashion – certainly everyone has different tastes and eye on beauty. It’s all about working together as a team and Min did a fantastic job with getting her partners together and really curating Cicino’s collection. Gillian has a great eye following trends.
Gillian: We choose lots of brands and they’re all different to appeal to the variety of customers that we have.
V: Your partnership with Pascal took about a year. How did that come about?
Min: Pascal felt a very strong connection with the Cicino team. The way Cicino approaches business is quite different than the way the mega giant designer stores do. The team is very open, calming and connected; we take away the pretentiousness from the business where the focus is more on the design. Pascal’s vision of design is the luxury woman who shows greatness from within. His inspiration often comes from the street and not from inside his atelier – he prefers to sit at a café and sketches as people walk by.
V: If you could bring another designer here, who would it be?
Gillian: I would like to bring a focus of Asian traditional dress to Vancouver – the qipao. Asian influence on Western fashion has long been documented and designers from Chanel to Alexander McQueen to Tom Ford and Jean Paul Gaultier have created Asian-inspired designs that were showcased at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this past spring in New York. I’d like to bring that here to Cicino. You’re seeing an uprising of Asian designers in the past decade and with the uprising of Asian population in Vancouver, it only makes sense to bring this to the city.
V: And finally, what’s next for Cicino?
Ida: As you can tell, Cicino is not just a place where we sell clothes. We want to create and push Cicino as a social platform, which is why we throw so many events. We want to emphasize customized events for our clients to give them a full, end-to-end customer experience. From whisky tastings to high tea to private shopping nights, to serve Cicino as a social platform – we literally have customers who come and shop and spend hours here. It’s really not just a place to shop.