The Genteel
October 23, 2020

Best Kept Secrets

Risky Business

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Risque has been located in Toronto's Annex for 22 years. (Source: BlogTO)

Located in Toronto's Annex area, an eclectic community of fashionistas, baristas and artists, is a little women's clothing boutique called Risqué. Venturing into this smart shop is anything but a gamble. A must-visit for any shopping-enthusiast, Risqué boasts a carefully selected collection that's on point every season.

Style gurus and entrepreneurs Ondina and Nancy Carvalho opened Risqué in the summer of 1989 at 404 Bloor Street West, where it has now been located for more than 22 years. Practically a neighbourhood monument, Risqué is constantly re-inventing itself with the changing times to stay in touch with its customers' ever-evolving tastes.

Venturing into this smart shop is anything but a gamble.

The eccentric and unexpected nature of the community helps to keep the couple on their toes: "We have always lived in the Annex in Toronto...and really...we never know who's going to walk in the door. There is so much diversity in the Annex and it's always so exciting to get to know all the different types of girls and women who often come to this lovely neighbourhood for all that the Annex offers!"

A lot of what it has to offer is a peculiar medley of tattoo parlors, coffee and art shops and a few somewhat seedy pubs. The Annex is also peppered with a several classy boutiques like this one. Risqué sets itself apart by the enviable ensembles that adorn the window mannequins. One of the flawlessly pieced together outfits is how I came to find Risqué in the first place; falling madly in love with maroon wool stockings, a soft grey wool dress and crisp white mandarin shirt - complete with mittens, cap and scarf. In fact, I believe I bought the whole outfit that day, and still wear the bits and pieces frequently, albeit now in mismatched disarray.

Since that fateful day, I have twice been caught scrambling to find the perfect dress on the eve of an event - shamelessly stalking the stores of downtown Toronto in a tizzy of cloth-thirsty mania (you know the feeling) - only to find myself at Risque's doorstep.

Scarves, scarves and more scarves: the autumn
accessory du jour. (Source: Nancy

For instance, three years ago when purple was fall's "it" colour, I was in dire need of a dress for a wedding and I had my heart set on that vibrant plum hue. Dashing all over town trying to find the right blend of elegance and party pizzazz, I finally stepped over Risque's threshold.

A cheery clerk detected my frazzled aura and was immediately attentive. After explaining what I was in need of, she grabbed but one gown and we headed to the change rooms. A tangle of lengths of material attached to a skirt, I emerged a wilted aubergine flower, half naked and terribly confused. The unique dress required some practised finesse, but eventually, with some help and a flourish of twists, I was in the quintessential party gown. It was really a gorgeous dress and I had perhaps never felt so feminine. Also in need of a clutch to match my steal grey pumps, the sales girl once again had just the thing. That day, I was blessed with a dress, as well as an over-sized grey clutch that matched my shoes to a "T." And the best part? Accessories were on sale for half price that day - ahhhh, shopping bliss.

More recently, this summer I was in search of a short fun, flirty red dress for a birthday party. This time, instead of scavenging all about town, I headed straight for Risqué. Sure enough, I found my fire engine red dress. But, with the kind of unique twist - a zipper at the front from hem to neckline - that makes me shell out the extra sheckles knowing I'll be one of only two or three other gals in the city to snap up this sassy number.

Long, oversized cardigans are a must have
this season. Source: Nancy Carvalho

That's the one drawback to stocking beautiful, of-the-moment items; once they are gone, they are gone for good. It's a part of the Risqué mandate, Nancy explains, "our concept is that no item remains in the store for long. As we sell out of a particular style, it is immediately replaced with something new...therefore we are always out 'shopping' for new goods to replace sold out ones." Which helps to explain how they stay ahead of the trends, and have been so successful over the years. 

This season, they are toting fantastic items like a wool sweater bustier, flowing one-shoulder blouses in all the right hues and fabulous floral scarves that make you want to own one for every outfit. According to the fashion-forward couple, this season's must haves are, "First would have to be the sheer shirt, and length is important; short, mid or extra long...this has become the hottest item in the store. Second, the oversized cardigan is another hot item, especially in natural tones like ivory, brown and taupe. Last is scarves, scarves and more scarves!"

From solid accessories and chic office-wear, to party dresses and seasonal key pieces, Risqué is definitely a Toronto "it" store not to be missed. So the next time you're grabbing a latte or a paintbrush, take your wardrobe up a few notches on your friends envy list. 



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