Chasing cutting-edge
design in Toronto


Text and photos by Karen MacKenna.

Vogue magazine named Toronto’s design district, also known as West Queen West, as the second hippest neighbourhood in the world after Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa.

Formerly a working class area, West Queen West has quickly gentrified over the past ten years to become the creative heart of the city. Brooklyn meets the West Village so to speak in this vibrant and very liveable neighbourhood.

A good place to get your bearings is at the southern gates of Trinity-Bellwoods Park, one of the city’s most treasured green and cultural spaces. The strip stretches westward for 1.5 kilometres towards the Gladstone Hotel – a boutique accommodation with 37 rooms, each designed by a different artist. A detour up Ossington ¬Avenue is where you’ll find ¬galleries, vintage record stores, excellent eateries, and popular bars.

Tucked away in a quiet laneway just steps from the park is the design studio of Heidi Sopinka and Claudia Dey, who have fast become the ¬darlings of Canadian fashion while also making a name for themselves internationally.

The two best friends and novelists acted on a whim three years ago when they put aside their pens to start Horses Atelier.

The duo set out to create a brand that would evoke nostalgia, romance, and a sense of adventure. The result was a line of classically simple women’s clothing that is elegant, versatile, and built to last.

The fabrics are sourced from family-owned mills in Italy and Japan and the clothing is sewn in Toronto. Sopinka and Dey make their own prints and develop custom colours with attention to detail – lessons learned from their own master seamstress grandmothers.

“We believe that the woman who dresses herself knows herself,” says Sopinka.

A portion of their sales is donated to the Clean Clothes campaign, an organisation committed to improving working conditions in the global ¬garment industry.

Horses Ateliers’ top picks in the hood

White Squirrel Coffee Shop

Named for the albino squirrels who roam the park, this café is “the” meeting place for locals. Not only do baristas brew excellent fair trade organic coffee, but they serve up a perfect flat white to boot!

Type Books

Type is a not-to-be-missed bookstore with a knowledgeable staff, most of whom are writers themselves. There is a fantastic art and design section, and a shelf dedicated to “plotless fiction”.


An interior design shop on Queen Street West, INabstracto specialises in mid-century modern furniture and decor. There is a small art gallery in the back and a good chance you’ll find some Finnish design!

This article was first published in the March 2016 issue of Finnair’s monthly in-flight magazine Blue Wings.