A modern Alice need not fall through the rabbit hole in order to discover a Secret Location that embraces a delightfully playful “nothing is quite what it seems” lifestyle experience. That’s because founder and designer, Vancouver’s Carey Melnichuk has created the first Concept Store in Canada, melding fashion and food to entice all the senses (happily, with a less haphazzard Gastown entrance!)
Melnichuk is elusive. By her own admission, she’s stayed away from the limelight partially because she wanted to create a buzz through international plaudits first – like Paris Vogue naming Secret Location “one of the top 10 Concept Stores in the world.” The other is that she wants to be taken seriously on her own terms. The label ‘wunderkind’ just embarrasses Melnichuk even though the porcelain-skin fashionista with a shy pixie smile that becomes radiant when coaxed, belies an insatiable design and business acumen far beyond her age of 27 years.
“I actually started to develop my vision and business plan for Secret Location when I was away at school getting my Masters in Fashion Design from Istituto Marangoni in Milan,” explains Melnichuk who is fluent in Italian. “The key and lock pattern became our logo signature and is repeated in the pattern of the LED back-lit fretted woodwork and glass entrance, our ceiling and very subtly carried through from décor to the retail packaging.” Melnichuk even had a tiny key tattooed behind one ear by Milanese avant garde tattoo artist, Pietro Sedda.
Working with B+H Architects, Ledcor Contruction and numerous local artisans, they converted the 11,000 sq. ft heritage building (a meat-packing warehouse in the early 19th century) into a 7,500 sq. ft. retail boutique and 3,500 sq. foot lounge and sunken dining area that opened in June 2012.
Exploring Secret Location is a lesson in suspending time in order to appreciate the details of the sophisticated space. Melnichuk designed moveable walls to create ever-changing alcoves, video projections, even a fashion show runway that are constantly in flux to make luxury retail shopping for women and men, energetic and fun. A half table and chair are seen in their entirety only when glancing at their completed reflection in a mirror. A wall of custom molded millwork Baroque flourishes, actually hides extensive shoe storage. “I wanted beautiful accessibility to our stock,” says Melnichuk and the ladder on rungs to reach the highest cupboards is a flirty touch and practical. I’m really obsessed by details in everything I do and sometimes here, I really feel like Alice In Wonderland!”
The white on white décor is a neutral easel from which to showcase, in Melnichuk’s words, “An art gallery of fashion and imagination.” Rolling racks and cabriole -legged tables may display the colourful and exquisite craftsmanship of Spanish designer, Jesus del Pozo’s Spring Collection; coffee table tomes on photography to Brazilian food, flamboyant millinery and hair accessories from Paris-based Maison Michel, classic men’s clothing with a dash of wit from Viktor & Rolf or the ‘novel’ book clutches by Olympia Le Tan and whimsical Italian housewares by Seletti. The boutique also boasts the only Twitter mirror in North America!
If the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party had a 21st century reno, it would resemble Secret Location’s stylish Tasting Room. Melnichuk’s fluid, whimsical design throughout the space is a perfect pairing with the technical food wizardry and beautiful platings created by Executive Chef Jefferson Alvarez. From the hand- selected slabs of quartz that make up the Lounge bar and lit from within to glow purple at night; stunning turquoise and green soft furnishings under the fanciful Marie Coquine umbrella chandelier designed by Philippe Stark for Baccarat, to the midcentury white Masters Chairs by Starck and Eugeni Quitlet, nothing has escaped Melnichuk’s inspired eye. Looking closely at the glass Chef’s table at the rear of the restaurant, Lens, designed by Patricia Urquoila, one sees that it cleverly mimics Secret Location’s key pattern swirls on the ceiling.
“When I started at age 22, I really had to build relationships from the ground up. I’d go on buying trips to Europe and New York during Fashion Weeks and suppliers would often be surprised meeting me that I was not an older man!” she admits laughing. But now they really respect me and know what I’m looking for.” Melnichuk’s thirst for knowledge and new ideas never wanes. “I’m away for six weeks out of the year buying and it’s really hectic but I make myself do one wonderful cultural thing on each trip – all the great museums like the Louvre stay open late Wednesday nights,” she assures me.