Mr Forbes' Neighbourhood

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Mr Forbes' Neighbourhood

Sunday, January 17, 2021

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Trailblazing runs in Arlington Forbes' blood. In 1974, his mother Elaine became the first black woman to own a shop — Elaine's International Boutique — in Toronto's Dufferin Mall. She realised that the mainstream stores were not catering to West Indian women like herself, especially those above a size 14. So, along with stocking church outfits, formal gowns, and suits from European brands in those sizes, Elaine's was the go-to boutique for church hats and accessories. Soon after, a second Elaine's location opened in the city's Little Jamaica neighbourhood (Saint Clair and Vaughan). There witnessing history and learning about retail was a young Arlington, who would decades later build a brand that not only broke traditional moulds but developed such a loyal following it became an integral part of the Malibu community.

Yes, that Malibu.

Forbes and his wife Jac, on Canvas . Malibu, a two-storey concept store and art gallery...

Forbes' California dream is a result of several paths taken on the east coast. “I wanted to be a fashion editor,” Forbes told the Style Observer ( SO). He majored in mass communications and legal studies at Carlton University in Ottawa. However, Forbes ended up working in television after seeing a friend host a show on a local access channel. He reached out about opportunities with the station, was invited to a meeting, and three months later he was an on-air correspondent. Producers loved his segment and feature pitches as Forbes had an eye for forecasting and identifying trends and cultural moments. Though successful, Forbes preferred the action behind the scenes.

He moved to New York City and, despite being an experienced presenter and host, saw value in interning. He applied and landed an internship at Entertainment Tonight. However, his style and maturity caught the eye of Inside Edition producers. It wasn't long after arriving in NYC that Forbes had a plum career in television production. He met and got to know André Leon Talley, our own Stacey McKenzie (fresh from filming The Fifth Element), and director X, who has directed music videos for Sean Paul, Rihanna, and Usher, when he was just a young protégé for music industry legend Hype Williams. However, the most important person who Forbes met whilst working in television was his wife, Jac.

Tiring of east coast winters and wanting to expand their careers, the couple moved to Los Angeles. On weekends they would ride their motorcycles up the Malibu coast, and quickly became besotted with the scenery. There weren't a lot of shops there then. However, seeing what was happening in the Hamptons (some people have called Malibu the Hamptons of California) and having a knack for forecasting, Forbes knew that it was a matter of time before Malibu, too, became a shopping destination. He saw the wave coming to shore. The couple mulled over the idea of opening a store. But the lightbulb went on when Forbes read an article in which Hollywood legend Dick Van Dyke bemoaned not being able to buy a pair of underwear in Malibu.

The duo knew that whatever they opened had to become an integral part of the community. ”We were opening in their backyard,” said Forbes. The build-out was four months behind schedule and waiting for permits and approvals brought them into the holiday season. One critical walk-through with a city official was unceremoniously cancelled. Later that week Jac ran into the city permit official at Starbucks and convinced her to come to the store and do the walk-through. The permit was granted and, with eight friends and a U-Haul, they worked through the night to stock their merchandise.

On December 24, 2006, Canvas . Malibu opened its doors.

The store's first iteration was a sneaker shop and art gallery carrying limited-edition kicks and eye-catching art for the most discerning clientele. Forbes reminisces, “We didn't even have shelving; we just opened boxes and placed a sneaker on top.”

Celebrities such as Kate Hudson and Pierce Brosnan have attended their art shows, and their clientele includes legendary Hollywood producers like the late George Lucas. The Forbeses weathered the 2008 economic crash and have kept the doors open during the pandemic. As Arlington said in an interview with the menswear publication Mr Feelgood, “A store is more than the products it sells.”

Though Canvas . Malibu has evolved, it has always remained a good neighbour

During the pandemic, Forbes has learned to “adapt, adjust and keep moving forward”. Online sales have grown more over the last six months than it has the previous year. The offerings online are not the same as in-store, and this allows the brand to keep experiential storytelling as a part of its pillars. During the current pandemic and past crisis of 2008, Malibu refused to let the store close. The budgets were smaller, but the clients still supported.

“When tough times hit, Canvas was the home that our customers didn't want to lose,” said Forbes. The use of “home” is on purpose. The couple has shared in births, christenings, graduations, marriages, and deaths of many clients and their families. Even college grads have brought their parents to the store to introduce them to the couple because the store was a home away from home and Jac and Arlington became their friends in a new city where they had none.

The main floor of Canvas . Malibu houses the Jac Forbes Gallery which currently has an exhibit entitled Di.as.po.ra. Upstairs is the boutique that sells men's and womenswear from their eponymous label and hypebeast go-to Visvim, Engineered Garments, Needles Japan, Officine Générale, and Vans Vault. In Forbes' words, the items at Canvas can best be described as being “timeless, well-made, and conservative, with a twist”.

According to data from the United States COVID Economic Impact Studies and Yelp, over 180,000 business across the US have shuttered during the pandemic. In Los Angeles alone, close to 8,000 businesses have closed permanently. However, Canvas . Malibu is there and proving that retail is much more than selling things. Forbes says it best: “Business in this era is more than selling products; it's about being a good neighbour.”

And like a good neighbour, to paraphrase a famous commercial slogan, Canvas . Malibu will always be there.

— Vaughn Stafford Gray

Photos: Courtesy of Canvas . Malibu and the Jac Forbes Gallery


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