Most tourists in Vancouver are awestruck by the improbable juxtaposition of scenes that are cliché to spoiled locals: seaweed-lined beaches, snow-capped mountains, longboarders bombing down one-way streets, gaggles of Japanese exchange students loitering by food trucks, head shops across the street from tutoring centres, the patios, the rain.
To the more cosmopolitan visitors who are accustomed to concrete jungles, flying buttresses or daily late-night entertainment, Vancouver seems decidedly suburban. The downtown core is a peninsula that juts tentatively into Burrard Inlet. The luxury shopping district pales in comparison to the Champs-Élysées, Dover Street Market or Xintiandi. The government-owned liquor stores’ selections are insipid compared to those of Brooklyn’s bodegas or Parisian supermarkets. It’s not for lack of trying. To most Vancouverites, luxury lies in the immaterial: sneaking a gulp of lager at the beach after a morning on the slopes, and watching the sun dip below the Gulf Islands.
Recently, the city has seen a profusion of local and foreign concept stores and retail chains that compete for a piece of Vancouver’s social canvas. All of them are ostensibly conceived from some transcendental idea, but it’s not always clear what that concept is. To the jaded observer, they are simply newfangled marketing ploys.
"The architects at Casper Mueller Kneer made the space both open and labyrinthine."
Using L-shaped walls, the architects at Casper Mueller Kneer made the space both open and labyrinthine. With the disciplined approach he honed as a fashion buyer, Wu looks to the future of luxury by redefining leisure. Much like how museums and film festivals bring slices of exotic zeitgeists to local audiences, Leisure Center presents us with a relaxing ambience created by an eclectic assortment of garments, books, music, furniture, cosmetics, food and drink that hint at what we should strive for in our leisure time.
The most fascinating aspects of Leisure Center are not for sale. The glass-encased sculpture “Ramble On” by Myfanwy MacLeod features the dilapidated frame of a 1977 Camaro Rally Sport mounted horizontally in a manner reminiscent of a hog roast. The rolling and tinkling synths of Amsterdam-based ambient artist Jonny Nash emanate from the speakers above. The tiled oor, at once scratched up and ornately floral, is a serendipitous gift passed on from generations of 950 Homer’s past tenants.
"Besides familiar brands like Vetements, Comme des Garçons, and Balenciaga, Leisure Center’s garment racks also feature pieces from bold, avant-garde labels like MA+, Guidi and Devoa."
In addition to offerings from familiar brands like Vetements, Comme des Garçons, and Balenciaga, Leisure Center’s garment racks also feature pieces from bold, avant-garde labels like MA+, Guidi and Devoa. The book section is curated by Donlon Books, an esoteric independent bookshop from the borough of Hackney in London. On offer are intriguing titles like How to Draw a Tree, Sonomama Sonomama, and California Sur ng and Climbing in the Fifties. The tonic bar is stocked with concoctions from The Alchemist’s Kitchen, a plant product vendor based in New York that fosters a “growing movement of conscious consumption and contemporary herbalism.” The lower bowels of Leisure Center contain VIP pods, seminar spaces for guitar lessons or group meditations, a “Kids’ Office,” and a pair of vintage Klipsch speakers, which Wu purchased from a widow in the States.
“Put simply, life is about continually accumulating and shedding ideas and possessions,”
“It’s about spending the right balance of time and money.”
The most perspicacious of Vancouver’s upper class realize that even the tangible trappings of luxury are simply ethereal accoutrements in the long run. “Put simply, life is about continually accumulating and shedding ideas and possessions,” Wu says. “It’s about spending the right balance of time and money.” He hopes that the space that he has so painstakingly crafted will be a mecca for freethinking souls whose work will coalesce into an instructive tableau vivant on how best to achieve this balance and reach leisurely bliss.
Following a practice started by high-end boutiques, Leisure Center uses price tags very sparingly. All inquiries are to be directed to sales associates clad in uniforms of lustrous silver. A cheeky reminder that, unlike the British Museum or the Smithsonian, Leisure Center has a bottom line.