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Panty raid Article Comments

SHAUN PROULX SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL AUGUST 16, 2008

ALMOST NAKED 479 Queen St. W., Toronto 416-360-8200 http://www.almostnaked.ca Years ago, Calvin Klein put his name on the waistband of previously bland, white men's underwear. In doing so, he not only succeeded in giving men something women have enjoyed for ages - undergarments with a sexy quotient - but Klein's fast-selling undies also became so ubiquitous that his own daughter, Marci, famously commented, "Every time I'm about to go to bed with a guy I have to look at my dad's name all over his underwear." Other labels followed Klein, but then the sexy evolution all but stopped - until Canadian label Ginch Gonch came along. Protesting against the bore factor of men's undergarments, they released colourful designs with a sense of humour, encouraging men to "live like a kid." Gay men quickly lapped them up and where gay men tread in fashion, their straight counterparts are sure to follow. Now, underwear as fashion is all the rage, which is perfect timing to get Almost Naked. The brainchild of business partners Jeff Axelrod and Dan Sutcliffe, the store opened its door on Toronto's Queen West strip last month. With their research revealing that 60 per cent of men's underwear is purchased by women, the duo wisely decided to cater to both sexes, offering often hard-to-find lines with prices ranging from $10 to $100 for men and $20 to $300 for women. Labels already in stock include Diesel, Energie, Papi, DT, Core-Point, Artificial Flavor, Unico and XXX as well as Canadian exclusives Ed Hardy Intimates and Fred & Ginger. Sutcliffe says customers are coming in with a price point in mind already. "Generally it's around $35, and for that they're getting about 30 options to choose from, with name brands like Diesel, a label you normally associate with jeans - which cost over $200 to wear." Sutcliffe, who had been modelling underwear for label Andrew Christian in Los Angeles, had been thinking about creating his own line when Axelrod veered his thinking toward carrying other's lines in a boutique instead. "I read an article about a gay-focused underwear store in Portland, Ore. that was profitable in 30 days," Axelrod explains. "A great model if it's that profitable. This store carried things you wouldn't normally find at The Bay - for example, more jocks and thongs. But it occurred to me that the same could be done with underwear that's fashion-conscious. Best of all, underwear isn't seasonal - we wouldn't have to be dealing with markdown sales and shifting inventory." Covering 1,400 square feet on two floors, Almost Naked is a testament to the somewhat surprising amount of ultrahip underwear there is to be had. Designed by L.A.-based M Real Estate Design, both brightly lit levels feature hardwood floors, tall ceilings, bamboo branches embedded in polyresin panels, underwear fashion shows on flat screens and classic Barcelona chairs to wait on while your beloved tries on a few sexy things. In fact, Axelrod and Sutcliffe say, Almost Naked has become a place couples come to and choose dainties for one another. "The girls will come in independently," Sutcliffe says, "and then return with their boyfriends later and then again with their friends. The best so far was the guy who came in with his girlfriend shopping for a pink pair of underwear for himself. So cool because pink can have such a stigma." Axelrod adds: "You have to smile and say, 'This is one of the whole reasons we did this. A heterosexual man can come here and get that and feel masculine - in this case his girlfriend wanted him in it." Somewhere, Marci Klein is breathing a huge sigh of relief. Article Comments

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"...underwear as fashion is all the rage, which is perfect timing to get Almost Naked."

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