Canadian Fashion Connection – Ira Berg

Ira Berg was one of Toronto’s high end boutiques, founded in 1930 by the namesake of the company. Located on Delisle, near the North Toronto crossroads of Yonge and St. Clair, the store went into bankruptcy on October 31, 1996.

The mid-90s were a difficult time for Canadian retailers and many companies didn’t survive including; Creeds, Marci Lipman, and the Eaton’s department store chain. The founder’s grandson, Michael Berg blamed the closing of Ira Berg on the low Canadian dollar, clothing tariffs, cross-border shopping, U.S. mega-retailers flooding into Canada, limited bank credit and fewer women paying big money for gowns.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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28 Responses to Canadian Fashion Connection – Ira Berg

  1. Ian Drummond says:

    Hello Jonathan,
    thanks for this brief bio on Ira Berg. I come across this label regularly in my purchasing and recognize it as a quality garment but somewhat old lady-ish, that doesn’t stop me buying though.
    Did they design for their own label or purchase from wholesalers and add their store label?
    Ian

    • Jonathan says:

      I believe they purchased from wholesalers and added their own store label. As you say, they erred on the conservative side of fashion… but they also carried designer lines and they should have both their store name and the designer label in them. I know I have seen an Aukie Sanfft and Ira Berg suit from the 60s…

  2. Jonathan-
    Thanks for this blurb. I’m writing a biography on Vera Peters, MD who had a remarkable way of rapid shopping at Ira Berg in the 1940s. You can read about this remarkable woman on my website under READ and the short homage that appeared in the Intl. Journal of Radiation Oncology

  3. Neil says:

    Hello Jonathan,
    I worked for Ira Berg in the late 80’s as an assistant to Peter Laurence. We did the interior merchandising and window displays there for 3 years. It was a time where Russel Berg (Ira’s son) was attempting to revitalize the brand and draw in a younger clientele. It was a gem of a place to work and the Berg’s were wonderful people to work for. They would frequently return from buying trips in Europe with antiques they had bought for us to use in the store. It was a true family retail business and they had a fashion sense that was unique in Toronto at the time. I was sad to see them shutter the store. If it were still around today I believe they would be doing well again. A shame they couldn’t ride out the 90’s anti-fashion wave that swept through here.

    • Jonathan says:

      Thanks for the memoir. Great to have eyewitness accounts! The 90s was pretty rough on all business – free trade and the dropping of tariffs from foreign manufacturers, plus a BIG recession really took their toll on the Canadian fashion industry. I think you are right – it would probably be doing just fine again – same for Creeds.

    • Michael Berg says:

      Jonathan
      Thanks so much for the kind words
      To set the record straight, Russel (my father) was Ira Bergs son and Noreen (my Mother) took the business from a sleepy little dress shop in the 50’s to an iconic retailer in the 70’s.
      I joined them in 1980 and together we added European designer brands, cosmetics (Chanel and the 1st Keihl’s counter in Canada), Footwear (Tods, Prada and Celine) and even an upscale hair salon (Mary Tripi)
      We tried to attract a younger, hipper clien in the early 90’s – seems we didn’t time it very well and were forced to close in 1999
      I remember very well working with the Peter Lawrence crew – and the spectacular work they did
      Best regards

      Michael Berg

  4. Kate Robb says:

    My Mom used to shop at Ira Bergs when I was a young child in the 60’s and 70’s. I always loved her clothing but unfortunately Mom was much smaller than I am as an adult. I will never forget a camel coloured wool coat she bought. When Mom died I was very upset that I couldn’t get into it as I always wanted an Ira Berg piece of clothing. Ira was an absolute delight when we came into the store.

    • Jonathan says:

      Thanks for your first-hand account of the story Kate. I was never in the shop, but I have had many Ira Berg labelled clothes come my way!

  5. We left Toronto June 2nd 1970 for Los Angeles and have not been able to find clothes equal to the garments I purchased from your store. They were truly beautiful. Bot a gorgeous white wool pant suit to travel to England, a short white dress and matching blue coat, a yellow chiffon short dress and many others. The designs were truly elegant. So sorry you had to close because of the economy.

    • Jonathan says:

      I hope someone from Ira Berg reads your comment!

      • Michael Berg says:

        Irene
        Saw your comments today about Ira Berg – the loyal customers are the real thing we miss from the “old days”

        Thanks
        Michael Berg (grandson of Ira Berg)

  6. Judi says:

    Hi Jonathan, I do remember this lovely shop in Toronto back in the 60s, 70s and 80s a true fashion house like Allen Cherry, Creeds and The St. Regis Room in Eatons or was it Simpsons downtown. I am always on the hunt for vintage pieces and have an Ira Berg velvet jacket embellished with sequences around the neck and down the front of the jacket. It is a Louis Feraud and has an unusual label. It has the Ira Berg Limited separate label and the Louis Feraud below it and I think it dates to the 70s or 80s, made in W Germany is part of the label along one side and the size on the other side. However, added to this label is a plain white fabric label placed over Feraud’s label covering up Paris and it reads “Made in Western-Germany” tacked on in a rather unprofessional manner. Do you buy pieces for your museum and would you be interested in this one. I could forward a picture if you are interested. I love it when I research my finds and come across such interesting history from these late designers and fashion houses. Thanks for the info.

    • Jonathan says:

      St. Regis Room was Simpsons – was it the French room that was at Eaton’s? Sounds like a great piece, the ‘made in Western-Germany’ puts a pre 1990 date on it for sure (wall fell 1989). However, we don’t have a budget for buying much and focus on really important, rare pieces when we do. I am concentrating on a man’s vest from the 1730s at the moment that is heavily embroidered in silver, but its going to take a LONG time to pay it off! We always take donations though, and can offer tax receipts to donors…

  7. Mary B Chard says:

    I purchased a dress at Ira Berg in 1955 or thereabouts and have it still in good condition.

    • Jonathan says:

      If you decide to part with it let me know! The museum has only one example of an Ira Berg label in the collection.
      Jonathan

  8. Mary B Chard says:

    Was Ira Berg located on Avenue Road at one time.?

  9. Carolyn Newman says:

    Dear Jonathan,

    I am Ira Berg’s great granddaughter, Dr Morton Berg his son’s grabddughter . Would love to know which pieces you have from the store! I want to buy a few more while I still can. I have one dress and one suit from my grandmother with a fox collar. would love to talk to you more !

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi Carolyn
      We don’t have a lot of things from Ira Berg. I know we have a hat box, at least two coats and maybe a suit, all from the 1960s or 1970s. We don’t have the collection all catalogued on a computer yet, so there isn’t a fast way to tell you without looking inside everything we have, but I do know we have a few examples, just not a lot. I would love to see pics of what you have!
      Jonathan Walford
      kickshaw@rogers.com

  10. Marisa Deschamps says:

    I have a leather wrap skirt with the Ira Berg label on it. It says ‘made in Italy for Ira Berg’. It’s a chocolate brown colour and it is quite modern styled. Would anyone please be able to tell me how much it is worth. It’s fully lined and genuine thick leather. I would like to sell it. Thank you

    • Jonathan says:

      Sorry, I can’t help you. I would suggest you look at similar leather skirts for sale online in places like eBay and Etsy.

  11. Carolyn Embury says:

    I have a beautiful pink full length chiffon,beaded Ira Berg dress that I believe to be before the 60s but not entirely sure.
    I would like to find it a home. Do you know of anyone who might be interested in this dress. I can include a photo.
    Many thanks,
    Carolyn

  12. Mari says:

    Hi Jonathan and thank you for your blog.

    I saw a tote bag with the label “ira rose N berg” in script and was wondering if this was part of this fashion legacy. It is a large tote in lime green with an Asian type outlined designed on the fabric.

    I really like it but the inside includes and removeable bottom fabric plate per se, and its flip side is water-proof (which would be good to protect the outer fabric of the bag if something leaked. It also has a couple not obvious outer slit pockets. These two features remind me of a diaper bag but also for a (not so common) bag.

    Thank you for your thoughts and comments.

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