The world is coming to Vancouver. That’s a statement of fact: Canada’s westernmost metropolis will host the 2010 Winter Olympics. It also sets the context for an ambitious retail strategy: Holt Renfrew, Canada’s premier fashion chain, wants its new Vancouver store, which opened earlier this summer, to impress the flow of international visitors as a world-class store, the equal of fashion flagships in Paris, London, Tokyo or New York. “Holt’s wants to make a statement for the whole world to see,” says Mark Janson, partner of Janson Goldstein LLP (New York), the architecture and design firm entrusted with that global vision.
Holt’s expectations for the success of this store are not based purely on the coming Olympics. The Canadian economy is strong (the Canadian dollar, or “looney,” was nearly on par with the U.S. dollar recently, for the first time in 30 years) and Vancouver is riding the economic boom. Its location on the Pacific Rim makes it a trucking, railroad and shipping leader. And it thrives in Canada’s heritage industries – forestry and mining – as well as in its more contemporary businesses of software development, biotechnology and movie production. Plus, there’s a vibrant international tourism. And the luxury market is burgeoning.
None of the U.S. fashion kingpins – Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys or Bloomingdale’s – has a store in Canada. But there are branded boutiques and high-end specialty retailers dotting the country’s better shopping avenues, like Bloor Street in Toronto, Sherbrooke Street in Montreal and Robson Street in Vancouver. So each of Holt Renfrew’s nine artfully crafted department stores has a competitive standard to meet. Although the previous, smaller Vancouver store was one of the most productive in the Holt Renfrew chain, this new one, across the street from the old one, is raising the ante, which explains the more than $40 million the retailer reportedly spent on the store.
Janson Goldstein made its first statement on the outside of the space. Because the new store wraps around three well-traveled city blocks, there was opportunity to create a never-before-seen, stop-in-your-tracks effect. The upper part of the building is clad in what Janson calls “quilted glass,” a series of pillowed glass cells of different transparencies and textures specially developed for this store. Not only does the glass facade create a dramatic statement, it also lets daylight flow into the store. “Many stores today block the daylight out,” Janson says, “but this is a city that appreciates and celebrates the outdoors.”
And the outdoors does pour in. “It’s always bright in here,” says John Gerhardt, Holt Renfrew’s director of creative services, “even when it’s gloomy outside.”
Of course, notes Janson, the attention-grabbing exterior sets high expectations for the inside. So the design intent of the three-story interior was for something sleek, glamorous and easy to navigate. “You have eight separate entry points,” he says, “including four doors from three city streets, plus entries from an adjoining urban mall, the parking garage, an adjacent office tower and an underground concourse. We needed a circulation system so that a customer could enter from anywhere and immediately find where she needed to go.”
The architectural solution to the circulation system is a dramatic atrium soaring up three levels in the center of the store, a focal point around which the 137,000-square-foot space pivots, a meeting or stopping point for shoppers. A concierge desk provides assistance in everything, from giving directions to providing dog walkers while people shop. Gerhardt also uses the atrium to make his boldest visual merchandising statements. “It’s our branding point,” he says.
Dominating the atrium is a large mobile. For the store opening in June, the mobile hewed to the theme – “The World Is Coming to Vancouver” – with mannequins, painted in Holt’s signature magenta, adorning wooden shipping crates.
Among those coming to Vancouver are the international couture designers. According to Gary Balaski, general manager of the Vancouver store, “we never had the space before to accommodate all the big-name designers we wanted to carry.” That’s no longer a problem, evidently. They’re all represented here: Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Jimmy Choo, Helmut Lang, Marc Jacobs, Hugo Boss.
The store also has an assortment of branded hard shops by the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Michael Kors, Giorgio Armani and Prada. Branded shops in the bright and open 10,000-square-foot cosmetics section on the main floor include Lancome, Kiehl’s and Jo Malone, plus the retailer’s own Holtsceuticals, dedicated to beauty and well-being with ingestibles, Omega-3 supplements, bottled personal oxygen and organic and natural skincare products from Stella McCartney and Red Earth. There’s also a full-service, 6000-square-foot spa.
Great attention was paid to quality surface materials: Greek marble, tumbled stone from Indonesia, designer Italian terrazzo, quartz, natural stone, hand-treated leather, aluminum, recycled and hand-scraped oak, birch and aspen cover the floors and walls.
Throughout the store, and especially in the eight street windows, mannequins dominate Gerhardt’s visual merchandising vision. There are 250 abstract mannequins in use, from Rootstein, Goldsmith, Schlappi and Pucci. To get just the right Holt Renfrew magenta, says Gerhardt, many of the mannequins were spray-painted in an auto body shop, “the only place we could get the exact color match.”
For the grand opening, a mannequin in the atrium wore a $25,000 Oliver Theyskens dress for Nina Ricci. In the streetside windows, mannequins clambored out of shipping crates wearing Prada, Dior, Rodarte, Etro, Lanvin and Oscar de la Renta. Clearly, they were meant to be arriving in Vancouver from Milan, Paris, New York and London.
Holt Renfrew has gambled quite a lot on the fashion world getting on a plane and following suit.
Client: Holt Renfrew, Toronto
Design: Janson Goldstein LLP, New York
Architect: IBI/HB Architects, Vancouver, B.C.
General Contractor: Ledcor Group of Cos., Vancouver, B.C.
Lighting: Bill Jansing Design, Dallas
Mannequins: DK Display, New York; Goldsmith, Long Island City, N.Y.; Pucci, New York; Adel Rooststein, London
Crates And Décor: BLD Decor and Scenery, Vancouver, B.C.
Vinyl Signage: Dot and Dash, Toronto
Photography: George Pimintel, WireImage, Toronto; Robert Musnicki, Vancouver, B.C.