Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Artful Blogger visits The Room at The Hudson's Bay Company, Vancouver BC Canada

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Vancouver gets a bit of a rap for its fashion. Since it’s often rain on what some have dismissed as “the wet coast”, outerwear is often comprised of functional but hardly fashion-forward Mountain Equipment Co-op (that’s like REI for American readers) built to withstand the constant drizzle we get from the fall until the summer. The most fashion-forward tend to be the Asian transplants who frequent more experimental fashions that may be de rigueur in Tokyo and Hong Kong, but they are often looked upon by the more conservative sectors in Vancouver as being “too Chinese” (itself a disgustingly racist statement that tells more about the speaker than it does about the wearer). However, the recent opening of shops like Anthropologie and the like are encouraging signs that wearing something more chic than the usual Gore-Tex apparel may become more of the standard here.

Into this environment comes the St. Regis Room, the famed high-end couture space at The Bay colloquially referred to as “The Room”. Originally started at its downtown Toronto location, this is an attempt by The Bay to rival Holt Renfrew as being a premier couture retailer in Canada. The Bay was once a store where you bought things out of necessity, with literally almost a thousand lower-to-mid-range priced brands you’ve never heard of competing for space with more familiar labels and overstuffing the shops with racks and racks of clothing. However, CEO Bonnie Brooks has been at the helm of the revitalized Bay since 2009 and has been using her considerable experience running high-end shops in Hong Kong to give the venerable old Bay a commercial facelift. This includes acquiring newer, higher-quality brands while retaining some of the mid-range ready-to-wear labels such as Calvin Klein and Kenneth Cole to ensure that the general public can continue to find more democratically priced fashions.
Bonnie Brooks, CEO of The Bay

Housed on the second floor, The Room in The Bay’s Vancouver location will mimic the look and feel of the Queen Street location in Toronto. Boasting 23,000 square feet of retail space, The Room will carry only the truly spectacular brands, such as Balmain, Alaia, Christian Louboutin, Barbara Bui, former Vogue prodigy Thakoon, Halston, Brian Atwood, DSquared2 and Proenza Schouler. These are not brands that make ready-to-wear lines, so they are able to control exclusivity to the fashions and retain true glamour, and The Bay will have exclusive distribution brands with these major brands, many of which are debuting in the Vancouver market in The Room. There will be no “chav chic” here to downgrade the brand names the way the venerable Burberry has suffered.
Mary Katrantzou Trompe-l’eoil Collection

The Blogger is particularly excited that the experimental British designer Mary Katrantzou will be showcased there, as it will be one of the very few shops in the entire country to carry her exceptional, ground-breaking Trompe-l’eoil  works. Her work was most recently worn by Keira Knightley at the Venice FilmFestival. The Room will also showcase the works of Jason Wu, whose spectacular creations for Michelle Obama have kept him in the top echelon of designers. 
These are not your proverbial mother’s brands, nor are they mid-range (but no lesser) brands like Zara and Banana Republic that the plebeians (of which I confess to being a part-time member) flaunt as if they were couture. These brands are serious moneyed items, for serious fashionistas with disposable income. As the aesthetics for The Room will be white tiles, and white walls with black highlights and crystal accents, the clothing will be displayed in truly spectacular fashion as the merchandise will pop out and truly have the space it deserves to be shown in its best possible light.

The arrival of The Room at the Vancouver location will be particularly rehabilitative for the store’s image, which was physically trashed during those still-embarrassing riots (for which you can still help bring in the offenders here) that destroyed part of the store a few months ago. On the same street where hooligans trashed and burned a vehicle is now a much cleaner façade, with valet parking service on Seymour Street and a private elevator directly from the VIP concierge into The Room itself for those. In a way, it’s an homage to the personalized service that truly high-end department stores like Daslu in Sao Paolo and TSUM in Moscow already have for their best clients.

The fashion-related blog Retail Details, which reports on the business aspects of large-scale department stores worldwide such as Printemps, Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Saks and Harvey Nichols has already started a Facebook event page for the event ahead of The Bay  and was the first media outlet to report on this exciting development earlier this year.
Hudson's Bay Company, Downtown Vancouver

As Malcolm Gladwell might put it in his influential book The Tipping Point, this could itself be the point at which The Bay “tips” and grows in stature to become an all-inclusive, one-stop department store where one could also acquire higher-end goods. No longer will wealthier socialites and movie stars have to go to Holt Renfrew or shop in another major city to purchase that designer gown that will be the red carpet showstopper at premieres and gala balls. As there are rumours that Nordstrom will finally open in Canada and are eyeing a Vancouver location, The Bay is stepping up its efforts and establishing a firm beachhead as a premier shopping experience. It’s no secret that The Bay is in the midst of preparing for its initial public offering  and would be seeking funds to revitalize its brand, its image and its store.
Yabu Pushelberg render of Vancouver's Room

The Room at The Bay in Vancouver will be open to the public on Thursday, September 8, with a gala, invitation-only reception to launch it in the evening. The valet parking is accessible on the west side of Seymour Street. For those taking public transportation, simply take the Canada Line to Vancouver City-Centre and cross the street if you are coming a north-south direction. If you are heading east-west on the Expo Line or Millennium Line trains, stop off at Granville Station and the station is connected to The Bay itself on the inside.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Artful Blogger Goes Shopping: Daslu, Saõ Paolo

Do you remember the theme song to Cheers? It’s famed for being the place to go “where everybody knows your name”. The idea is that the bartenders know your drink and you’re in a safe haven. It’s an atmosphere for friends to gather.

At Daslu, they don’t just bring you your drink. If everyone there knows your name, then they also bring you racks of designer clothing, electronics, appetizers and shoes.
Versailles in the jungle? No, it's Daslu's
flagship store.
The famed Daslu is described by many as perhaps the ultimate luxury shopping experience. Located in Saõ Paolo, Brazil, the shop is the brainchild of Brazilian socialite Lúcia Piva de Albuquerque Tranchesi. Seeing a lack of major luxury goods available in her city, the native Paulista brought Brazilian haute couture to the capital city by showcasing the latest high fashion in her home. The very name “Daslu” is a colloquialism that loosely means “Lu’s place”. In the afternoon hours, she would invite her wealthy socialite friends to peruse the collections and allow them to purchase these items. Eventually, the idea and the merchandise stock grew, and a gigantic new shop was opened away from the Tranchesi home.

Today, Daslu’s flagship store is housed in a massive 180,000 square foot complex not too far from its original location. (They also have a smaller retail space in the Morumbi neighbourhood). Intended as an oasis for the mega-wealthy to shop in peace, Daslu has an otherworldly quality, but boasts an intimacy with its customers and availability of luxury merchandise that is nearly unheard of anywhere else in the world. Tranchesi’s philosophy was to cultivate its client base by getting to know her shoppers and their families well, and to foster brand loyalty as their families grow and children become enterprising, fashionable young consumers into adulthood. Tranchesi's daughter Eliana, who took over the business in 1983 after her mother’s passing, has continued that philosophy. The idea is that their clients are their friends. It makes for a far less impersonal connection between customer and merchant.

VIP Shopping Lounge
The Daslu complex requires customers to pass through two security gates before setting foot in the building. Almost nobody arrives on foot, and public transportation doesn’t exactly drop off busloads of tourists at the front door. Upon arrival, each guest’s regular salesgirl – known as Dasluzettes – greets the shopper at the front entrance and, if the customer is a returning client, then the Dasluzete will have already arranged for a private VIP shopping salon containing clothes of the latest finds. These are usually tailored to the customer’s tastes and brand preferences. (It goes without saying that price is not a barrier to a sale.) Valets take care of your vehicle as you alight and step into Daslu. The shop is not so much a building so much as it is, scale-wise, the Brazilian version of Versailles. The motif is Renaissance, but an intimate feel is apparent as the merchandise is well-displayed in long mazes of interconnected drawing-rooms. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gum Moscow: The Department Store, Not the Chewing Gum

Special article for Retail Details.Guest Blogger, Ritchie Po of The Artful Blogger

GUM corporate logo
This year, Forbes magazine reported that 79 of the year’s billionaires live in Moscow, more than in any other city in the world: that’s billionaire, not millionaire. This statistic means that there is plenty of wealth going around than ever before and a sign that, 25 years after Perestroika, Communism has indeed gone the way of the floppy disk.

With such an abundance of luxury, it’s no wonder that some of the world’s most luxurious shopping is now done in Moscow, with the largest shopping centre being GUM Trading House. 
GUM (pronounced like “doom” with a “g”, but far more pleasant) is located in Red Square and close to St. Basil’s Cathedral, situating it in perhaps the single most prominent and immediately recognizable area in all of Russia. The acronym “GUM” is derived from the Cyrillic “ГУМ”, meaning “State Department Store”, and was originally built as a shopping mall with an astonishing 1,200 stores housed within its walls. During Stalin’s reign, it was initially converted into an office and it even displayed his wife’s body following her suicide in 1932. Grim. Eventually, GUM was converted back into a department store and became one of the few well-stocked shops in the nation, given its centrality and its location next to the Kremlin. (Yes, Lenin is likely turning over in his grave next door.) Of the many state department stores, the one in Red Square stands alone today and remains the most iconic.
GUM, in all its glory. Note original architecture preserved.
 Once the Soviet Union collapsed, plans were eventually in place to at first partially, and then fully privatize GUM. It is now owned and operated by the Russian luxury goods distributor and boutique magnate Bosco di Ciliegi.

Concurrent with the collapse of Communism, many Russian capitalists stepped out of the socialist closet and were eager to shop. Designers and shop operators, sensing a nascent new market on the verge of explosion, rushed to fill GUM with luxury goods to an eager public flush with wealth. 
GUM promenade, lit up at night

Fashionistas and even casual luxury brand admirers (such as this writer) are surrounded by a nearly obscene number of designer brands with stand-alone boutiques, such as Armani, Sonia Rykiel, Burberry, Hugo Boss, Dior, Hermes and Frey Willie. Luxury brand names populate their retail spaces with considerable amounts of haute couture, in addition to their second lines and prêt-a-porter collections. The Russian designer Valentin Yudashkin, whose haute couture works are so innovative and coveted that they have been on display both at Paris Fashion Week and at the Louvre, has one of his major shops here. 

Bosco Sport and Cheburashka, official mascot.
A joke often told by the locals is that GUM is really “the exhibition of prices”, as no one except the mega-wealthy can truly afford to buy anything there. That said, GUM also houses a number of more democratically-priced brands such as Levi’s, Guess, Calvin Klein Jeans and La Perla, for those who want the cache of taking home in one of GUM’s trademark shopping bags. Keep in mind that certain European brands that are more expensive for North American consumers, such as Paul Smith, are much more priced reasonably well here due to a lack of duties and taxes. Although this writer confesses to never having been to GUM, he readily admits that he would undoubtedly spend considerable amounts of time at Bosco Sport, the athletic wear line owned and operated by Bosco di Ciliegi and also designs all the outfits for Russian’s national and Olympic teams. He also can’t help but smile that the country's largest chocolaterie with a shop in GUM is named Krasny Oktyober, meaning “Red October” in English.

GUM dome, daytime
Despite having undergone several major renovations, GUM retains its original architecture and the dazzling, dramatic sky-dome roof along the main promenade that runs counter to, but never clashes with, its classical Russian architecture. The building boasts a considerable amount of steel and glass and always appears modern, despite its classic design.

To truly showcase its prominent location, it is best to see GUM in the winter months. Despite the deep freeze, crowds often form to view skating exhibitions performed on an enormous outdoor ice rink by the country’s numerous Olympic and world figure skating champions. GUM is particularly festive during the New Year, traditionally Russia’s single biggest holiday, and it is lit up year-round as evidenced by the thousands of lights that beautifully trade the long building’s unique architecture against the night sky. For an English-language video of GUM during the holidays, click here:

GUM - exterior view at night
As GUM is imposing in physical scale, despite its location next to Red Square, the Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral, plan to take almost an entire day alone to explore the mall, due to the nearly inexhaustible array of designers displaying their wares for some of the world’s richest shoppers.

The English-language news site Russia Today has a channel dedicated to the nightlife of the capital called "Moscow Out", hosted by British expat Martyn Andrews. He featured GUM a few months ago and mentioned that the best bargains on designer names can be had each January, after the New Year, and not on Boxing Day or in the week after Christmas. Click for a glimpse into GUM and into other shopping excursions in the Russian capital:

GUM is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. most weekdays and on Saturdays, and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is easily accessible via the gorgeous Moscow Metro. Simply take the red line to Okhotny Ryad, which stops right at the Kremlin.

GUM English site:


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Retail Interiors: White, Bright, Letting in Light

In the last decade, there has been a trend towards brighter retail interiors. Selfridge's in London, Printemps in Paris, Myer in Australia, The Hudson's Bay Company in Canada, and many others, have created interiors that are brighter and lighter than stores in the past. These are also in stark contrast to Nordstrom, which tends to go for more subdued, slightly old-fashioned interiors. Let's have a look...
Selfridge's Wonder Room, London

Selfridge's Wonder Room, London
Selfridge's in London's 'Wonder Room' on the ground floor. They've created a lovely bright, upscale interior, using their trademark yellow as an accent colour. It's executed wonderfully... it's elegant, bright, and the yellow creates a sense of place that is uniquely Selfridges. A+.

Printemps Paris Hausseman, Ground Floor Entrance to Luxury Accessory Floors

Printemps Paris Hausseman, Atrium, Luxury Accessories

Printemps Accessories Floor
The flagship Printemps department store on Paris' Boulevard Hausseman has seen a spectacular renovation. It has a luxury accessories hall of three floors, being over 100,000 square feet. Canada's interior design team Yabu Pusselberg has executed the renovation in a spectacular fashion, creating one of the world's most productive and beautiful retailing spaces.

Myer, Melbourne Australia
Melbourne, Australia-based Myer has recently completed a renovation of its flagship store. It's light, bright, and a little strange looking... but airy and pleasant nonetheless.

Third Floor, Hudson's Bay Company Toronto Queen Street
Handbags Hall, Hudson's Bay Company Downtown Vancouver
Second Floor, Hudson's Bay Company Vancouver
Canada's Hudson's Bay Company department stores is also using the design team Yabu Pushelberg to renovate its Canadian stores. So far the new, brighter interiors have facilitated continually higher sales per square foot.

Neiman Marcus, Bellevue Washington
Neiman Marcus, Bellevue Washington

Neiman Marcus, Houston Tx.
Neiman Marcus, Short Hills NJ

The American retailer, Neiman Marcus, is well known for its bright, light interiors. The relatively large size of their stores and their clean, bright interiors, create an airy sense of luxury.

American retailer Nordstrom, as a contrast, uses a more conservative approach to their interiors.  Nordstrom also tends to pack merchandise closer together than stores like Neiman Marcus.  All Nordstrom photos are from Nordstrom at Westfield San Francisco Center, and are generally similar in all stores. 

I personally prefer the brighter interiors. But that's just me. What do my readers think?

Canada's Hudson's Bay Company: A Challenging Revitalization Project

Canada's Hudson's Bay Company (aka 'The Bay') was incorporated in 1670. It evolved into a national department store chain. In the past couple of decades, The Bay appeared to be going downhill. Merchandise was dowdy and uninteresting. Store interiors were bland and dated. And finding a salesperson for assistance seemed next to impossible. A similarly described Canadian store, Eaton's, went bankrupt in 1999 due to consumer apathy. 

The Bay, Queen Street, Toronto Ontario

Bonnie Brooks,  President and CEO of The Bay since 2009 (formerly of Hong-Kong based Lane Crawford stores), is taking The Bay more upscale in an effort to revive the company. She dropped 800 under performing brands and added 200 new ones. Revenues are reportedly up. The Bay has 92 stores across Canada, making its 'transformation' extremely difficult and very expensive. Will the upscale-swing of The Bay work? Sales figures at flagship stores seem to indicate so. In 2009, sales at the 935,000 square foot flagship Queen Street Bay store were approximately $130 million. After the introduction of The Room, the luxury women's designer floor, 2010 sales spiked to about $170 million at the Queen Street store. A similar spike in sales is expected at the 650,000 square foot Vancouver Downtown Bay store after the fall 2011 Room introduction, which currently has sales of less than $120 million.

Bonnie Brooks, President & CEO, Hudson's Bay Company

So far, piecemeal store renovations have created areas that are bright, well designed, and have interesting new merchandise. Handbag departments in the Toronto Queen Street (a downtown flagship) and Downtown Vancouver stores have become bright white halls with various moderately upscale labels (Coach, Furla, Botkier, See by Chloe, Dooney & Bourke, Love Moschino), with bags generally under $1000 (Canadian Dollars). Currently, four Bay stores include women's departments called 'The White Space', set in a bright, open environment with glossy tiled floors. More will follow across Canada. Designers such as McQ/Alexander McQueen, Sonia by Sonia Rykiel, See by Chloe, Halston Heritage, and Armani Jeans have been introduced. A similar 'White Space' men's department will be launched in selected Bay stores by the Summer of 2011, after a successful Fall 2010 launch in Toronto. 

Newly renovated handbag hall at The Bay, Queen Street, Toronto

The Bay went extremely upscale with the introduction of its luxury department called 'The Room' at the Toronto Queen Street flagship store, described in this blog here: The Room (Coming to Vancouver) . Many retail analysts and retail watchers were in disbelief to think that a 21,500 square foot high-end designer floor (ie $10,000 gowns, $1500 shoes, $3500 bags) could be successful in The Bay, given its previous reputation. There was further surprise when The Room was announced to be opening in Vancouver September 2011, and in Montreal Spring 2012.  The upscale strategy worked for Bonnie Brooks at Hong Kong's Lane Crawford (where she oversaw its transformation into the Asian equivalent of Barneys New York), and has worked for others.

In London, Selfridge's move upscale, including luxury floors for clothing, shoes and accessories, have been met with tremendous success. It includes the world's largest shoe department, with an enormous selection of the world's top brands. In Paris, Au Printemps and Galeries Lafayette battle for customers with exceptional luxury-based retailing.  Printemps has an astonishing three-floors devoted to luxury accessories alone, totally over 100,000 square feet.  In Berlin, Ka De We's (Karstadt Group) successful introduction of upscale ground-floor boutiques led to familiar strategies in the chain's Oberpollinger (Munich) and Alsterhaus (Hamburg) stores. I could go on-and-on, be it Spain (El Corte Ingles), Italy (La Rinascente), Japan, China, or Australia.

The successful upscaling of many world department stores, however, has focused on or at least been initiated by the introduction of luxury ground-floor vendor shops, usually concentrating on accessories. Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Hermes, Burberry and Dior, among others, have become staple brands on luxury floors across the world's top department stores. Canada's Hudson's Bay Company has not one of these vendor shops. Holt Renfrew, Canada's premier upscale larger-format retailer, includes all of these vendors selectively at its various locations.

The introduction of 'The Room' to Bay stores, while getting people talking and some shopping, may best have been met with the inclusion of luxury accessory shops on the ground floor of its flagship locations. Limiting the luxury selection to a second or third floor of a large, relatively underwhelming store, may not have been the best strategy to attract shoppers looking for a luxury experience. Currently, Bay stores have no upscale restaurants, spas, or other services to keep 'The Room' shoppers within Bay stores beyond visiting The Room itself, though The Bay will soon open upscale restaurants at selected locations. The Bay offers very few high-margin luxury accessory vendors, as mentioned above, to attract crowds of well-heeled affluent and aspirational shoppers into its flagship stores.

The Bay, Downtown Montreal

Competition From New Entrant: La Maison Simons
The Bay will face stiff competition in its fashion sector when La Maison Simons expands West from its current seven Quebec-only stores. Over the next 10 years, Simons plans on opening up to 12 stores outside of Quebec, in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton (2012), Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa. Simons is known for its exceptional customer service, affordable/trendy private-labels,  top-of-the-line designer labels, within well-executed retail interiors. Given Simon's recent intention to expand across Canada in most of The Bay's key markets, The Bay will face considerable competition in its desired direction.

Competition From The Top: Holt Renfrew
Canada's Holt Renfrew fashion chain will also prove a potentially strong competitor to The Bay, especially with Holt Renfrew's tendancy towards opening/expanding to larger stores (80,000-150,000 square feet +, as opposed to its former 30,000-60,000 square foot stores) and its move towards carrying more affordable fashions. A fashion insider informs me that Holt Renfrew is fighting to attain some of The Bay's exclusive designer offerings, including Rachel Roy lables and Adam by Adam Lippes. Holts is also looking at expanding several of its current stores, including having recently announced that its Yorkdale Shopping Centre store will be enlarged to a gross 84,000 square feet. Designer tug-of-wars have already occurred at the top-end, as well, with designers such as Halston, Mark Fast and L'Wren Scott heading to The Bay, while Holt Renfrew fought successfully to stock Balmain, Aquilano.Rimondi and Brian Atwood shoes, formerly only at The Bay. 

2010 sales at Holt Renfrew's 137,000 square foot Vancouver store were about $127 million, being higher than The Bay's $118 million at 650,000 square feet. In 2006, sales at the 185,000 square foot Holt Renfrew Toronto Bloor Street location were about $150 million, being the highest of any store in Canada. Bloor's sales have since dropped to about $125 million in 2010 due to a recession and a major sidewalk construction project on Bloor Street.

See by Chloe boutique at The Bay, Queen Street, Toronto