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.
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.
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.
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.
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.