I love shopping and I love department stores. My favourite, by far, is Ogilvy’s, one of Montreal’s oldest and most treasured landmarks. It’s somewhat less expensive than Holt Renfrew, but it’s a high-end store – meaning that, even on Boxing Day, I was able to graze without being trampled.
But there’s a dark cloud looming for Ogilvy’s aficionados. The store was sold in the summer to Toronto-based Selfridges Group Ltd., the Weston family-owned holding company that already owns Holt Renfrew. Since Ogilvy’s and Holt’s are just two blocks apart in Montreal (one is on Ste-Catherine Street, the other on Sherbrooke, both at Mountain), the rumour is that Holt’s lovely art-deco building will be sold for condos, while Holt’s will move into Ogilvy’s.
Not only would Ogilvy’s lose its 145-year-old name, it would probably lose the historical character inherited from its Scottish founder, a character carefully preserved throughout the years and several major renovations. Its distinguished tartan bags would be replaced by Holt’s shocking pink bags, and one wonders what would happen to the bagpiper who roams the store every day at noon. Most important, Ogilvy’s would probably lose its distinctive merchandising policies.
While Holt’s is highly predictable – it sells the same expensive brands one finds in any big North American city – Ogilvy’s managers and buyers, who are based in Montreal since the store is not part of a chain, are much more creative and closer to the French fashion world.
While Holt’s sticks to the likes of Prada, Kate Spade and Gucci, Ogilvy’s makes room for Sonia Rykiel and Longchamp bags, Anne Fontaine’s collection of bodices and Laurence Tavernier’s lingerie. Holt’s collection of shawls and hats is ultra-conventional, while half of Ogilvy’s main floor is devoted to a dazzling array of exquisite woollen and furry items for your head and shoulders.
Holt’s affordable women’s-wear section usually borders on the plain and boring (apart from Diane von Fürstenberg’s dresses), but there’s always something original to be found at Ogilvy’s, whether it’s a funky top from Save the Queen or fancy sportswear from Taifun or elegant suits from the French maker Gerard Darel or the creations of Montreal designer Marie Saint Pierre.
Want perfume? Ogilvy’s goes off the beaten path, with a counter of L’Artisan Parfumeur. The two store’s shoe departments are a study in contrast: At Holt’s, you’ll find Ferragamo and Prada; at Ogilvy’s, you’ll find European brands such as Arche, Pas de Rouge and Chie Mihara.
Holt’s wins hands down, though, when it comes to food. Its delightful basement café is a must for those who like a light and refined lunch.
The rich, especially the nouveaux riches, flock to Holt’s. There, you can see impossibly spoiled girls who can afford to spend entire afternoons trying on and rejecting shoes. Ogilvy’s clientele is more diverse, and I’d be hard-pressed to describe a typical customer.
The moving of Holt’s into Ogilvy’s would probably make financial sense for an owner whose main objective is to maximize its profits. Holt’s is cramped in its 64,000 square feet, while Ogilvy’s imposing grey stone building offers 120,000 square feet of airy space. Still, consumer analyst Neil Linsdell told The Gazette that there’s enough money in Montreal to make room for two high-end department stores. It’s always been the case, and isn’t competition good for business?
While real-estate agents are salivating at the thought of Holt’s becoming condos, consumers are in the dark since the fate of Ogilvy’s hasn’t been decided yet.