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The new Saks Fifth Avenue in Toronto boasts about 1,000 pairs of shoes. The growth of the luxury trade is one of the factors that has made Toronto’s downtown among the most vibrant in North America. (NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The new Saks Fifth Avenue in Toronto boasts about 1,000 pairs of shoes. The growth of the luxury trade is one of the factors that has made Toronto’s downtown among the most vibrant in North America. (NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Don’t begrudge the growth of luxury retail – welcome it Add to ...

The T-shirt hangs on a rack in Saks Fifth Avenue at Queen and Yonge. It is white in colour and soft to the touch. It says Givenchy Paris in capital letters on the front and it is peppered with small holes as if it has been attacked by moths, giving it that attractive distressed look. The price on the tag is $995, and that’s before tax.

The new Saks store is a temple to unapologetic conspicuous consumption. Splatter-marked jeans by Dsquared2, a brand founded by twin brothers from Willowdale, sell for $635. Givenchy jeans with stars on the back pocket up the ante at $765.

A summer frock in a flowered pattern is $2,950, a pair of men’s swimming trunks by Vilebrequin $295. Pink Louis Vuitton bags beckoning from a lighted alcove bear no price tag. If you have to ask …

Ostentation reaches its peak in the women’s shoe boutique, called 10022 Shoe after the zip code of the original Saks on Fifth Avenue, New York. About 1,000 pairs of shoes, from sneakers to flats to the meanest stilettos, are on display. “It’s like an art gallery where you can touch everything!” says one enthusiastic young salesman.

Heels by the likes of Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo can go for around $1,000. A pair of high suede boots is $2,700. But the topper is a pair of simple black plastic slide sandals – Givenchy again – of the kind you might wear into the shower room. Price (no joke): $480.

Who buys this stuff? Quite a few people, it seems. On Monday morning, mother-and-daughter pairs were roaming the brightly lit floors, touching and appraising. Chinese and Russian tourists were on the hunt, too. Clerks say the store has been busy since opening on Feb. 18. Someone even bought a pair of those $480 slides.

It would be easy to moralize about all this. Toronto’s luxury market has grown by leaps in the past few years, while many Torontonians struggle to eke out a living. Yorkdale Shopping Centre gave itself a splashy makeover. High-end hotels from the Shangri-La to the Trump tower opened their doors. A food hall by Pusateri’s is moving into Saks.

In fact, we should welcome the growth of what is sometimes called the carriage trade, however over-the-top it often seems. Big, successful cities attract rich people. Some come to spend, others to create wealth, many to do both. That wealth gets scattered around in various ways – through the taxes on what they earn and spend, through the donations many of them make to hospitals or museums or other good works.

The growth of the luxury trade is one of the factors that has made Toronto’s downtown among the most vibrant in North America. Places like Saks draw well-heeled visitors seeking to become even better heeled. They add a little glitter to Yonge Street, which is on the way up after the seediness of recent decades.

London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, once argued that “there is no point in wasting any more moral or mental energy in being jealous of the very rich. … We shouldn’t bother ourselves about why they want all this money, or why it is nicer to have a bath with gold taps. We should be helping all those who can to join the ranks of the super rich, and we should stop any bashing or moaning or preaching or bitching and simply give thanks for the prodigious sums of money that they are contributing to the tax revenues of this country, and that enable us to look after our sick and our elderly and to build roads, railways and schools.”

Quite sensible. The super rich aren’t really doing any harm when they splurge on a $1,000 T-shirt. We’re beyond bringing in sumptuary laws – the rules in past times against putting on the dog by wearing fine fabrics or serving luxurious foods.

Better just to leave them alone and smile at the folly of it all. In the Saks on Monday, a woman in the flashing red soles of Louboutin heels was complaining to her girlfriend about a misadventure on a recent visit to Switzerland. She was taking a side trip to the skiing in France and “we were going to take a chopper,” but they settled for driving instead. Big mistake, apparently. It took for-EVER.

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