Luxury fashion chain Holt Renfrew & Co. Ltd. is pulling out all the stops for its first men's-only store, even touting a $335,000 red Ferrari 458 Italia sports car at the entrance and a doorman to greet customers.
The new store will open on Wednesday with grey hues (and grey shopping bags) to replace Holt's signature hot-pink magenta from its conventional chain. Holt's is gearing up for the burgeoning posh retail battle as U.S. rivals Nordstrom and Saks prepare to invade this country.
Holt's is banking on a growing appetite among men for stylish fashions and staking its ground right next to the flagship store of Harry Rosen, Canada's dominant high-end men's wear chain, on Toronto's Mink Mile, also known as Bloor Street West.
Besides a raft of luxury brands from Prada to Gucci, the new two-story Holts men's store will sell Canadian art work, including $3,800 Lori-Ann Bellisimo modern paintings, Ferrari cars in partnership with the auto maker and accessories costing up to $25,000 for a hand-crafted Valextra alligator skin briefcase.
With a touch of Canadiana, it has hired tailors from men's wear purveyor Walter Beauchamp, which is closing its iconic store in Toronto soon. They will work in a glassed-in bespoke made-to-order atelier "theatre" that overlooks Yorkville Avenue to showcase the tailoring.
"Competition brings out the best in us," said Mark Derbyshire, president of Holt Renfrew, which is owned by the wealthy Weston family, which is also the key shareholder of grocery giant Loblaw Cos. Ltd. "I don't aspire to be the biggest, but I want to be the finest."
Known for its women's fashions, Holt's has put a push on expanding its men's wear sections over the past couple of years. Now, as foreign, independent and online rivals rush into the market, Toronto-based Holt's is making its biggest bid ever to woo well-heeled men.
Overall men's wear sales in Canada are outpacing those of women even though the men's sector is smaller. In the year ended July 31, sales in the $7.6-billion men's wear market grew 2 per cent while they were flat in the $13.4-billion women's clothing segment, according to researcher NPD Canada. "It's definitely more of a battle now," said Sandy Silva, fashion industry analyst at NPD Group.
Harry Rosen executives are taking note of the Holt's men's store. "We welcome these guys to the neighbourhood," said Larry Rosen, chief executive officer and son of the founder. "It will create a lot of interest in men's wear on the street. … We own the luxury market for men on Bloor Street, with the best people and the best selection. We're going to continue to do that."
Mr. Rosen plans to capitalize on what he expects will be a growing number of women heading to the Holt's shop from its nearby flagship Bloor Street store, which will continue to carry men's fashions. Women still buy a lot of men's fashions. "It gives us a great opportunity to get more women to our store," Mr. Rosen said.
A new player doesn't necessarily hurt incumbents, or not initially, he said. The arrival of the first Nordstrom store in Canada at Calgary's Chinook Centre on Sept. 19 has attracted more shopper traffic to that mall -- and helped sales at Harry Rosen there jump 25 per cent in that period from a year earlier, Mr. Rosen said.
Victor Edwards, manager of the upscale Stollerys men's wear store on Bloor Street -- close to Holt's -- said its business "is up and down. Some days are amazingly good and other days, you wonder why you even came in."
Mr. Derbyshire said about half of men's wear purchases are made by women or men accompanied by a woman. "We have a very special relationship with women. … I believe this will strengthen it."
He said privately held Holt's has seen its men's fashion business expand to make up about 20 per cent of its estimated total $800-million of annual sales, from 15 per cent just two years earlier.
He said the men's shop will become a lab for Holt's other stores, with possible plans to launch bespoke tailoring in other of its outlets, such as ones in Calgary or Montreal. But he said the location of the men's store in Toronto, just a few-minutes stroll from Holt's flagship, is important. "It wasn't a complete departure, but it's a departure."
It's part of Holt's wider, multiyear $300-million expansion of existing stores although it also entails closing two of its nine full-line outlets (it also runs Ogilvys in Montreal). Mr. Derbyshire is trying to inject a "residential" feel into the new stores; in the men's shop, he settles into a leather armchair in the personal shopping suite where fitting room walls are finished with the grey flannel pinstripe material of a suit. As for the cost of a bespoke suit, "the sky's the limit."