By Craig Patterson
Quebec City-based large-format fashion retailer La Maison Simons is expanding its roster of designer brands this fall with a curated selection unavailable elsewhere in Canada. It’s all part of an effort to distinguish Simons as a significant player in the increasingly competitive Canadian retail market that is seeing unprecedented competition from multi-brand retailers, as well as brands that themselves are opening their own stores in an effort to sell direct-to-consumer.
Many of the pricier designer brands found at Simons are in its ‘Edito’ departments, which are located in nine of the company’s 15 Canadian stores. Separate women’s and men’s Edito departments stock an impressive array of unique and hard-to-find brands, with a selection varying store-to-store, unique to each market.
The women’s and men’s Edito departments each have their own buyers, who have a vision for each market as well as a goal of curating a unique-to-Canada assortment. Oceane Stanislas is the women’s Edito buyer, and Maxime Brierley is responsible for curating designer menswear.
This fall, Simons is making a particularly heavy push towards carrying new brands, especially as competing retailers such as Holt Renfrew, Saks Fifth Avenue, Hudson’s Bay and Nordstrom look to secure top lines that sometimes limit their distribution. As such, Simons is finding its way with some new edgy designers that are also on the luxury spectrum in terms of their pricing, not to mention unique in their design.
To further differentiate Simons designer offerings, its buyers are bringing in product that is edited with local markets in mind. “People want a point of view and for some of the research to be done for them, and that is why we make some of the choices to carry certain pieces from certain brands,” said Ms. Stanislas.
Simons operates stores in many of Canada’s largest markets, spanning from Vancouver in the west to Quebec City in the east. Four of those stores are particularly strong for women’s designer wear — the flagship Place Ste-Foy unit in Quebec City as well as the downtown Montreal store are tops in Quebec, and interestingly enough Alberta is the other strong Province for designer womenswear for Simons. Specifically, the West Edmonton Mall store and downtown Calgary Simons location is selling plenty of pricey designer goods in markets not traditionally known to be fashion-forward.
[Below: Simons women’s Edito department in downtown Calgary. Video: Craig Patterson]
Designer womenswear at Ottawa’s CF Rideau Centre as well as at Square One in Mississauga are on the increase, according to Ms. Stanislas, as consumers embrace some of the edgier brands being introduced into Simons’ stores over the past couple of years. Both stores are also relatively new, having opened in 2016.
Some brands are doing well across the chain, with Simons being one of the top retailers in the country for luxury brand Balmain. Other brands, such as Moschino Couture, are doing good numbers in Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.
In an effort to distinguish Simons’ designer offerings, the retailer has retained several exclusive-to-Canada brands. UK-based Vivienne Westwood is exclusive to Simons for both womenswear as well as for men, as are brands such as Daniel Bennie and Marimekko. Exclusives are the name of the game for many retailers and curating the right mix can make or break a retailer’s operations.
Hard-to-find brands such as Paco Rabanne and Nina Ricci are carried at Simons — Rabanne is carried in downtown Montreal, Edmonton and Calgary for example, with Nina Ricci being carried in Edmonton, Calgary, as well as at the Square One location in Mississauga. Edmonton is one of the most important locations for Simons, according to Ms. Stanislas — the store was the first for Simons outside of Quebec when it opened in October of 2012, and some say it was responsible for helping make Edmonton a more fashion-forward city.
Each city is unique, according to Ms. Stanislas and as a result, some designers work better in some stores than others. The Toronto market is fashion forward and diverse with women “pulling together interesting and glamorous looks” with brands such as Balmain and Versace being popular. Montreal is “more artsy” with brands such as Y3 by Yohji Yamamoto, Vivienne Westwood and Issey Miyake selling well.
Calgary has the reputation of being conservative but according to Ms. Stanislas, the city is fashion-forward and the customer is “being responsive to some of the up and coming brands” that she has introduced to Simons. Quebec City, not known traditionally as a fashion city, is still very well dressed as it chooses labels such as Chloé, Balmain, Dries Van Noten and Japanese brand Sacai.
Last year, Simons introduced dedicated footwear departments at several of its stores and it has since expanded its assortment of designer shoes. Accessories are also being expanded in Simons stores, including handbags from leading designers. Customers were requesting these categories along with the fashion brands that they were shopping for and as a result, Simons will further expand footwear and accessory offerings in its stores.
Simons’ Edito buyer Maxime Brierley explained how Simons’ menswear offerings are equally edgy and designer driven and while most department stores in Canada tend to focus more on womenswear, Simons is equally strong for both genders. Nine of Simons’ 15 stores feature men’s designer Edito departments, featuring an assortment catering to each market.
He noted that the West Edmonton Mall store is strong when it comes to selling men’s designers, which can be attributed in part to a robust Asian shopper (which includes some international students).
Simons is bringing in some unique and exclusive menswear designers, such as edgy Japanese brand ‘Children of Discordance’ which repurposes old items such as Burberry trench coats into something unique and one-of-a-kind. Prices don’t come cheap, however — an online search reveals that some Children of the Discordance coats are selling for more than $4,000.
For menswear, the downtown Montreal and Quebec City Ste-Foy Simons stores are strong, in part, because they are in “legacy markets”, according to Mr. Brierley. The Edmonton market is strong and Balmain sells very well there, and things are coming around for the Calgary market as men discover the store’s Edito department located on the store’s top level.
Securing labels can be a challenge in some instances, as brands give exclusives to competing retailers. Luxury label Balmain, for example, is carried in Simons’ downtown Montreal and West Edmonton Mall location but not at Square One in Mississauga, because Holt Renfrew has the rights to the brand. Simons recently carried the now discontinued secondary ‘Pierre Balmain’ line and remarkably, 60% of all of Simons’ Pierre Balmain menswear sales were in the Square One store.
While Simons carries an expansive roster of international brands, it also curates Canadian designers to round out its offerings. In the women’s Edito departments, Edmonton-based Malorie Urbanovitch has been carried for a couple of seasons and in the spring of 2019, Simons will begin carrying Toronto-based menswear brand Andrew Coimbra. In the end, a store is only as good as the brands that it carries, and Simons is aiming to stand out as fashion forward in the face of ever-increasing competition.
As competition remains strong amongst Canada’s multi-brand designers, Simons is looking to get a leg-up on the competition by carrying unique designers which are, in some cases, only available at Simons in Canada. Having a designer ‘edit’ is also key to differentiating Simons from other retailers and as a result, two stores carrying the same brand might feature a different range of products that reflect the tastes of the store’s buyers and market more than what might simply be seen on the runway, or in a mono-brand flagship store.