By Craig Patterson
Downtown Vancouver’s emerging ‘Luxury Zone’ is expanding further onto West Georgia Street as retailers seek out retail space in a clustering between the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver and the Shangri-La Hotel. Three major Richemont-owned brands have also secured space in the area, with two stores set to open this spring.
Vancouver’s Luxury Zone began to develop in the 1990’s when Chanel and Celine opened on Burrard Street near the corner of Alberni Street, and Alberni Street has since taken over as the Luxury Zone’s primary address. The 1000 block of Alberni Street now houses brands such as Prada, De Beers, Hublot, Jimmy Choo, Panerai, Burberry and Rolex. Adjacent Thurlow Street houses Saint Laurent, Versace, Brunello Cucinelli, Escada and Moncler. The Hotel Vancouver’s podium contains Louis Vuitton, Dior, Omega, Gucci and St. John Knits.
Dior, Omega and Gucci face onto West Georgia Street, which itself is becoming a high-end retail address. In the fall of 2017, local retailer GWC converted its retail space at the base of Cathedral Place at 915 W. Georgia Street into Canada’s first standalone Chopard boutique. The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver’s address is 900 West Georgia Street and luxury brands are now securing spaces across Burrard Street on the 1000 block of West Georgia Street.
Graff diamonds and luxury watch brand Patek Philippe opened their first standalone Canadian stores on the 1000 block of West Georgia Street late last year, which unit recently has been a rather unremarkable strip of retail stores. Hermes is building a large two-level flagship space at the southwest corner of Burrard and West Georgia Street and while it may technically use a Burrard Street address, it will span nearly 100 feet along West Georgia Street, in effect elevating the area and attracting wealthy shoppers onto Georgia Street sidewalks. A few doors down from Graff and Patek Philippe is North America’s first standalone salon for Singapore-based TWG, which now operates under new management. Burberry has a doorway at the southwest corner of Thurlow Street and West Georgia Street, acting to guide shoppers across the street towards the Trump Tower — super luxury brand Stefano Ricci operates its only standalone Canadian store at 1139 W. Georgia Street.
Some retailers in Vancouver’s luxury zone are said to be selling millions of dollars in merchandise annually, with an affluent base of Asian locals and visitors supporting some of these stores. More luxury brands are looking at moving into the area — French conglomerate Richemont is investing heavily into the Luxury Zone and has already opened standalone stores for its Van Cleef & Arpels, IWC Schaffhausen and Panerai brands. Three more of its brands will be getting stores in the area — Richemont acquired the commercial strata until at 755 Burrard Street (corner of Alberni Street) a couple of years ago where Hermes currently operates, and it plans to relocate its Cartier boutique there after Hermes relocates up the street.
As well, Richemont will open combined Montblanc and Vacheron Constantin boutiques at 1055 Alberni Street in a retail space formerly housing women’s fashion brand Blubird, which recently relocated onto the 1100 block of Alberni Street. Construction hoarding is now up as the space is fitted out for the tenants. CBRE’s Vancouver Urban Retail Team handled both the Richemont lease as well as Blubird’s store relocation, under the direction of Mario Negris and Martin Moriarty.
It remains to be seen how many more luxury brands choose to locate in downtown Vancouver. Despite brands moving onto West Georgia Street, space in the area is tight and landlord QuadReal is looking to entice brands to move into its overhauled Oakridge Centre property at the southwest corner of Cambie Street and West 41st Avenue. In a presentation in October of 2018 at the ICSC Conference in Toronto, QuadReal made it clear that it plans to target some of the world’s leading brands to a ‘luxury run’ that will be created in the mall. Sample storefronts appeared to be inspired by brands such as Valentino, Balenciaga, Ferragamo, Bottega Veneta and other brands, many of which are either already open at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre or will be soon.
At the same time, developer SHAPE is looking to entice luxury brands into its ‘The Amazing Brentwood’ property in Burnaby, which is currently under construction. SHAPE announced in 2017 that it has partnered with LCatterton Group, an investment group in association with luxury conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), with plans to add luxury retailers into the north Burnaby mall. Lease plans on SHAPE’s website indicate what could be a 125,000+ square foot luxury-heavy department store as a north anchor, though that’s likely being used as an example to show prospective brands the landlord’s overall vision. LVMH’s brand umbrella includes the likes of Louis Vuitton, Dior, Bulgari and Chloé, among others — as Vancouver’s luxury zone becomes more crowded, some brands may look to Oakridge or Brentwood to open their standalone Vancouver locations.
Downtown Vancouver will likely continue to dominate luxury retailing in the Vancouver area. First-rate hotels, restaurants, art galleries, theatres and other attractions are located downtown, which also boasts the highly-productive retailers at CF Pacific Centre. Holt Renfrew, which is moving to a concession model where it houses a range of luxury boutiques similar to a mall, is said to be one of the world’s top-selling multi-brand luxury stores. Nordstrom, also at CF Pacific Centre, has seen a spike in sales recently as consumers embrace its expanse of luxury brands that include the likes of Celine, Valentino, Saint Laurent and Chloé, among others. Harry Rosen operates a highly productive store at CF Pacific Centre and the mall itself also houses boutiques for high-end brands such as Max Mara, Pomellato, Stuart Weitzman, Sandro, Maje and Canada Goose. A Harry Rosen-run Zegna boutique’s renovations were also completed in the fall.
It remains to be seen if more luxury brands will locate on West Georgia Street other adjacent streets, as Alberni Street’s 1000 block becomes filled by top brands. One developer is said to be considering creating something of a mini luxury shopping centre nearby, and other spaces on Thurlow Street as well as Alberni Street’s 1100 block could also eventually see more high-end tenants. Competition from the two suburban shopping centres could threaten downtown Vancouver’s luxury retailer dominance, and we’ll be watching what happens in the city as things progress.