By Craig Patterson
Kering-owned French luxury brand Balenciaga will open its first standalone flagship store in Canada towards the end of the year as it expands its presence in this country. Balenciaga is also opening leased concessions in Canada’s Holt Renfrew stores as the brand goes direct-to-consumer, marking a significant trend.
In December, Balenciaga will open a store encompassing nearly 4,700 square feet at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre. The retail space will carry a full range of ready-to-wear fashions from the brand for both men and women, as well as an expansive assortment of bags, accessories and footwear. The store’s design will reflect Balenciaga’s most updated brand aesthetic that is being rolled-out in major markets globally, as well as in the brand’s leased concessions that are being rolled-out in Holt Renfrew stores.
The new Yorkdale Balenciaga will replace a Hugo Boss store that recently relocated to a larger space nearby. Balenciaga will be located directly across from Yorkdale’s Holt Renfrew store, which recently saw the opening of new ‘world of’ boutiques for Gucci and Fendi that both have mall-facing entrances and, soon, a ‘world of’ Dior will join them. Immediately beside Balenciaga are Canada’s first standalone flagship stores for Bottega Veneta and Valentino, which both opened recently and were featured in Retail Insider. A Ted Baker boutique is currently located on the other side of the new Balenciaga, with Baker set to relocate this fall to a new space nearby that will be nearly double the size. A well-known luxury brand will soon be announced for the current Ted Baker space.
Balenciaga will be located in Yorkdale’s 2012 expansion wing that saw the addition of new retail locations for brands including Apple, Microsoft, Tesla, Longchamp, John Varvatos, Stuart Weitzman, Club Monaco, and others. In 2012, Holt Renfrew also grew its presence at Yorkdale when it expanded from about 65,000 square feet to about 120,000 square feet. Landlord Oxford Properties is positioning the 2012 expansion wing as a new luxury corridor to complement Holt Renfrew’s latest expansion as well as the addition of some of the world’s biggest fashion names, many of which do not operate stores anywhere else in Canada.
This has been an important year for Balenciaga in Canada. The brand opened its first ‘world of’ leased concession at Holt Renfrew’s highly productive Vancouver flagship in late 2018. Located in the main accessories hall on the street level of the CF Pacific Centre Holt Renfrew, the open concept Balenciaga boutique features the brand’s range of clothing for men and women as well as footwear, bags and accessories.
In Toronto last week, as well, Balenciaga opened a ‘world of’ leased concession at Holt Renfrew’s 50 Bloor Street West flagship store that also carries all categories for the brand. The boutique occupies a large space in excess of 2,000 square feet in part of the store’s overhauled main level. Renovations to Holts’ Bloor Street flagship are ongoing and will be completed in the spring of 2020.
In Montreal, Holt Renfrew Ogilvy recently unveiled a 40,000 square foot men’s floor that includes a Balenciaga concession, with new accessory and women’s boutiques to follow. Holt Renfrew has adopted a concession model where luxury brands operate direct-to-consumer shop-in-stores with Holts acting as a landlord while taking a cut of sales. It’s a model seen more in other parts of the world like Asia and Europe. Holt Renfrew’s sister retailers Selfridges in the UK and de Bijenkorf in the Netherlands also feature similar leased departments for such brands, for example.
Balenciaga can also be found in other high-end retailers in Canada, though distribution is via wholesale. Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship at CF Toronto Eaton Centre includes a women’s Balenciaga ready-to-wear boutique on its third level, as well as a selection of men’s fashions on its second level and a collection of bags and accessories on its street level. Both Saks and Nordstrom also carry a range of Balenciaga shoes, bags and accessories. Nordstrom’s Vancouver flagship at CF Pacific Centre, which is said to be the top performing unit in the chain, includes a Nordstrom-operated Balenciaga shop-in-store for accessories on its main level, as well as a women’s ready-to-wear boutique upstairs. Balenciaga can also be found in selected high-end retailers in Canada such as SSENSE in Montreal.
Balenciaga is said to be looking to possibly open more corporately owned standalone units in Canada. Sources say that Balenciaga has been looking at opening a flagship store in Toronto’s Bloor-Yorkville area, though no deals have been signed. The Vancouver market is also a target for Balenciaga, given the city’s high-spending brand-focused Asian population. Space for a standalone store may be challenging in Vancouver’s Alberni Street ‘Luxury Zone’, though a developer is said to be considering creating a luxury retail development nearby.
In the Vancouver area as well, ‘The Amazing Brentwood’ by co-developers SHAPE and L Catterton are said to be targeting brands including Balenciaga either for a standalone storefront or as a concession within a larger to-be-named host retailer. At the International Council of Shopping Centres conference in Toronto last year, landlord QuadReal showcased a future luxury wing for Oakridge Shopping Centre that included no-name branded storefronts for what appeared to be some of the world’s biggest luxury brands. One had the appearance of what a Balenciaga boutique might look like if it were to locate there.
In Montreal, developer Carbonleo recently began construction on its massive its massive Royalmount project, which will include a luxury retail component that is said to be seeing interest from some of the world’s biggest luxury brands. While Montreal’s luxury retail market isn’t as strong as that of Vancouver and Toronto, the city is home to many wealthy households who may choose to shop locally for high-end goods rather than travel abroad as new high-end retailers expand in the region.
Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre boasts the highest concentration of luxury brands of any place in Canada, and its roster of big names continues to grow. Sources say that more announcements will be made as Yorkdale also positions another mall corridor for luxury brands that currently includes retailers such as Disney and Fairweather. A recently announced Furla boutique will kick-off that luxury corridor expansion and at least one very big-name luxury brand announcement for the wing is expected to be revealed shortly.
French multi-national conglomerate Kering owns the Balenciaga brand, as well as other big names that are also expanding into Canada. Spanish fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga opened his first storefront in San Sebastián, Spain, in 1917, prior to expanding into Madrid and Barcelona. The Spanish Civil War forced Mr. Balenciaga to move his operations to Paris where he opened a couture house on Avenue George V in 1937. Balenciaga has morphed over the years from a brand known for elegant evening gowns to one featuring a wide range of fashions, including streetwear. Some have criticized the brand for designing ‘ugly sneakers’, for example, with many styles surpassing $1,000 per pair. The fashion world can be fickle and recently, Lyst ranked Balenciaga as the world’s third hottest brand, trailing Gucci at top spot and Off-White in second place. Gucci is also owned by Kering and as sales begin to flatline after phenomenal growth, some are predicting that Balenciaga could rise to the top of Lyst’s list in 2020.
Now located in Toronto, Craig is a retail analyst and consultant at the Retail Council of Canada. He's also the Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for the past 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees. He is also President & CEO of Vancouver-based Retail Insider Media Ltd. Email Craig: email@example.com