French luxury brand Hermès opened an impressive flagship store in downtown Vancouver on Friday of last week. The new location replaces a former storefront located nearby, and is part of Hermès’ Canadian expansion that has seen the brand substantially grow its Canadian footprint over the course of more than 40 years.
The new two-level Vancouver Hermès flagship at 717 Burrard Street includes an expansive frontage on West Georgia Street in the Burrard Building. The store features almost 5,000 square feet of retail space, more than twice the size of its former store that occupied the Burrard and Alberni Street corner for well over a decade.
The new Hermès store was designed by Parisian architecture agency RDAI in collaboration with Gensler. The two-level moulded concrete white terrazzo facade now dominates the busy Burrard and Georgia Street intersection. Translucent glass canopies protect pedestrians from the rain as they walk past the store’s recessed windows that are trimmed in bronze.
In a statement, Hermès says that the store’s interior has an “emphasis on natural materials and tonal accords creates an airy ambiance that evokes the land and sea.” Terrazzo flooring in the store features a “Faubourg” patterned mosaic. The store took more than a year to complete.
The main level of the new Hermès flagship includes a front area for jewellery and watches. Further back is an area for the brand’s iconic silk scarves and accessories, as well as a “perfume discovery area”. A leather goods area faces the store’s staircase, and is next to a display for Hermès’ equestrian collection. At the back of the main floor is a men’s section that includes ready-to-wear as well as accessories and footwear offerings.
The store’s second level includes women’s ready-to-wear fashions, footwear and accessories, as well as a private shopping salon for VIP guests. Clothing is tailored to the local market, with fewer heavy sweaters than in the Toronto flagship, as well as fewer suede bags because of Vancouver’s rainy weather. The second level also houses Hermès’ home furnishings with a selection of homeware, tableware and wallpapers on display.
Both levels are joined by a staircase in oak and glass with steps that “appear to float”, according to Hermès. The staircase was designed and built by Canadian firm EeStairs. On the back wall of the staircase is a Pegasus flying horse relief by French sculptor Christian Renonciat.
The store caters to uber-wealthly clients with special orders via its ‘Horizons’ division which has outfitted private jets and luxury cars. And next year, an area for makeup will be coming to the new Burrard Street store, according to the company.
For the opening of the Vancouver flagship, Hermès created several exclusive products for the store. That includes roller skates that reflect “the activity of the city” as well as special Kelly bags and a limited-edition Twilly scarf.
“This beautiful new store reflects the longstanding relationship between Hermès and Vancouver, which is built on shared values and a deep appreciation for innovation,” said Jennifer Carter, President and CEO of Hermès Canada.
The new Hermès is located in the Burrard Building that was designed by Vancouver architect C.B.K. Van Norman in 1955. The Hermès store was made possible by joining five retail units into one, including former storefronts for Bell Mobility, Montblanc, and a hair salon on the second level.
Occupying the Burrard and Alberni Street corner of the Burrard Building is Tiffany & Co., which unveiled an expanded 9,762 square foot flagship in spring of 2017. Several other luxury brands occupy the base of the Burrard Building. On the Alberni Street side, tenants include Jimmy Choo, Montblanc, Vacheron Constantin and a CIBC Bank, with a vacant two-level space that once housed an Italian restaurant. The Georgia Street side of the Burrard Building podium houses two luxury boutiques — Graff and Patek Philippe — which are operated by Maison Birks.
Across the street from the new Hermès flagship is the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, which houses flagship locations for brands including Dior, Louis Vuitton, Omega, Gucci and St. John Knits.
On West Georgia Street, boutiques for Chopard and Stefano Ricci have opened over the past couple of years, joining an impressive lineup of luxury brands occupying spaces on Alberni Street as well as nearby Thurlow Street. Other ‘Luxury Zone’ retailers include Panerai, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Lao Feng Xiang, Hublot, Tory Burch, Prada, Van Cleef & Arpels, IWC, Escada, Burberry, Rolex, Brunello Cucinelli, Versace, Saint Laurent, Moncler, and Off-White.
The former Hermès space at 755 Burrard Street will be replaced by French luxury jewellery Cartier, which will relocate from its current retail space at 456 Howe Street. Cartier’s parent company Richemont is said to have bought the strata unit, which spans 3,218 square feet according to BC Assessment records, several years ago.
The area around Howe Street and West Hastings Street, which includes retailers such as Leone and at one time Chanel, Escada, Hugo Boss and Alfred Dunhill, was being positioned to be a retail ‘luxury zone’ for the city. Brokers have since focused on creating the the current ‘luxury zone’ clustering that has grown between the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver and the Shangri-La Hotel, which is one of Canada’s top-three luxury shopping areas in terms of the number of standalone storefronts for the world’s biggest brands. The other two Canadian luxury zones are in Toronto, including the city’s Bloor-Yorkville area as well as Yorkdale Shopping Centre.
Hermès has had a presence in Vancouver since the early 1990’s when multi-brand retailer Collections International operated a 150 square foot Hermès boutique at the back of its store at 1005 Alberni Street (I visited the tiny shop in 1992 when it carried a selection of scarves, several handbags, and a few styles of clothing for men and women). In 1995, Jennifer Carter relocated the Vancouver Hermès boutique to Holt Renfrew, where it occupied a 1,000 square foot space for more than a decade prior to moving into its 755 Burrard Street space in 2006, which before that was occupied by fur/variety retailer Saitoh.
Vancouver’s Burrard Street ‘luxury zone’ was formed in the early 1990’s when Chanel opened a 1,300 square foot store at 755 Burrard Street where Coach is currently located. Multi brand retailer Collections International opened a Celine boutique next to Chanel, and also once operated small storefronts within the Burrard Building for Alfred Dunhill, Valentino, Gold/Pfeil and Fendi — Tiffany & Co. now occupies all of those former shops. The current corner of Burrard and West Georgia Street that is now occupied by Hermès once housed North America’s first standalone location for Versace’s diffusion line ‘Versus’ which opened in 1992, and after it closed, Italian leather brand Furla operated a store at the corner for several years before the space was leased to Bell Mobility.
Hermès has been expanding its Canadian operations for more than 40 years. The Westwood family brought the brand to Canada in 1976 with a 600 square foot boutique at Toronto’s Hazelton Lanes (in 1981 it expanded to carry ready-to-wear under the ownership of Hazelton Lanes developer York Hannover).
Jennifer Carter bought Hermès Canada in 1989 and relocated the Toronto boutique to a 2,240 square foot space at The Colonnade at 131 Bloor Street West (currently occupied by Mulberry) in the spring of 1992. In the summer of 2008, she relocated Hermès to a 3,965 square foot space at 130 Bloor Street West.
In the fall of 2017, Hermès relocated its Toronto location to its current and considerably larger space at 100 Bloor Street West. Hermès leased nearly 13,000 square feet of what was formerly a Williams Sonoma store, with about 5,800 square feet of retail space, according to the retailer. Hermès’ Canadian corporate headquarters are located at the back of the second level of the Toronto flagship, including a board room, offices and storage.
Hermès also operates shop-in-store concessions at Holt Renfrew stores in Calgary and Montreal. The Calgary boutique, measuring nearly 1,500 square feet, opened in 2009. The Montreal Holt Renfrew concession, which opened in 1995, will relocate to the new Holt Renfrew Ogilvy early next year and will span about 3,000 square feet on the ground floor of the 250,000 square foot Holt Renfrew Ogilvy store. Hermès also operates a Canadian e-commerce website that sells millions of dollars of product annually, according to the company.
With two large flagships and two concessions, Hermès has grown its Canadian operations substantially over the past 43 years. Over the past four years alone, the company is said to have tripled its retail space in this country while its online sales have grown substantially as well.