Multi-brand luxury retailer Leone will shutter its Vancouver store this spring after 33 years of operation. The retailer introduced many of the world’s top brands to the Vancouver market over the years, some of which have since opened standalone stores or have moved into competing multi-brand retailers.
Leone has begun a clearance sale and will shutter within the next three months according to an employee in the store.
We reported last month that Leone had downsized its store substantially after it exited a large lower-level space that was home to contemporary fashion brands as well as an in-store cafe. The retailer has since decided to pull the plug on its operations entirely amid intense competition in Vancouver’s luxury retail market.
Luxury retail sales in Vancouver are said to be seeing a downturn for several reasons. The coronavirus scare has reduced the number of Chinese visitors to the city while many are avoiding social situations. However the coronavirus is only a recent phenomenon and other issues are more likely at play. That includes a boycott by some Chinese after Canada arrested Huawei’s CFO in December of 2018 as well as issues surrounding Hong Kong protesters where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed a pro-democracy sentiment. A crackdown on money leaving China is also said to have had an impact on luxury retail sales in Canada and particularly in Vancouver.
Leone introduced many luxury brands to the Vancouver market over the years, many of them Italian. Founders Alberto and Maria Leone opened the current Leone storefront at 757 West Hastings Street in the Sinclair Centre in 1987 in a 12,000 square foot one-level space that resembles an Italian galleria. When it opened, a Versace fashion boutique was a first for the city and it remains operational today. In 1996 the basement level space spanning nearly 12,000 square feet was added for contemporary brands with the floor being called ‘A-Wear’ and then ‘L2’, and a mezzanine level was subsequently added to house additional fashions that formerly included a Burberry boutique and a footwear area.
As discussed in our previous article, Alberto and Maria Leone moved to Vancouver from Montreal in 1970 and after opening a hair salon, introduced a fashion concept called ‘Alberto Boutique’. Several locations opened prior to them being amalgamated into one storefront at CF Pacific Centre in 1974, which remained operational until the current Leone space opened at the Sinclair Centre in 1987. At the time, the store cost about $4 million to build.
The Sinclair Centre Leone became a hit with visiting celebrities and affluent tourists and locals seeking out high-end designer fashions. In years past, the store housed boutique spaces for brands such as Armani Collezioni, Dolce & Gabbana and Iceberg. Leone introduced many other high-end brands to the Vancouver market over the years.
Alberto and Maria Leone, following their divorce several years ago, sold the Vancouver store in 2015 to former TV and theatre actress Nicole Yang, who moved to Canada from China about 25 years ago. Under Ms. Yang’s direction, Leone targeted a Chinese demographic with private shopping and events and the store’s website is also translated into Chinese.
Vancouver’s luxury retail scene saw intense competition about five years ago when Nordstrom opened its 230,000 square foot flagship store at CF Pacific Centre, while at the same time Holt Renfrew expanded its store in the same mall to more than 190,000 square feet. Both stores carry many of the luxury brands that were once housed at Leone in years past. In Holt Renfrew, many of the brands are housed in leased concession boutiques as brands increasingly seek to sell direct-to-consumer.
Other luxury brands formerly at Leone also opened standalone boutiques in downtown Vancouver’s Alberni Street ‘Luxury Zone’, which resulted in some brands pulling out of multi-brand retailers such as Leone. Luxury retail in the downtown core has polarized with a focus on the ‘Luxury Zone’ as well as at Holts and Nordstrom at CF Pacific Centre. Brands are increasingly seeking to sell to consumers directly in curated store environments that are designed, merchandised and staffed by the brands themselves. Brands are also increasingly communicating with consumers via social media and online channels while also seizing the opportunity to collect consumer data.
Leone’s closure is a major blow to the West Hastings Street ‘Heritage District’ which has seen luxury brands exit over the past decade. At one time, the stretch of Hastings Street between Hornby Street and Granville Street was positioned as an up-and-coming luxury area. Standalone stores for Chanel, Plaza Escada, Alfred Dunhill, Hugo Boss Woman and others operated in the area. The 5,000 square foot Chanel store exited its 900 West Hastings Street location in 2010, which coincided with an expansion of the brand’s presence at Holt Renfrew. The 13,000 square foot Sinclair Centre Plaza Escada store, which featured a cafe and at one time was the largest Escada store in the world, shuttered several years ago and was replaced by a much smaller storefront at 710 Thurlow Street (corner of Alberni Street).
Several upscale retailers continue to operate in the area, including a soon-to-be-renovated Maison Birks flagship jewellery store and a Roche Bobois furniture store. Nearby at 456 Howe Street, a Cartier store remains though sources say that it will relocate this fall to the 755 Burrard building and will also have frontage on Alberni Street.