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Iconic Vancouver Retailer ‘Leone’ Downsizes Store Amid Unprecedented Luxury Retail Competition in the City

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Multi-brand luxury retailer Leone has downsized its 25,000-square-foot storefront in downtown Vancouver after having expanded the store significantly about 25 years ago. The smaller store will continue to operate and carry luxury brands at a time of unprecedented competition in the city.

Leone has been known over the years as one of North America’s top multi-brand luxury stores, carrying a wide range of well-known brands, many of which are Italian. Many brands have been introduced into the Vancouver market through Leone, which continues to carry an impressive roster of designer names, though many former brands have since either opened standalone stores or have moved to competitors such as Holt Renfrew and Nordstrom. Versace has been a key brand for Leone since the store opened in 1987, occupying an impressive space exceeding 2,000 square feet on the southeast corner of the store. Until earlier this month, Leone spanned three levels which included two floor-plates spanning about 12,000 square feet each, as well as a third level that in the past has housed footwear at one time and before that, a Burberry boutique. Leone has shuttered the lower-level space in the store that was branded as ‘A-Wear’ when it opened in 1996 (followed by ‘L2’), with a focus on contemporary brands. Some of the contemporary brands have been moved to the mezzanine level to diversify the price-point within the downsized Leone store.

Gone as well is the in-store cafe that occupied part of the lower-level retail space. A representative at Leone said that the licensee was looking to retire and that it was unclear if a new cafe would be part of the downsized Leone store in the future. At one time, Leone operated a small cafe on its main level which relocated downstairs with the store’s expansion.

Leone has been a fixture at the Sinclair Centre at 757 West Hastings Street since it opened in 1987. Founders Alberto and Maria Leone moved to Vancouver from Montreal in 1970 where they opened a hair salon, which eventually expanded to include a retail space for women’s fashions. The retail concept was named ‘Alberto Boutique’ which expanded to several locations which included a standalone Alberto’s Shoes boutique specializing in high-end Italian footwear. After opening a half-dozen standalone fashion boutiques in Vancouver under the Alberto name, the couple opened a single Alberto’s location at the newly-built three-block long CF Pacific Centre shopping complex in 1974. In 1987, the couple relocated retail operations to a stunning one-level space at the Sinclair Centre and called it Leone.

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(Above slides: main floor and lower level floor plans of the Sinclair Centre in Vancouver)

The 12,000-square-foot Leone store was a hit amongst monied locals and tourists, featuring an Italian-themed central corridor flanked by departments and over the years, several prominent luxury boutiques. A space on the east side of the store featured several different boutiques — in the early 1990’s, an Armani Collezioni boutique was featured within Leone, which was followed by a Dolce & Gabbana boutique and then Iceberg. All three are prominent Italian brands that stood alongside a dedicated Versace boutique which opened in Leone in 1987. The licensed Versace boutique remains to this day, though a stunning original ceiling mural was unfortunately subsequently painted over.

After a divorce several years ago, Alberto and Maria Leone 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 has targeted a Chinese demographic with private shopping and events, and the store’s website is also translated into Chinese.

MAIN FLOOR ACCESSORY AREA PHOTO: LEONE

Leone continues to carry an impressive roster of big name brands, though the retailer also stocks some more obscure and hard-to-find brands not found elsewhere in the city. Some big names carried in store, according to Leone’s website, include Alexander McQueen, Giorgio Armani, Prada, Moschino, Valentino, Giambattista Valli, Miu Miu, Carolina Herrera, Lanvin, Alberta Ferreti, Blumarine, Thom Browne, Bottega Veneta, and Brunello Cucinelli. When Leone opened in 1987, Vancouver was something of a fashion backwater and only a select few luxury brands were available at the city in retailers such as Holt Renfrew, which operated a 45,000 square foot store at CF Pacific Centre at the time.

Over the past decade and especially over the past five years, many of the above brands have either opened their own stores in Vancouver or have found a prominent place in one of Vancouver’s big three downtown department stores. Alexander McQueen has a presence at the 230,000-square-foot Nordstrom at nearby CF Pacific Centre in Vancouver, as does Valentino, and Lanvin. Holt Renfrew’s expanded 190,000-square-foot store at CF Pacific Centre also carries McQueen as well as Armani women’s ready-to-wear, Valentino, Thom Browne and others — Holts also features boutique concessions for brands Prada, Miu Miu, and Bottega Veneta. In ‘The Room’ at Hudson’s Bay, Giambattista Valli’s pricey women’s gowns are part of the stocklist, as is Moschino. Menswear retailer Harry Rosen at CF Pacific Centre carries a few brands also at Leone including Giorgio Armani, Thom Browne, Brunello Cucinelli, and Bottega Veneta accessories and footwear.

Several of the brands carried at Leone also now have standalone stores in downtown Vancouver. In the spring of 2016, Prada opened a massive flagship store at Alberni and Thurlow Streets, and Brunello Cucinelli opened its first Canadian store across from it in late 2015. Other luxury brands are said to be looking to open standalone stores if space can be found downtown, or if landlord QuadReal is able to work out deals at its overhauled Oakridge Centre development on Vancouver’s West Side.

Other brands carried at Leone such as Dior have since stepped away — Dior opened its Vancouver flagship in the summer of 2015, and concessions have since opened at Holt Renfrew for men and women.

Retail Insider interviewed Alberto Leone in October of 2014 when we ran into him at his store. He explained that in years past, he had considered opening a second Leone store at Manulife Place in Edmonton. Mr. Leone said that other upscale tenants such as Holt Renfrew (which closed last month) as well as Henry Singer, Birks (now closed) and Blu’s Womenswear positioned Manulife Place as a centre that could support a Leone store. However upon arriving in Edmonton, Mr. Leone said that he was turned off by -40 degree weather as well as a negative interaction with a waitress in a restaurant, and plans for the Edmonton location were promptly called off.

Leone continues to operate in the Hastings Street ‘Heritage District’ which a decade ago was expected to become Vancouver’s luxury zone, competing head-to-head with up-and-coming Alberni Street which was also starting to see the addition of new luxury retailers such as Burberry. A block away at 900 West Hastings Street, Chanel operated a two-level 5,000 square foot store for a time until it closed due to struggling sales in 2010 (Chanel is now highly successful inside of Holt Renfrew). In the Sinclair Centre, a 13,000 square foot Plaza Escada store, once the largest of its kind in the world, closed several years ago and was replaced by a much smaller Escada store at the northeast corner of Alberni and Thurlow Streets. Other upscale retailers that have operated in the upscale stretch of Hastings Street included Alfred Dunhill, Hugo Boss Woman, Mount Cashmere, Dorothy Grant, and a satellite location for Pappas Furs. 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.

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Editor-in-Chief of Retail Insider and President/CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton, and consultant to the Retail Council of Canada. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for over 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees.

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