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Balmain Expands Canadian Presence with Multiple Shop-in-Store Boutiques

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French luxury brand Balmain is expanding its presence in Canada by opening partner boutiques housing the brand’s ready-to-wear fashions for both men and women. The shops are part of a partnership with Holt Renfrew, which is rolling out the new Balmain spaces that feature the latest design, including ample use of glass and millwork with a ‘Parisian’ inspired design.

Last week after Holt Renfrew reopened its store after a temporary closure, women’s Balmain boutique was unveiled in Holt Renfrew’s highly productive store at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre. The 440-square-foot Balmain shop-in-store is located on the second level women’s fashion floor. The Balmain boutique features Parisian-inspired finishes that include Versailles oak floor panels with each plank having been aged manually. Ample use of mirrors in the space creates a more expansive feel that contrasts with intricate millwork and fixtures, highlighting the edgy women’s Balmain fashions that are contained within.

The Yorkdale women’s boutique follows the recent completion of a men’s Balmain space also in Holt Renfrew at Yorkdale Shopping Centre, located on the store’s main level in the recently completed menswear department. The men’s Balmain space also features Parisian-inspired finishes including mirrored walls that differentiate the shop from other vendors on the floor nearby.

Custom retail build specialists Amachris Corporation brought both of the Yorkdale Balmain spaces to life. This included general contracting work and the overall build-out of the in-line women’s boutique, which took about seven weeks to complete. All millwork and fixtures were fabricated in Europe and delivered to Canada. Amachris Corporation also built the stunning 6,000-square-foot ‘world of’ Gucci concession at Holt Renfrew Yorkdale which was profiled in Retail Insider in the summer of 2019.

Amachris Corporation built a men’s Balmain shop-in-shop in the Holt Renfrew flagship store at CF Pacific Centre in Vancouver. The Vancouver Balmain boutique was the second of its kind in Canada for the brand.

Last fall, Holt Renfrew unveiled a women’s Balmain space at Holt Renfrew’s Vancouver store, though it lacks the intricate interior detailing of the two Balmain spaces at Holts Yorkdale. Vancouver was the first store in Canada to feature a dedicated Balmain space, and the brand is now growing its presence in Canada through a partnership with Holt Renfrew.

At Holt Renfrew Ogilvy in Montreal, which reopened this month and is nearly completed, Balmain men’s fashions are housed in an area within the 40,000-square-foot men’s floor that was unveiled in the spring of 2019. Women’s Balmain fashions was unveiled last week as well in a shop-in-store on the third floor.

Balmain has been growing its presence in Canada over the past several years. Holt Renfrew began carrying the edgy brand several years ago amid increased competition from several other retailers that picked up Balmain in years past. When department store retailer Hudson’s Bay revamped its luxury women’s department ‘The Room’ in Toronto in October of 2009, Balmain became one of the key brands that helped make The Room a significant destination for affluent women living in and visiting the city. Balmain was also part of the brand matrix of The Room in Vancouver when it opened in September of 2011. Balmain men’s fashions are also carried on the fifth-level men’s floor of Hudson’s Bay’s flagship on Queen Street in downtown Toronto.

Saks Fifth Avenue, which opened its downtown Toronto flagship in 2016 in the same building as Hudson’s Bay, features an assortment of Balmain fashions for both men and women. Holt Renfrew, which has been beefing up its luxury brand offerings in response to the increased competition, is taking things one step further by creating dedicated boutique spaces while at the same time offering various luxury vendors dedicated leased concession spaces inside of Holt Renfrew stores.

Quebec City-based La Maison Simons has carried the Balmain brand for several years within the men’s and women’s ‘Edito’ designer departments at several of its stores. A handful of other retailers in Canada also picked up the line, which saw a ‘rock and roll’ resurgence under the direction of designer Olivier Rousteing who became the head designer at Balmain in 2011.

Sources say that Balmain could open standalone stores in Canada in the coming years as the brand grows its direct-to-consumer channel. Balmain is said to have been interested in opening a freestanding store on Yorkville Avenue in Toronto as well as a unit in downtown Vancouver near the Alberni Street ‘Luxury Zone’. Balmain announced last year that it planned to open a network of stores globally amid a direct-to-consumer push for the brand — though it remains to be seen if COVID-19 has impacted those plans.

Balmain was founded in Paris by fashion designer Pierre Balmain in 1945. In 2016 Mayhoola Investments acquired Balmain for a figure reported as close to €500 million. Balmain has seen rapid sales growth since then as the brand grows its wholesale channels as well as its standalone boutique presence that includes stores in major cities such as Paris, London, and Milan, as well as US cities including New York City, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Miami.

Pierre Balmain was born in France in 1914 and after studying architecture, he began designing dresses. He worked for atelier Robert Piquet and others and after serving in the French air force, he opened his first boutique at 44, rue François 1er in Paris. He released his first collection in October of 1945 and his first fragrance, called ‘Jolie Madame’, in 1949. After Pierre Balmain's death in 1982, the house was led by Erik Mortensen, who was described by Vogue magazine as "Pierre Balmain's right hand” — Mr. Mortensen had worked as Mr. Balmain’s assistant since 1951. In 1982, Peggy Huynh Kinh joined Balmain to provide artistic direction for women's ready-to-wear and women's and home accessories license studios. After Mr. Mortensen’s retirement in 1990, designer Hervé Pierre took over until 1992 when New York City-based designer Oscar de la Renta took the reins of Balmain until his exit in 2002. Under Oscar de la Renta’s direction, Balmain’s designs took on a more modern and simple aesthetic that was in contrast to the more ornate and glamorous designs of previous designers. The shift was due, in part, to the decline in the popularity of haute couture and related looks.

In 2005, designer Christophe Decarin joined Balmain with a goal of transforming the brand. That included introducing expensive and flashy pieces that were in sharp contrast to Balmain’s designs in years past. Jewel-encrusted women’s jackets with exaggerated shoulder pads costing well into the thousands of dollars shocked fashion followers. At the same time, Hollywood celebrities and the wealthy began to embrace the rock-and-roll styles under Mr. Decarin’s direction — the very high price point also offered differentiation from other luxury brands. Mr. Decarin left Balmain in 2011 amid claims that the brand had become more about his star status rather than the clothing itself.

Designer Olivier Rousteing replaced Mr. Decarin in 2011 after joining the company in 2009 — Mr. Rousteing had previously worked under noted Italian designer Roberto Cavalli. Mr. Rousteing maintained some of the design ethos of his predecessor while lowering prices to be more accessible, though Balmain’s fashions are still priced into the thousands of dollars to this day. Mr. Rousteing is said to have also brought a ‘fresh take’ to the brand’s aesthetic, including adding an Asian influence to the clothing in an effort to attract an Asian demographic, which continues to be responsible for buying a substantial percentage of luxury goods globally.

In 2017, Olivier Rousteing debuted Balmain’s first accessory line, which became an immediate hit with brand fans. In December of 2018, he introduced a new logo for Balmain with a simplified font that marked a departure from the more ornate design of years past.

We’ll continue to follow Balmain’s growth in the Canadian market.

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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