Toronto-based luxury retailer Holt Renfrew recently unveiled completed renovations to its 190,000-square-foot flagship store at 50 Bloor Street West, which now features a new facade as well as 12 main floor concessions for fashion, accessory and jewellery brands. It’s all part of the Mink Mile flagship’s multi-year transformation that now includes a luxury boutique hall similar to leading department stores in Europe and Asia. It also marks another milestone to Holts’ multi-year investment as it spends more than $400 million to upgrade its fleet of stores.
New Bloor Street Facade
The recently-completed limestone facade to the Bloor Street store creates an overall modern look, spanning 270 linear feet over the three original buildings that make up the flagship store. Bronze canopies span the expanse of the store and an 18-foot-high glowing ‘lantern’ over the store’s new recessed exterior entry room at its main entrance features the Holt Renfrew branding. The exterior entry room also includes a new valet service podium for customers. The Holts Café on the store’s mezzanine level features 23-foot-high, energy-efficient windows facing onto Bloor Street.
Twelve-foot-high windows span the facade of the store, featuring Holt Renfrew’s displays and campaigns. Flanking each end of the Bloor Street facade are concessions for Saint Laurent and Miu Miu, both featuring exterior windows as well as branding. Holt Renfrew’s iconic magenta flags, along with the Canadian flag (and likely a Pride flag in the summer), crown the new facade.
Architecture and design firm Gensler was responsible for designing the new facade that cost millions of dollars to install. Sustainability was a focus, including using enhanced levels of thermal insulation exceeding the Ontario Building Code and reducing the store’s carbon emissions. Over 80% of construction waste was recycled during the renovation of the store.
The facade’s overhaul commenced in May of 2019 and it was completed in the fall of 2020 — we’ve been waiting for lockdowns to lift in order to report on this story so that readers could see inside the store for themselves.
Completion of the Street Level Interior Renovation
We have been waiting since November 2020 to run this article, and we’re still not 100% sure if retailers in Toronto will be permitted to reopen stores to the public on March 8 as has been announced tentatively. The following is some of what visitors will get to experience when stores are permitted to reopen.
In late 2019, half of Holt’s main floor at 50 Bloor Street West in Toronto was shuttered temporarily for the construction of several luxury boutiques. One-by-one, boutiques began to open in 2020 including some new brands that were not formerly in the store.
Most recently, a Chanel beauty shop and a Guerlain boutique opened in the store, carrying a range of beauty items — Chanel also operates a separate beauty boutique with a treatment room downstairs. Several beauty brands have a presence on the main floor near the central escalator well that leads to a new 12,000-square-foot beauty hall on the store’s concourse level.
The other boutiques on the main floor are dedicated to fashion, bags, accessories, and jewellery. Italian luxury brand Gucci unveiled an impressive space on Holt’s main level next to a ‘world of Fendi’ that Retail Insider reported on in January of 2019. A Dior accessory concession opened next to Gucci, showcasing Dior’s handbags and accessories — both Gucci and Dior also operate large standalone flagships nearby on Bloor Street West.
Boutiques for Prada, David Yurman, Balenciaga, Burberry, and Bulgari also opened, and were joined by Miu Miu and Bottega Veneta in January of 2020.
The David Yurman boutique, which encompasses 1,649 square feet, features the brand’s full assortment of jewellery designs for women and men, including wedding pieces. The boutique includes a sculpture titled ‘Angel’ and an oversized painting by Sybil Yurman, alongside a heritage wall that “visually narrates the Yurmans’ journey from art to jewellery,” according to the company. The men’s area features a blackened steel entry portal, and the wedding area includes a floral panel of trilliums — the official flower of Ontario. David Yurman’s only standalone Canadian storefront is at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre in a 1,625 square feet space. The Vancouver Holt Renfrew concession was the largest shop-in-store in the world for David Yurman at 1,226 square foot when it opened in late 2016. David Yurman opened a Montreal concession at Holt Renfrew Ogilvy in the spring, spanning about 1,200 square feet. The Bloor Street Holt Renfrew concession is now the largest David Yurman space in Canada and could very well be the largest shop-in-store concession for the brand globally.
The Balenciaga boutique, which occupies an expansive space along the eastern part of the newly renovated main floor, is another ‘world of’ boutique for the Balenciaga brand. Included is a range of accessories and footwear as well as ready-to-wear fashions for both men and women. It’s the second ‘world of’ Balenciaga concession for Holt Renfrew, following an open-concept space that debuted at the Vancouver Holt Renfrew flagship at the end of 2018. Balenciaga also opened its first standalone flagship at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre in December of 2019.
Burberry struck a deal with Holt Renfrew to occupy an open-concept space on Holt’s main level, which faces towards the new Balenciaga and David Yurman boutiques. A range of Burberry accessories are featured in the space.
Italian luxury jeweller Bulgari opened a beautiful boutique on Holts’ main level, carrying an expansive assortment of jewellery as well as time pieces and accessories. It’s the second Bulgari boutique in Toronto — a 1,930-square-foot Bulgari opened at Yorkdale in late 2014 and it continues to remain the only standalone unit in Canada. In February of 2018, Bulgari also opened a 450-square-foot concession at Holt Renfrew in Vancouver in its expansive accessory hall. Staff in the Holt Renfrew Bloor Street Bulgari shop said that the Toronto storefront is considerably larger than the Vancouver boutique at more than 1,000 square feet.
Accessory concessions for Miu Miu and Bottega Veneta also opened on the main floor of Holt Renfrew’s Bloor Street flagship. Miu Miu operates shops in several Holt Renfrew stores, as does Bottega Veneta which has concessions at Holts’ Vancouver flagship as well as at the recently-completed Holt Renfrew Ogilvy in Montreal. Bottega Veneta also opened its only standalone Canadian storefront at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre in November of 2018, as featured in Retail Insider. Both the Yorkdale and Holt Renfrew Bloor Bottega Veneta boutiques were built by Elevate Build Inc..
In 2019, luxury brands Saint Laurent and Fendi both opened ‘world of’ concessions on the new main floor luxury hall at Holts Bloor, with each spanning approximately 3,000 square feet. As per the ‘world of’ concept, both feature the brands’ full range of fashions for men and women as well as accessories, bags, and footwear.
Holt Renfrew as King of the Concessions in Canada
Holt Renfrew has adopted a concession model that involves major brands occupying space in its stores with dedicated areas carrying a broader assortment than in a typical department store. The model involves Holt Renfrew being both a retailer and a landlord as it hosts name brand boutiques that are operated by the specific brands. Parent company, Selfridges Group, has created similar luxury halls in its Selfridges stores in London, UK, as well as at Brown Thomas in Dublin, Ireland and at De Bijenkorf in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The model is also popular in Japan and in other parts of Asia where department stores continue to flourish unlike in North America generally.
Renovations to the Bloor Street store have been ongoing for several years. A renovated footwear hall on the mezzanine level reopened in the fall of 2018, and the new concourse level beauty hall was unveiled in the spring of 2019. The next renovations to the store are expected to include changes to the women’s designer floor on the second level as well as the addition of a newly-expanded women’s contemporary floor below the mezzanine in about 30,000 square feet of space not currently used for retail. A new 25,000-square-foot, third level men’s floor is also anticipated, which would coincide with the closure of the 16,500-square-foot standalone Holt Renfrew men’s store nearby at 100 Bloor Street West that opened in the fall of 2014.
It’s all part of a $400 million investment in the Holt Renfrew chain that is seeing the retailer’s stores transformed into showpieces. The 190,000-square-foot Vancouver Holt Renfrew flagship at CF Pacific Centre, which was the top selling unit in the chain before the pandemic, has seen a remarkable transformation over the past three years that includes 87 vendor shops — nearly double that of only a couple of years ago. That includes an expansive ground-floor luxury hall that houses an impressive roster of concessions for brands such as Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Balenciaga, Celine, Prada, and Chanel — Chanel’s concession is the largest at more than 5,000 square feet.
Holt Renfrew’s 130,000-square-foot Yorkdale Shopping Centre store in Toronto also saw a transformation that includes the openings of ‘world of’ concessions for brands including Gucci, Fendi, and Dior, which were followed by a world of Burberry boutique and a fashion boutique for Italian brand Brunello Cucinelli, which moved into the former Gucci accessory space, as well as a much larger Christian Louboutin footwear and bag concession nearby. In Montreal, the 250,000-square-foot Holt Renfrew Ogilvy store saw a spectacular overhaul that included concessions for many of the world’s leading luxury brands.
Holt Renfrew has embraced the concept of clustering and is said to be seeing strong sales productivity in its stores as a result. Rather than buy designer brand collections itself, Holt Renfrew’s concession brands are able to determine what products to offer to local consumers and as a result, a greater depth of product is available, as is the opportunity for special orders directly from brands. It’s a model seen less in competitors Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom in Canada, both of which act more as a retailer in their designer offerings.
Ultimately, Holt Renfrew’s Bloor Street flagship overhaul is good news for the Bloor-Yorkville area. The clustering of luxury brands will attract shoppers and as a result, the Bloor Street Holt Renfrew is expected to see considerable sales gains as shoppers begin to return amid pandemic lockdowns. At the same time, some question if brands such as David Yurman and Bulgari will consider opening street-front retail spaces in the Bloor-Yorkville area after opening inside of Holts — Holts is said to have offered inducements to its concession partners to open boutiques within the Bloor Street flagship that include funding tenant build-outs as well as taking a percentage of sales as rent.
What Could Have Been
A proposal several years ago by neighbouring landlords could have seen a large multi-level Holt Renfrew store constructed on the northeast corner of Bloor and Bay Streets at 60 Bloor Street West as part of a development called Cumberland Square. The proposal would have been part of a transformation of the block and because of various reasons, the mega project was shelved. Renderings above are from Allies and Morrison which had a rather compelling proposal, which would have seen the existing Holt Renfrew store demolished. Ultimately, landlord Morguard renovated the existing 12-storey office building at 60 Bloor Street West, which until recently housed a three-level, 17,000-square foot Gap store.