Unique Miami-based luxury multi brand retailer The Webster has officially entered the Canadian market by opening its first international storefront in Toronto’s Bloor-Yorkville area. The impressive space spans three levels and is another competitor for luxury retailers in Canada’s largest city.
The Webster’s new Toronto storefront at 121 Scollard Street spans about 6,500 square feet over three levels. The pink brick exterior is adorned with a neon light of The Webster logo while a flamingo wind vane sits at the top peak of the structure in honour of the mascot created by iconic fashion illustrator Michael Roberts.
It is the eighth storefront for The Webster which was founded in Miami Beach in 2009, and the first international location for the retailer which is seeing remarkable success and sales growth even over the course of the pandemic. Founder Laure Heriard Dubreuil for years developed relationships with key brands and obtains some merchandise via consignment. Prior to founding The Webster, Ms. Heriard Dubreuil lived in Paris and worked as a top merchandiser for Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent.
The new Toronto store is contained in a building built in 1884 by Leeds Sheppard that at one time housed two semi-detached residences. It’s the reason that the store has two separate side-by-side entrance doors leading into the retail space where visitors are greeted by a life-sized pink feathered bear from Italian artist Paola Pivi. The main floor includes a range of jewellery, fashion accessories for women and the home with ready-to-wear found towards the back of the space — some designs are edgier than what one might find in other stores in Toronto and since opening last week, customers are said to be receptive of the new stock.
At the back of the main floor of the store is a newly built annex housing ‘The Whisper Room’, a space with rounded walls and a large grouping of palm trees scaling into a dome ceiling. The walls were designed to create the feeling of an outline of a sunset according to The Webster.
A wide range of designers are carried on the main floor including the likes of Balmain, Chloé, Loewe, Paco Rabanne, Moncler, Vetements, Burberry and others, with many pieces not found elsewhere in Toronto even if the brands are carried in other stores including their own. The Webster also has its own private label clothing, LHD, designed by founder Laure Hériard Dubreuil herself.
A sprawling illuminated pink staircase with a colour-block effect connects all three floors of the store. The second floor houses womenswear, footwear and bags and accessories. The front section of the second floor overlooking Scollard Street is set up to look like an upscale living room in a fine residence or hotel, and guests are invited to linger. More luxury brands for women include a selection of Judith Leiber bags and fashions from Alexander Wang, Fear of God, Lanvin, Versace and various other brands, some more obscure.
Accessed from the pink stairway is the third floor of The Webster which is dedicated to menswear. Racks of men’s fashions include unique pieces from a capsule collection by Bally as well as unique pieces from brands such as Palm Angels, Amiri, and others. A large selection of sneakers is available at the back of the third floor space with many unique styles. Hanging from the ceiling of the third floor is a fully studded black centrepiece surrounded by raw travertine fixtures. A custom-made foosball table that was commissioned for the store sits by the windows overlooking Scollard Street.
Terrazzo flooring is used throughout the new store in shades of black, beige, white, and pink — terrazzo is said to be an influence that stems from the Miami deco brilliance of the first location of The Webster in South Beach, Miami. Vintage wallpapers from Laure Hériard Dubreuil’s personal collection are a fixture in each The Webster location including lining the walls of the fitting rooms in the Toronto store. Marmorino walls create a softness to the space. Parquet flooring was given a creative twist fabricated in a champagne-coloured metal.
The Webster has seen impressive growth over the past couple of years — in January of 2020, The Webster opened an 11,000 square foot store in Los Angeles at The Beverly Centre and in July of 2020, The Webster opened an outpost at the Rosewood Miramar Beach in Montecito California. The Webster was founded in 2009 when Laure Heriard Dubreuil opened a 20,000-square-foot store in the former Webster Hotel at 1220 Collins Avenue in South Beach, Miami. The Art Deco building spans three floors and became a draw for locals and tourists. Rather than organize the store according to brand, Ms. Heriard Dubreuil merchandised it as if it were a personal wardrobe by mixing big brands with the emerging, arranging everything intuitively by mood, which was revolutionary at the time.
A decade after opening the first location, The Webster opened stores in Bal Harbour (Bal Harbour Shops) near Miami, in Houston Texas (adjacent to Houston Galleria), at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa California, in New York City’s SoHo area, and most recently the two California locations in Los Angeles and Montecito. The Webster also has an outlet store at Sawgrass Mills in Florida. Each store has its own personality in terms of design.
In Toronto, the renovation of the 1884 building was designed by Stéphane Parmentier, a Parisian interior designer and Creative Director of The Webster Home vertical. Parmentier was also responsible for the design of award-winning The Webster store in Montecito.
Laure Heriard Dubreuil said, “When deciding what we wanted our first international store to be like, we were inspired by our roots. We wanted to create an all-encompassing representation of The Webster’s journey thus far and then exhibit where we are going as we recognized this monumental moment! Stéphane with such a strong understanding of these innate elements, created a sensorial ascending flow from floor to floor projecting our brand ethos in an array of unique depictions.”
She went on to say, “Toronto is an energetic and cultural city which are two attributes that both influenced me to open The Webster over 11 years ago and what continues to be a driver for our success. With each market being so unique comes a new refreshing perspective to the way we operate. I am so excited to see the effect that Toronto has on us and look forward to welcoming our new clients into our ultra-vivid world.”
Interior Designer Stéphane Partmentier said, “The design of The Webster Toronto is a true depiction of the brand’s natural direction. With such an identifiable DNA, we were able to capture the spirit of this eighth location instantly. We were so inspired by the historical beauty that surrounded us in the neighborhood of Yorkville, that we knew we had to create a place that was so vibrant and unique that would make our mark from the beginning. The perspectives and curves throughout the three floors have such symbiosis, manifesting such depth and exploration of the brand codes with every detail having an exact purpose to bring the whole vision to life.”
Toronto based Cumulus Architects collaborated with Stéphane Parmentier to realize the vision for The Webster’s transformation of the heritage building into a premier retail destination.
The design team also included heritage architect ERA, Forsyth Consulting for building envelope, TMP Consulting Engineers for mechanical, Hammerschlag & Joffee for electrical and Leonard Kalischenko & Associates for structural, and Structure Corp as the Construction Manager.
First Capital REIT owns the 121 Scollard Street building where The Webster is now located. Over the past several years, First Capital has been acquiring commercial real estate in the Bloor-Yorkville area and has been bringing in new retail and foodservice tenants. Vice President Real Estate, Yorkville, Eric Sherman, negotiated the lease deal for The Webster on behalf of the landlord.
“We are thrilled to welcome The Webster’s first international flagship to Toronto and specifically to our portfolio in Yorkville,” said Sherman. “The Webster has quickly emerged as one of the most prestigious and coveted luxury concepts in the world and a wonderful partner for us. They are committed to achieving unique, purposeful, and curated experiences within a luxury environment that mirrors First Capital’s approach to the neighborhood as a whole. We are proud to deliver another creative transformation of a gorgeous heritage building in Yorkville which has quickly and clearly become the chosen destination for luxury concepts and consumers alike.”
One thing that The Webster is lacking is a restaurant space. There was a possibility earlier on that a restaurant might be included but ultimately the space became ‘The Whisper Room’ as it is now known. One interesting fact about Scollard Street is its restrictive zoning which prohibits the opening of new restaurants on the street, which otherwise includes a mix of beauty businesses, tailors and fashion businesses, and even a few very expensive private residences. The location of The Webster might appear to be a bit out of the way, but it’s actually steps from Chanel and other luxury brands on Yorkville Avenue to the south. An attractive public walkway joins Yorkville Avenue to Scollard Street between Chanel and Stone Island and The Webster is a short walk north of Yorkville Avenue along the path. A dedicated entry on the pathway into The Webster features a unique entryway design with an historic-looking glass overhang.
The Webster opened in Toronto in late October and the store is already busy — a constant stream of visitors throughout the day include the curious and serious shoppers. The Webster in Toronto employs several stylists and is brining in more as part of an effort to gain market share in the city by working one-on-one with private clients. A client may visit the store, or have product sent to them by a stylist to try at home. The personal shopping and styling component to The Webster’s retail operations have proved popular in other locations and has led to strong sales.
Strong sales can be expected in Toronto as well, possibly at the expense of other high-end retailers in the city. The Webster has access to unique and one-of-a-kind pieces, and also commissions exclusives from some of the world’s top designers that means product in the store is not available elsewhere. The Webster’s personal shopping offering potentially poses a threat to other multi-brand luxury retailers in the city. The Webster’s relationship with top brands means that pieces can be acquired for affluent shoppers that otherwise wouldn’t be available in Toronto. Some of the women’s brands carried at The Webster in Toronto are also carried at Holt Renfrew (which has a large store nearby), The Room at Hudson’s Bay on Queen Street and Saks Fifth Avenue which has two stores in the city including one downtown in the Hudson’s Bay Queen Street building. The Yorkville area is known for having several exceptional multi-brand luxury boutiques that will now compete with The Webster. For menswear, CNTRBND in Yorkville is probably the closest in terms of edgier high-end offerings with Holt Renfrew Men being a distant second.
The size of The Webster’s business could grow substantially in the Toronto market, regardless of how large its brick-and-mortar storefront is. Some customers of The Webster may visit the store, which also operates as a showroom, once in a personal interaction with a stylist. The stylist or sales associate may then otherwise communicate with the customer via mobile device with goods shipped to the customer’s residence, or styling done remotely. That means substantial sales numbers could eventually be done from The Webster’s Toronto operations without the need for an expansion of the existing space.
Affluent shoppers, who may have otherwise shopped internationally, might now spend more money in the Toronto market and specifically at The Webster. Stylists with a range of unique product may keep the city’s top fashion purchasers happy without heading to Paris or New York City, which means there could be at least a small boost to the local economy in terms of dollars spent at home.
Although there will be increased competition in the area, some may argue that The Webster will bring in a high-end shopper to the Yorkville area that might also go and shop at other high-end stores in the neighbourhood as well. And furthermore, a customer going to The Webster in Yorkville is one less customer who may otherwise have gone to Yorkdale which over the past decade has secured the densest clustering of mono-brand luxury stores in Canada. The next several years will see a battle between Yorkville and Yorkdale for brands, and it’s likely Yorkdale will continue to score big names given its comparative advantages of being managed by a single landlord. Yorkville in comparison is disadvantaged for a few reasons. Multiple landlords means it’s more challenging to see a coherent retail or brand strategy develop, save for what First Capital REIT is doing by acquiring multiple retail properties to control the tenant mix. The Yorkville neighbourhood also lacks cleanliness at times and is suffering from increased crime, drug use and vagrancy since the start of the pandemic — not an issue Yorkdale has to face. Yorkville also lacks the unified personal shoppers and stylists offered at Yorkdale, and the neighbourhood lacks the valet parking offering at Yorkdale. Yorkville, however, does offer a more authentic urban environment with a mix of heritage and other architecture and attractions such as top restaurants and beauty businesses. Not to mention some of the top hotels in the city and thousands of multi-millionaire (and some billionaire) households live nearby, with Yorkville boasting the highest density of wealthy residents in Canada.
Yorkville seems to have won the luxury battle with CF Toronto Eaton Centre, also in Toronto’s downtown core. In 2016, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom opened in the massive shopping complex which was seeing hundreds of millions of dollars in investment by landlord Cadillac Fairview. Today, luxury struggles in the downtown core with a lack of valet parking said to be among challenges in an area with social issues including addiction, mental health and street youth. This has resulted in a reduction in luxury brands carried at two of the anchor retailers at CF Toronto Eaton Centre — we’ve reported that Nordstrom has dropped most of its luxury brands for handbags, men’s and womenswear in downtown Toronto while at Saks Fifth Avenue, Louis Vuitton and Dior will be exiting the store entirely by the end of the year.
It’s unknown if The Webster will open more Canadian stores. At a briefing, it was hinted that the Montreal market could at some point be a target for the brand, stepping onto the home turf of edgy multi-brand luxury retailer SSENSE. If The Webster were to open in Montreal, it would compete for the same shopper as Holt Renfrew Ogilvy and several other smaller upscale stores. If it were to enter Quebec, The Webster might have to modify its name for Quebec signage language laws, being named ‘Le Webster’ or possibly ‘Boutique Webster’.
One might also suspect that the Vancouver market, particularly with the film industry, could be a target for The Webster. A lot of money flows though the Vancouver area for various reasons and consumer goods is a destination for part of it. The Webster could thrive in the Vancouver market and grab market share from Holt Renfrew, Hudson’s Bay The Room, Fueille and other upscale edgy multi brand retailers in the city.
And if The Webster does open more stores in Canada, we’ll be reporting on it.