Holt Renfrew Reinforcing Men’s Business as Competition Grows in Canada [Interview/Feature]


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Luxury multi-brand retailer Holt Renfrew is expanding its menswear offerings as competition grows in the Canadian market. The company is seeing success with some newer and edgier brands as consumer tastes continue to shift to more casual comfort. The retailer is also heavily investing in its brick-and-mortar operations as competition grows in Canada. 

In Vancouver, Holt Renfrew recently hosted its Men’s Edit Event which showcased a range of fashions, accessories, and grooming with personal appearances, exclusive previews, made-to-order and made-to-measure events. A new brand launch included AGOLDE’s men’s Fall ‘23 collection featuring graphics by renowned Los Angeles tattoo artist, Dr. Woo, who also made a personal appearance in the store. 

Other brands were showcased during the event, ranging from the pricy Thom Browne to Rains, a much less costly Danish brand focused on waterproof items that will no doubt be useful for Vancouver’s damp weather. 

Bringing experiential elements into the store are part of Holt Renfrew’s push in the menswear category according to Carolyn Wright, VP of Product and Planning at the retailer. A considerable amount of effort went into the menswear events held in Vancouver as Holt Renfrew aims to secure market share in the competitive Canadian market. 

Carolyn Wright

Holt Renfrew is something of an ‘ecosystem’ according to Wright, with Holts carrying a range of brands and price points. She said that men are mixing and matching some brands, while seeking looks that are balanced between being refined and feeling comfortable. 

‘Stealth wealth’ is a trend seen with some Holt Renfrew customers, she said, as shoppers seek out quality goods that lack the logo-mania seen with some brands. Geographically, Wright said that there are some “slight nuances” to fashion geographically in Canadian cities, depending on financial centres, music scenes and sports teams. At the same time, Wright said that the “fundamentals are consistent” across the chain’s stores in BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, with some brands doing gangbuster sales. 

One of those brands is Los Angeles-based Amiri, which has become one of the top selling menswear brands at Holt Renfrew. The brand is known for its edgy streetwear styles and is flying off the racks at Holts – and a handful of other retailers carrying the brand. Sources have told Retail Insider that Amiri is looking to open a standalone store at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre, being part of a trend where brands open their own stores. 

Holt Renfrew, on its part, is investing in its brick-and-mortar retail business in a big way. Construction will soon start on a new men’s department that will be located on the third floor of Holt Renfrew’s flagship store at 50 Bloor Street West. The department is expected to open in the fourth quarter of 2024, according to Wright. Moving the men’s department back into the flagship makes sense, as some women also shop for the men in their life. Having things in the same building is just more convenient. 

Holt Renfrew’s flagship store at 50 Bloor Street West in Toronto. Photo: Craig Patterson

The new men’s department will replace a standalone Holt Renfrew men’s store that opened in the fall of 2014 at 100 Bloor Street West (corner of Bellair Street). The two-level store has a leased area of about 16,500 square feet (rent said to be $4 million annually), and is the only standalone store of its kind in the chain. The relatively small men’s store lacks the boutique concessions found at Holts in Vancouver and Montreal. 

Wright noted another recent major investment made by Holts in Montreal, with the building of the beautiful 250,000 square foot Holt Renfrew Ogilvy store that occupies six floors on Ste-Catherine Street West. The 40,000 square foot men’s floor on the fourth floor is by far the largest men’s department in the Holts chain in terms of size, and features an impressive roster of luxury brand concessions and boutique spaces. 

Holt Renfrew relocated its Vancouver menswear space to a new concourse level space several years ago. Sales are robust at the store, which is said to be the top-selling location in the chain. That includes an impressive menswear selection that includes a mix of luxury brand concessions (such as Louis Vuitton, Celine, Burberry, Dior, and Louboutin) and other brand presentations. The men’s store can be accessed via its own entrance onto Howe Street, making it convenient. 

Holt Renfrew Ogilvy men’s floor in Montreal. Photo: Holt Renfrew

Calgary’s Holt Renfrew store includes a dramatic looking menswear floor featuring soaring ceilings and a range of upscale and luxury designers. Holt Renfrew recently renewed its lease for its downtown space that spans about 150,000 square feet over four levels. Three of those levels are retail space and it’s said that there’s room to expand retail space in the building if needed. 

Mississauga has an architecturally unique Holt Renfrew store at Square One that opened in 2017. It includes a men’s store with its own entrance. The menswear selection is more casual at the Mississauga store, catering to demographics in the area. 

The Yorkdale Holt Renfrew men’s offerings are spread across the store, including in concessions and a dedicated menswear area. Five of the concessions are ‘world of’ in terms of selection, thus carrying menswear along with other categories for women. A renovation to part of the store, expected to be completed in 2025, will see some changes to the Yorkdale Holt Renfrew that will include some of its menswear offerings. 

Men’s store entrance at Holt Renfrew, Square One, Mississauga. Photo: Holt Renfrew

Holt Renfrew is uniquely positioned in the Canadian market. For years it has dominated luxury retailing in Canada, and it continues to do so with its mix of retail and concessions for the world’s top luxury brands. Despite competitors coming into the market, Holt Renfrew has maintained its dominance as a place for shoppers to obtain luxury brands. 

Holt Renfrew has less competition in the menswear sector as of late, with Nordstrom exiting the country in the spring while shutting its six standalone stores here. Nordstrom’s fashion offerings for the most part were of a lower price-point compared to what’s at Holt Renfrew, although there was crossover in terms of brands and shoppers. Saks Fifth Avenue has also substantially reduced its designer men’s offerings in Canada, particularly in Calgary where the store’s men’s department has recently been downsized to the point of being almost non-existent. Saks also downsized its CF Sherway Gardens store in Toronto during the pandemic, relocating its lower-level men’s store to a smaller area upstairs with womenswear. 

Brands opening their own stores, not to mention online sales, are all potential headwinds for retailers such as Holt Renfrew. International luxury brands are targeting Canada by opening stores like never before, and this will continue into the future as demand dictates and the market matures. When some brands enter a market by opening retail stores, they may pull the brand from multi-brand retailers — a trend reported on in Retail Insider more and more in recent years. Some brands operating concessions in larger retailers may also decide to eventually open standalone stores. And to add to the competition, luxury brands entering Canada also often open local e-commerce sites, if they don’t have one already. 

Entrance to the men’s store at Holt Renfrew in downtown Calgary. Photo: Holt Renfrew

Online multi-brand retailers such as Montreal-based SSENSE, as well, are taking market share in the menswear space. SSENSE carries a wide range of luxury brands and manages to secure some exclusives through relationships with brands. SSENSE is marking 20 years in business and is marking it with a big celebration this month. 

Some men are even turning to the resale market for some luxury goods, ranging from hoodies to sneakers to jewellery. That includes some popular e-commerce sites as well as a growing number of brick-and-mortar retailers. The younger generation, in particular, is becoming more focused on the circular economy and used goods are usually cheaper than new ones, which is a bonus (we won’t get into the world of sneakers, where prices are sometimes based more on demand). 

Toronto-based menswear retailer Harry Rosen is looking to take some market share from Holt Renfrew with the recent introduction of some more casual brands at luxury price points. Newly introduced brands to Harry Rosen, carried at the Bloor, Yorkdale and Vancouver locations, include Balmain, Marni, Jil Sander, Kenzo and Maison Margiela. Retail Insider recently interviewed President Ian Rosen, who said that the retailer was buying all categories for these brands and that other Harry Rosen locations would stock some of these brands in future seasons. All five of the new brands mentioned above that are carried at Harry Rosen are also carried at Holt Renfrew, including on its website.  

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Publisher & CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Advisor at the University of Alberta School Centre for Cities and Communities in Edmonton, former lawyer and a public speaker. 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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