After an extensive renovation and expansion, Holt Renfrew's Yorkdale location in Toronto has doubled in size and, some would say, in lustre. In-store boutiques from Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton face into the mall and give the facade the feeling of a prime shopping strip in Europe. A new beauty floor features exclusive-in-Canada brands such as Aesop and private "cabines" for specialized facial treatments. And, as a finishing touch, tucked away from sight down a corridor past the lingerie is The Apartment.
Technically, the 1,000-square-foot space is a private shopping suite. But, as its name suggests, it can be used as more than your usual souped-up change room. Guests can host a Parisian-themed lunch for friends in it, for example, or even a small reception for a visiting designer. They can stop by with the kids after school and let them play jury while their parents overhaul their work wardrobe. The suite can even be the site of an after-hours shopping surprise for a friend or partner. Think of it as a fashioncentric home away from home.
The space, designed by the New York firm Janson Goldstein, does indeed have the feel of a swish flat, complete with a full ensuite bathroom and kitchen in a style that can be described as a carefully calibrated blend of classic and contemporary. It's just a shame that Holts isn't selling the space's decorative accents. Take the bronze light fixture with smoked glass shades by Lindsey Adelman Studio. If it were up for grabs, surely someone with the means to purchase a trousseau of resort wear might be tempted to throw in a cool chandelier.
This raises the question of tenancy: To begin, The Apartment will be available on a complimentary basis to Holt Renfrew's "high-value clients" – that is, the store's big spenders and longstanding customers. Like unlocking a bonus secret door in a video game, the suite represents a next-level amenity designed to keep Holt Renfrew top of mind for those who now shop through a myriad of other channels.
"Department stores have realized for quite some time that a small percentage of customers can make up 65 to 70 per cent of the luxury business," says Robert Burke, founder of an eponymous retail consulting firm and former senior vice-president of fashion and public relations at Bergdorf Goodman. "The department stores have become very focused on marketing and appealing to that high-net-worth spender."
And, to be sure, the features in private shopping suites have been edging ever upward. At Paris's Le Bon Marché, new suites geared towards women and men, designed by Jean Louis Faillant Dumas from the agency LOVE, opened in November. Entry comes at the cost of €150 for two hours or €350 for the half-day and includes a wardrobe consulting service.
At Selfridges in London, a spacious 5,200-square-foot personal shopping "retreat" that draws inspiration from the apartment of the avant-garde art-deco-era interior designer Syrie Maugham was unveiled in August 2012. Nine individual suites are arranged around a library, bar and drawing room.
But bigger isn't always better. As Janson Goldstein partner Steven Scuro notes, the design team bestowed Holt Renfrew's space with residential features (club chairs, an ottoman as big as a daybed, a bar cart, lighting on dimmer switches) and was conscious of the need for numerous seating areas without having the layout resemble a hotel lobby. The grid of metal shelving can be merchandised with the latest Louboutin heels and Givenchy handbags, to give it the feel of a private dressing room, or propped with books and objets d'art for an exclusive-club effect.
And this, Holt Renfrew divisional vice-president and general manager of its Yorkdale location Barbara Wolfson says, helps to underscore the difference between shopping from your sofa at home and a plush in-store settee. "There's still a big part of the shopping population that doesn't get the experience they want from spending off the Internet," she says. "And it is still our role to provide a number of things that make people want to come in."
Or as Burke puts it, "It's important for stores to look up to date and the idea of a basic dressing room is no longer appealing to the luxury customer. Their standards are higher now."
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