The iconic French luxury designer’s latest Canadian location represents more than just a testament to Hermès savoir faire and know-how.
In the pursuit of dreams…
Beyond serving as the theme for its 2019 collection, it’s a motto that was instrumental to the conception — and completion — of Hermès’ new Vancouver flagship store, a dazzling showpiece which presents a full transformation of the iconic French luxury designer’s presence amid the bustling west coast seaport.
But to truly understand what made the unlocking of this particular dream so special, and why Hermès Canada president and CEO Jennifer Carter so readily allows herself to embrace the memory of it, you can only start by first knowing the decades-old investment that Hermès has made in Canada itself.
To do that, Carter explains, you must go back to 1989, the year she acquired the rights to what was then the company’s sole Canadian outpost, which had been operating as a compact boutique nestled within Toronto’s old Hazelton Lanes shopping complex.
Very few high-end outfits were committed to Canada in a financial sense back then. But Hermès, under the stewardship of the late Jean-Louis Dumas, its legendary and charismatic chairman, believed very strongly in the country.
How strongly? Enough that Dumas and the Hermès family were convinced to partner with Carter, a former investment banker who was already demonstrating a flair and razor-sharp mind for retail, to jointly develop Canada’s debut freestanding flagship.
“They were very impressed with Canada and it’s multiculturalism and entrepreneurship,” Carter remembers. “How the business evolved from there was how we like to do things at Hermès: step by step, and cautiously but correctly.”
From 1992 to 2002, Hermès Canada opened the doors to its aforementioned original Toronto flagship store at 131 Bloor Street West (approx. 1,600 square feet of retail space), its initial Vancouver store (approx. 900 square feet of retail space), and its Montreal store (approx. 900 square feet of retail space), with the latter two locations situated in Holt Renfrew.
Then, in 2006 and 2008, respectively, the Vancouver and Toronto stores migrated to much-needed larger premises. One moved to approximately 2,000 square feet of retail space at the Burrard and Alberni intersection, sometimes referred to as Vancouver’s “Luxury Zone.” The other literally crossed the street of Toronto’s “Mink Mile” to set up shop in approximately 2,300 square feet of retail space.
Then, between 2009 and 2012, a Holt Renfrew-based Calgary store surfaced with approximately 1,300 square feet of retail space, as did a progressive e-commerce platform built from the ground up, which Carter hails as “completely Canadianized.”
And most recently, a third act for the Toronto store came to fruition in 2017, taking on almost 6,000 square feet of retail space at 100 Bloor Street West. Same goes for the Vancouver store earlier this year, which now calls approximately 5,000 square feet of retail space home, no more than a couple doors down from its last place of residence.
All told, the increasing augmentation speaks volumes to Hermès’ commitment to Canada. And yes, the call-outs to square footage matter.
“In the past four years alone, we have essentially tripled our retail footprint,” Carter declares. “As well, there are currently around thirty stores over 10,000 total square feet in the world, of which two are Toronto and Vancouver.”
Fiercely pleased, she further points to this patient, but dedicated expansion as evidence of how resolute the company has been in Canada, respecting the country’s own distinctive identity.
“What that has allowed us to do is to show our customers the métiers the way they should be shown.”
For Carter, launching a new Hermès boutique has never been a paint-by-numbers process. On the contrary, each new Hermès Canada destination from 1992 onwards has involved a very singular effort.
“Instead of just going and massively opening big stores, we try to approach our markets with good sense and practicality,” she asserts. “Every one we do open is unique to itself. There’s no cookie-cutter formula, except the best quality.”
In the new Vancouver flagship’s case, a considerable measure of that method meant recognizing the myriad ways the city had welcomed Hermès over the years, whether in how it’s reacted to its product or multiple addresses to date, or through their mutual appreciation for creativity and craft.
In turn, RDAI, the Parisian architecture agency responsible for designing all the Hermès stores worldwide, visited Vancouver to study the upgraded space at the southwest corner of Burrard and West Georgia, with the objective of drawing influence from the city’s contemporary character.
The idea was to offer Vancouver’s inhabitants a space that mirrored what their metropolis meant to Hermès; to strike a flawless balance between innovative culture and ever-present nature. Essentially, to construct a site capable of inspiring and unleashing imagination, showcasing Hermès’ varied collections, and honouring the house’s regard for its objects as much as for its clients.
The result? A reimagined boutique that pairs Hermès’ classic architectural language with local materials; that symbolizes the enduring relationship between Hermès and Vancouver, while seamlessly integrating into the spectacular Vancouver vista.
On the outside, in a visible nod to the high-rise buildings and mountains that characterize the skyline, a moulded concrete white terrazzo façade pronounces its height and resonates with a decidedly mineral quality. Inside, the emphasis shifts to natural components and tonal accords, generating an airy ambiance that conjures up impressions of both the land and sea.
As far as the inventory goes, apart from the requisite leather, silk and woman’s universes, a perfume discovery area, some collections for the home, and the like, the new Vancouver flagship boasts several special products created exclusively for it. Carter cites a triptych of Kelly bags inspired by the natural landscape as one example, then playful roller skates that celebrate the local activity as another.
“The store is a testament to Hermès savoir faire and know-how — architecturally, aesthetically and emotionally,” she beams.
On more than one occasion during the opening day festivities out west, Carter can recall Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the company’s artistic director and a sixth-generation Hermès family member, referring to the new location as Hermès at its best.
She spiritedly agrees with the sentiment, but is careful not to imply that anything was missing or lacking from Hermès Canada’s previous Vancouver iterations.
No, as far as she’s concerned, in sticking to core values like never compromising on quality or integrity, every Hermès store in its own right and own time has represented Hermès at its best. What’s more, she claims these core values are critical to why Hermès has kept growing and evolving since 1837.
The subject of growth further calls to mind an anecdote from Carter’s early days with Hermès.
“When a journalist asked Mr. Dumas in 1992 when he expected to turn a profit in Canada,” she reminisces, “he said, ‘Profit? We just planted the seeds! We’re here forever. We’re here for a long time, and we’re going to grow.’”
She thought it was a very interesting strategy then, and she still does today. And, in grasping fast sales, fast retail and fast luxury the way she does, she confidently acknowledges that Hermès Canada is “there” right now.
Case in point: expect to see Montreal’s store take a page out of Toronto and Vancouver’s books by decamping to a long-awaited second location, which is set to premiere in the newly rebranded Holt Renfrew Ogilvy. The dream continues, it would appear.