Article by: Leanne Delap
As the clock approaches 10 a.m. each morning, Yorkdale is blissfully peaceful. It still belongs to the mall walkers, who use the 1.7 kilometres of corridors as indoor hiking trails. But that daily moment of chill is fleeting, because the 54-year-old shopping centre is on a major roll, fuelled by its luxury fashion strategy.
At two million square feet with 270 shops and services, the Toronto mall is not the biggest mall in Canada. Nor is it the busiest, even though it clocks 18 million visitors a year. But it is the most profitable: It was the first mall to reach $1 billion in sales (in 2015) and it’s now well on track to double that.
As the doors open, the throngs thicken swiftly, but the design — those broad, bedecked halls, with natural light flooding in from the cathedral ceilings — keeps claustrophobia at bay. Yorkdale is Canada’s unlikely new church of luxury shopping, a monolith rising out of the nexus of the 401 highway, a subway and bus hub just off Dufferin St.
Yorkdale has always had a fashion pedigree: Holt Renfrew has been there since opening day in 1964, as well as Eaton’s and Simpson’s (RIP). Today it’s the critical mass of luxury brands that makes it stand out: from October’s Very Own to Mulberry, Van Cleef & Arpels, Saint Laurent and Ferragamo. “There are a number of first-to-market — or the first location off Bloor Street — for luxury brands,” says Claire Santamaria, Yorkdale’s general manager. This is where Apple first arrived in Canada, in 2005.
When Tiffany & Co. arrived in 2009, it was greeted with “long lines of people waiting outside the door to get in to shop on its first Christmas,” says Santamaria. “There was a hunger.”
Burberry followed, but there was still some democratic juxtaposition. In those days, it was beside a MEXX store.
But then more top-notch flagships followed as the less-regal brands were essentially pushed out. “It is a significant investment for these brands,” explains Santamaria, of the process of attrition by which the old mall chain stalwarts disappeared. In diplomatic real-estate development speak, Santamaria says: “Over the past 10 years we have gone through an edit, which gave us the opportunity to bring in new brands to showcase. Many of the stores we’ve seen exit have left the retail market entirely.” Translation: Louis Vuitton has replaced Jean Machine.
Oxford Properties, which owns Yorkdale, has invested in two major expansions since the 2009 luxury push began, in 2012 and in 2016, when Nordstrom came on the scene. As for the chain stores — H&M, Zara, RW&Co — Yorkdale asks politely that they offer what Santamaria calls the “best representation of their brand.” Because we all know that some of these outposts have way better stuff than others.
Yorkdale is still “all things to all people,” she says. Some stores don’t even sell stuff anymore. Retailers use the mall as a kind of lab: Stores such as Restoration Hardware and Miele, for instance, operate as showrooms only, where you get to touch and play with merchandise before placing an order for delivery. Sales staff are being transformed into “ambassadors,” who shepherd a client through the shopping experience, melding online and bricks-and-mortar into a seamless transaction. Or at least that’s the goal.
Meanwhile, the labels keep coming. There is a spanking new Bottega Veneta. Valentino will open its first Canadian shop this winter. Holt Renfrew is working on a new “world of Gucci” shop, a men’s Prada to join the women’s boutique, a Fendi women’s and leather goods and a Balenciaga. These boutiques are due to open in 2020, as part of a 10,000-square-foot expansion of the upscale department store.
Despite the funeral dirge playing in the background for bricks-and-mortar retail in general, Yorkdale is thriving. And that is a good thing, because malls are more than places to shop. In this country, where we are either freezing or boiling, malls are where we gather in the comfort of modern HVAC.
I was a suburban kid, and a teenager in the mall rat ’80s. My local in Pickering, then called Sheridan Mall, was anchored by a K-Mart. The Santas smelled like whisky and cigarettes. To me, represented freedom. My mother made it clear that hanging out at the mall was déclassé, which gave it a rebellious sheen.
But Yorkdale was the big time, a mecca you got to visit once a year. It was shinier, brighter, aspirational. And even today, after 25 years as a fashion writer, and countless European runway tours, I’m not always comfortable walking into the flagships of high-fashion labels. I admire the windows on Bloor, but rarely cross the transom. That is exactly why Yorkdale works: the doors of even the shiniest shops are wide open, and there is someone to greet you. No one looks down their nose at your scruffy puffer coat.
At its heart, a mall, no matter how fancy, is democratic. Once inside, whether you arrived by bus or by limo, you’re sharing space — and aspirations.
Article from: https://www.thestar.com
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