Saks Fifth Avenue Canada Toronto Eaton Centre -

Toronto is Becoming a Market for Luxury Products

Saks, Nordstrom among 25 high-end fashion retailers now calling Toronto home

As you walk towards the Saks Fifth Avenue in the midst of downtown Toronto you are welcomed by a suited gentleman who holds the door open for you. On display before you, are some of the finest designer handbags from famous fashion houses in the world, including Chanel and Saint Laurent. The smell of leather is in the air as you walk by bags with precious stones, fringe tassels, and chain straps. You can buy sparkling bag charms to give the bag of your choosing some more character. Your eyes wander from cross body bags, to satchels, wristlets, and clutches.  For many Canadian fashion fanatics there is no longer a need to travel to the United States to shop the many luxury brands that Saks Fifth Avenue has to offer. Two locations opened in Toronto in February of 2016.

Caitlan Moneta, the fashion market editor at Fashion Magazine thinks that the launch of Saks Fifth Avenue was a great addition for Toronto.

“We don’t always have those kind of luxury products at that price. The space is beautiful and well laid out, ” Moneta said.

Approximately 25 high-end fashion brands have opened stores in Toronto in the past six months. This includes European brands like Reiss and Links of London. Saks is not the only high-end retailer that has opened in Toronto. Nordstrom opened two locations in 2016. A third location will open in Sherway Gardens in September 2017.  Nordstrom already had stores in Calgary, Vancouver and Ottawa, since 2014.

“They did have tremendous success with other markets in Canada and for them to open here in Toronto means they’ve done their research and that there’s a legitimate market for two Nordstrom stores,” said Claire Santamaria, the general manager of Yorkdale Mall. Yorkdale is also home to Canadian luxury companies like Canada Goose and Mackage which opened stores there in October 2016.

While shoppers would have to go to Bloor Street to get access to a brand like Chanel, now you can comfortably find the new Chanel classic flap bag at your local mall.

“I think what we are starting to see at Yorkdale is a really strong appetite for aspirational and luxury brands,” Santamaria said.”What  has actually started to happen is luxury brands have also started to see some success through some of the other stores, wholesaling through Holt Renfrew as an example, and it really became a test market for them to open up their own locations.”

Model and blogger Ruby Benson says she’s had a great experience visiting the Saks and Nordstrom locations in Toronto.

ruby benson
Model and blogger Ruby Benson.  (Alex Evans)

“I bought myself a Louis Vuitton Speedy bag with money from my part time job when I was 15. It was my first designer bag.  I only spend large amounts of money on things that I know  I will love forever and that will last forever,” Benson said.

Some of Benson’s favourite luxury brands are Celine and Gucci. Both these brands are available in the Saks locations in Toronto.

Santamaria thinks that the number of Torontonians interested in luxury products has increased, and they aren’t all wealthy people.

“People shop high and low, so they’re mixing up their Zara and H&M with Saint Laurent and the Celines of the world. So I think the breadth of the luxury shopper has increased exponentially,” Moneta agreed.

In a social psychology study about retail consumption, the authors found that the reason why some people buy luxury brands has a lot to do with the feeling of pride. The study was conducted by researchers from the University of British Columbia, Karl Aquino and Jessica Tracy, and by Brent McFerran, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University.

According to the study, there is authentic pride and hubristic pride. Authentic pride comes from gaining success and accomplishing goals. Certain people might choose to purchase something from a luxury brand to treat themselves, the authors say, while hubristic pride derives from narcissism and feelings of superiority.

“I think sometimes it has to do with name recognition. People love the idea of having a bag from Chanel,” Moneta said.

She explains that, either way, the Internet and social media have also had a big impact on the desire to buy luxury products. High-end fashion brands use social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, to “try to engage the consumer and try to get them to buy into the lifestyle of the brand. You want to be a part of the lifestyle they are offering.”

The new stores are not simply department stores anymore. They give the customer the experience of living a life of luxury. For instance, Nordstrom has a concierge, a men’s clubhouse, a café, a lounge, and a restaurant and bar where you can sip on a cocktail and take a break from your exuberant shopping experience. Nordstrom provides tailoring services as well phone-charging stations in their Eaton Centre location. Each Saks Fifth Avenue location has a themed restaurant, offering a different type of cuisine. Lena is the restaurant at Saks and offers South American food at the Eaton Centre location. Even the malls have added services to promote a luxurious lifestyle: Yorkdale has a valet, as well as a concierge. A person doing online shopping from home would is not able to take advantage of these types of in store services.

With all the luxury stores competing for the luxury market, Moneta predicts that Saks, Holt Renfrew and Nordstrom will feel pressure to be different and find creative ways to give people a reason to shop out of their store, instead of the others.

“We carry some merchandise that overlaps with our competition. We want to be an inclusive place to shop and we work hard to bring customers’ fashion in a wide range of prices, everything from Nike to Valentino,” said Nordstrom spokesperson John Bailey.

According to Krystal Carter, media relations manager at Tourism Toronto, Toronto is receiving a lot more attention than it used to. It is becoming a more desirable place to visit and be from. Toronto is becoming a more luxurious place. Coming to Toronto is an experience in itself, as it’s a diverse city with a great culinary scene, she added.

“Travel and tourism in Canada in general has been on an increase. People are traveling to Toronto as a holiday destination and shop while they’re here,” Santamaria, of Yorkdale, agreed.

With the new luxury retail markets in Toronto, retailers know that they must find ways to engage with the Millennials and get them to come to their stores. As to how they are going to do that, Moneta suggests that luxury brands have to look at, “where Millennials are spending the bulk of their money. Is it in handbags or shoes? Certain labels? It might not be the Valentino but it might be something more contemporary. Millennials will tell them with feedback from social media.” Online promotion is key to finding out how the Millennial generation views luxury, Moneta believes.

Among  the Millennials who are interested in luxury products is Tamiya Allen, 19, a stylist and the fashion designer of Ferox Label.

“My first high end piece was the classic Louis Vuitton Damier Canvas Ebene Tote. I got it in my first year of high school and used it at as my school bag. It was perfect because it was big and I could fit all my books in it,” Tamiya said.

She is a big fan of high-end brands like Fendi, Gucci, and Vetements.

Allen says she eventually wants the new Gucci Dionysus Bag, a Moncler jacket, and the Yeezy 950 winter boots.

They are others who have a list of luxury products and even if purchasing the products they want is not an option now,  Saks employees will dazzle you with why this is the bag for you. The picture of you in that bag will stay in your mind until it is in your hand.