Holt Renfrew's Bloor Street store
Armed with a fresh vision and strategy, the 180-year-old Canadian department store is making a statement.
It’s a week before Christmas, and Holt Renfrew’s flagship on Bloor Street in Toronto is a buzzing hive of well-heeled holiday shoppers seeking out last-minute gifts and gowns amid the glorious chaos. Next door, 11 floors above, I’m sitting in a quiet, stately office with Holts’ president, Mario Grauso, and fashion director, Ketevan Gvaramadze. Both are new to the company—barely four months into their roles—but they are already reminiscing about the latest Fashion Month, spring/summer 2017. The industry’s biannual pilgrimage, running from New York to London to Milan to Paris, affects every business decision Grauso will make for the next six months. “For me, that’s where it all starts,” he says. “It’s where all the ideas come together.” This explains why, just a few days after starting at Holts, Grauso headed off to the shows—a glam but exhausting circuit of back-to-back presentations, re-sees (an opportunity for editors and buyers to have a closer look at the collections) and market appointments. It’s a full-on schedule that leaves you physically drained but creatively supercharged.
Unsurprisingly, one of the hottest shows on the fashion calendar made a major impact on Gvaramadze. “Oh, my God, Balenciaga...” she says when I ask what her favourite show was. “It was everything for me. It made my Fashion Week.” Grauso shakes his head. “But the girls couldn’t walk in the shoes!” (He has a point. Spandex-encased stilettos are tricky.) “Yes, but you have to dream!” she counters. “It’s important to look at things that inspire you.” Creative clashes are part of the process, it seems. Grauso admits it’s a bit “like a negotiation with your family about how you’re going to decorate the house.” After the pair returned home, many hours were spent debating fashion fantasy versus reality, for both the shop floor and their revamped spring magazine, a 195-page lookbook that serves as a snapshot of the season. And, being the first magazine under Grauso’s leadership, it will also act as his unofficial debut – Canada’s first glimpse of the new Holt Renfrew.
When Grauso was announced as incoming president last July, insiders weren’t exactly surprised. He is the former president of Joe Fresh—which, like Holt Renfrew, is owned by the titans of retail, the Weston family—and, with over 20 years of experience as a fashion exec at the Vera Wang Group and Puig, he is well known in the industry.
New appointments aside, big change was bound to happen one way or another at Canada’s oldest high-end department store. With Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom venturing north of the border and Simons expanding beyond Quebec, the luxury landscape in this country got a lot more crowded in 2016. It’s a new reality that Holts had been bracing for since 2015, when it began shuttering its smaller outposts—a strategy implemented so it could focus on multi-million-dollar expansions at its major stores in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto’s Yorkdale and Bloor Street locations as well as a massive merger with Ogilvy in Montreal and a swanky new opening at Square One in Mississauga. That one is an extravagant behemoth: 12,077 square metres with towering ceilings and marble floors, a personal shopping “apartment,” a master tailor and a leather artisan who will add custom embossing to your handbag. Grauso also promises that Holts will offer more concept shops showcasing the world of the designer: Look for Brioni and Loro Piana this year.
These changes allow Holts to offer a deeper assortment of products from a wider range of brands, but, much like other big retailers, it still has challenges to face. “Canada doesn’t have the large base of high-end shoppers that the United States does,” says Maureen Atkinson, senior partner at Toronto retail consulting firm J.C. Williams Group, who adds that in a market of limited growth size, the more you cut the pie the smaller the slices. “If all these companies are targeting the same established luxury customer, there certainly isn’t enough business for them all.” In other words, it’s not a bad idea to find another pie, a.k.a. a new customer.
This is partly why Grauso immediately thought of Gvaramadze when he found out he would be joining Holt Renfrew. The Georgian-born stylist, with her platinum pixie cut and penchant for wearing Gosha Rubchinskiy tees with oversized Céline trousers, is an unusually edgy choice for Holts. And that’s the point. “Ketevan is always pushing fashion,” says Grauso. “She has this eye and an ability to mix streetwear with more obvious designers in an interesting way.” In case you missed that, he said “streetwear”—which implies youth. It’s an idea that comes up again and again in our conversation. It’s also a deliberate shift away from the retailer’s more traditional persona. “We’re definitely considerate of Millennials,” says Grauso. “They love luxury, and I want them to see Holts as a place to look at fashion and get inspired – whether they’re able to buy it yet or not. How young people are shopping now is a new chapter that we, as a department store, have to consider.”
Speaking of how Millennials shop, Holts knows that it has to up its e-commerce game, stat. The 180-year-old retailer launched beauty online in 2015 and accessories in 2016, and the aim is to roll out select ready-to-wear categories later this year. “We got into it a little late, so we’re trying to play catch-up,” admits Grauso. “But it’s not just about rushing and getting things up; I want it to look a certain way. It has to be true to the new message of Holts.”
That’s one reason its magazine (and its toned-down aesthetic) is so important. “It’s more than just a catalogue,” says Grauso. “It informs everything else: the windows, the website, the ad campaigns.” Gvaramadze, who also handles the look and feel of their Instagram account, gives a definitive nod. “It’s our point of view,” she says. “It’s who we are.”
And who is that exactly? “Holt Renfrew has always brought the newest and best fashion to Canada; those are our roots,” says Grauso when asked about his vision. “We’re just going to be tougher [with the DNA]—editing the roster and bringing on new designers who are having a moment.” This will include investing in more boundary-pushing brands (Comme des Garçons, Sacai) and creating a dedicated space for them in all Holt Renfrew locations. “Young people are really thinking outside the box, so [creatively] advanced designers are going to be key,” says Grauso. “These are brands that touch both mother and daughter. When a collection can do that, it becomes really important to us. There’s something for everyone, but it’s an edited something for everyone.”
From left: Alexander Wang, Christopher Kane and Lacoste Image by: Imaxtree
The basic knit is reinvented and a new trend is born.
When was the last time you thought purposefully of a cardigan? The button-up knit with preppy roots emerged as a hero piece on the runways of New York and the message continued in London. Like denim and the white button-down before it, the cardigan was taken apart and reinvented by the likes of Christopher Kane, who presented holographic, slightly oversized versions. In New York, Alexander Wang sent model Stella Lucia down his party-ready runway in a loose, borrowed-from-dad knit that read as anything but precious. Lacoste, Ulla Johnson and Dion Lee took a fuzzier approach, while Tory Burch and Victoria Beckham represented the more sophisticated end of the spectrum.
The takeaway? Whether undone, artsy or preppy, the cardigan is infinitely versatile and, for the first time in many seasons, covetable.
Christopher Kane Image by: Imaxtree
Tory Burch Image by: Imaxtree
Victoria Beckham Image by: Imaxtree
I found out that my husband was cheating when I read our iPad Internet history. “It’s against the rules to Google clues to The New York Times Saturday Crossword,” I grumbled, shocked that Tim – who has a vocabulary that Rory Gilmore would be jealous of – had resorted to such treachery. He was sheepish but not surprised that I had found him out – this wasn’t the first time my snooping had unearthed a secret in our relationship. And the time before, it was something far more serious than “What’s a four-letter word for new pop of 1924?” (Nehi, if you’re wondering.)
Five years ago, my all-consuming curiosity ruined the surprise marriage proposal Tim had planned for a weekend getaway in Montreal. It started innocently enough. A few weeks prior, we had been debating the age difference between then couple Derek Jeter and Minka Kelly. (Don’t ask.) I borrowed his phone to look for the answer, and when I opened the browser, a window with a search for engagement rings popped up. Most people would hand back the phone calmly while internally combusting, get their nails done and then hunker down to wait out a proposal. But I couldn’t let it go.
At the first opportunity, I searched the Web history of our computer. And I found links to rings! So many sparkly rings! From Tiffany’s! And Birks! Then I did what no person should ever do: I read his email (I know his password, which, according to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., is common – about two-thirds of couples share this info) and saw a note from my best friend that contained a hearty “Good luck, Tim!”
I knew, and because I’m a rotten liar and panicked every time he knelt down to tie his shoe or reached into his pocket for his wallet, he knew that I knew. After a day of sightseeing and too much poutine, he ended up proposing while we were sitting on the bed in our hotel room eating Tootsie Rolls. He held out his hand, mumbling with a resigned air something about how I probably knew this was coming, and I’ll always regret robbing him of the moment that should have been.
You’d think I’d learn my lesson, but I snoop more than ever now. I regularly creep Tim’s email inbox and read his text messages. I don’t even know what I’m looking for. And I’m not a sociopath – I know I shouldn’t do it, and I do feel badly about it. It’s a violation of his trust and the Criminal Code of Canada, and I would be livid if he ever did the same to me. I’m not the only one doing this, though. According to a 2013 survey by a U.K. mobile-phone company, 62 percent of men and 34 percent of women have scrolled through a partner’s phone. So why do we do it? Jennifer Pink, a Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology at Simon Fraser University who has studied snooping and its effect on relationships, says that one of the most common reasons is also the most obvious: trust – or a lack thereof.
A 2012 study published in College Student Journal found that 66 percent of college students felt that it was okay to snoop when they were curious or suspicious about the actions of someone they were dating. Technology has made it so much easier: If you’re worried your BF is being unfaithful, you are far less likely to get caught reading a phone than rifling through his desk for receipts and sniffing his coat for perfume as if you’d stepped onto the set of Days of Our Lives.
I wasn’t spying because I was worried that Tim was having an affair – he’s no Noah Solloway. In fact, he probably hasn’t talked to a woman outside our circle of friends since 2007. On the other hand, he’s not overly emotional or expressive – I’ve seen him cry only twice in 10 years, and once was while watching Field of Dreams – so it can be tough to know what he’s thinking. He also sometimes forgets to tell me things, big things, like when he got a bonus at work or the day that a bunch of people got fired from his company. Maybe that’s where my urge to check up on him comes in.
Pink agrees. “If you’re feeling like your partner isn’t as open as you’d like him or her to be, that can lead to uncertainty about ‘What is my partner thinking and feeling about this issue?’ or ‘What’s the future of our relationship?’ So that snooping can really be an effort to seek reassurance.”
For me, it was also a question of self-control: Once I’d started, it was hard to stop. “You’ve taught yourself ‘If I just indulge, I can soothe this curiosity,’” explains Shyamala Kiru, a marriage therapist based in Newmarket, Ont., who notes that this behaviour is common. If you read that text and don’t find the evidence you were looking for, you feel relieved. Maybe you’ll justify your teensy transgression because your worries were assuaged, and next time you’ll feel more inclined to peek. And on it continues.
As of writing this article, I’ve been snoop-free for three months. Here’s why. Two things happened the last time I checked Tim’s phone – in this case to read a text message from his cousin to see what he was up to. Tim (finally) vented his frustrations with my bad habit, which started a fight but (eventually) got us communicating about topics and issues we were regularly glossing over.
I also realized that I don’t really want to know everything he’s doing. Having some non-relationship-damaging secrets from your spouse is totally normal. I haven’t told Tim how much my Mansur Gavriel bag really cost or where I hide the good cheese in the fridge. He shouldn’t have to bare all either. “Privacy and autonomy are equally as important as intimacy and connection,” says Kiru. “The healthiest relationships that I’ve seen are the ones where the couple is able to balance that separateness with that togetherness, and privacy allows us to foster that separateness.” Even if that means letting go of the odd crossword cheat now and then.
1. Come clean and apologize. “Say ‘Listen, I have done this; I don’t want to continue because I don’t like the way it makes me feel and I don’t like what it does to our relationship,’” says Kiru.
2. Figure out why you snooped, and talk about it. “What need is snooping fulfilling for you? Is it curiosity? Uncertainty? Are you looking to feel closer?” asks Pink. “Once you know that, talk to your partner and, as a team, come up with ways you can meet that need.” For example, if you feel the urge to peep at your man’s bank balance because you’re worried he spent the rent money adding to his Stan Smith collection, find some middle ground: Tell him you don’t want to police his budgeting and suggest that he limit new shoes to one pair a month or you look at his account together every six weeks.
3. Make it impossible for you to snoop. If you feel the urge – mine gets bad after a glass of Malbec – ask him to change his passwords.
4. And if you find something you should be worried about? You’re not off the hook, says Kiru. “Share that you were feeling anxious about the relationship, which led you to make a choice that you realize was a boundary violation. Don’t minimize your partner’s feelings about your snooping just because you’ve uncovered a secret. Then express your concern.” She adds that at this point you may need to see a therapist. “There are likely some bigger issues at stake that require more focused attention.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of ELLE Canada.
The chicest way to wash your face.
Long hailed by Frenchwomen and makeup artists for its ability to cleanse skin without stripping it dry, micellar water is going next level. The no-rinse makeup-erasing liquid (teeny drops of suspended oil bond to pigments, oil and dirt) was birthed in France in the 1920s and has finally gotten a 21st-century tweak. Here are three new adaptations:
Sephora Collection Micellar Cleansing Water in Charcoal taps buzzy ingredient activated charcoal, known for its capacity to draw out debris from the epidermis for an ultra-deep clean. ($11), sephora.com.
Garnier SkinActive Micellar Water Wipes are fragrance-free and promise to clean skin and remove last night’s Altuzarra-inspired smudgy eye. ($10), walmart.ca.
NeoStrata Detoxifying Micellar Gel contains a plant extract called “celldetox” that helps reinforce the process of cell detoxification (and translates into cleaner skin and a faster uptake of your anti-aging serum). ($22), well.ca.