Michael Kors Fall 2012
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.”
Here's a comforting thought: There's very little chance you will do anything as high key cringeworthy as what Warren Beatty did last night at the Oscars.
Unless you were planning on announcing the wrong winner for Best Picture, too?
The moment—immediately pounced upon as #OscarGate—still seems a bit surreal. At the time, while still on stage, Warren explained that he opened up the envelope to find a card that read "Emma Stone, Lalaland". Beatty, clearly feeling something was wrong, can be seen checking in the envelope for another card, before consulting co-presenter Faye Dunaway, who just went for it and announced: "Lala Land!".
Cue everyone in that case rushing the stage, celebrating, and then a man coming up to the microphone saying: "Moonlight has won best picture. This is not a joke."
In the hours that followed, we're getting further details on how something like that happened. According to PWC, the accounting firm that handles the maintenance of the secrecy of the winners, released a statement that basically said: We messed up, he was given the wrong envelope, and we're launching an investigation to see how that happened.
And while, yes, thinking you won best picture and then having it taken from you literally while you're accepting the award sucks, LaLaland did have an otherwise succesful night: Emma Stone won best actress and Damien Chazell became the youngest best director winner at 32.
It only took three years, but finally we're getting some intel on how actor / mere mortal George Clooney met human rights lawyer / bridal pantsuit wearer Amal Alamuddin.
Since the announcement of their impending twins (congrats again guys!) the informational floodgates on the couple have opened, which is why we're getting this gem of a "meet cute" story straight from the lips of George himself.
As told to David Letterman, the two met when Amal visited Lake Como as a friend of a friend. George "called and wrote" for months before Amal would go out with him, which you know, seems about right.
Image by: Getty
And more things we learned about the charming star of Before I Fall.
Zoey Deutch is surprisingly perky for someone who is in the middle of a gruelling Toronto press day for her new movie, Before I Fall, (in theatres March 3) But, as I quickly learn during our phone convo, that’s her default setting.
She’s kind and complimentary (she loves Toronto, loves the warm weather streak we've been having, loves ELLE Canada, etc.) and hilarious (we’re on speaker phone and there's a bunch of people in the room with her whom I can hear stifling their giggles.)
In fact, the actress – whose mom is Back to the Future star Lea Thompson and dad is Pretty in Pink director Howard Deutch – seems totally unlike her Before I Fall character Sam. Quick Before I Fall plot synopsis: Sam is a popular girl-type who dies in a car crash and is forced to live her last day over and over. Think Groundhog Day with an existential crisis and with really chic chunky knits and tuques.
Image by: Elevation Pictures
Here are five more things we learned about Deutch during our chat.
She loves Drake “Normally I am, generally speaking, a conservatively dressed human, but I was scantily clad my first day in Toronto in the hopes that I would run into Drake in the lobby of my hotel. The address of my hotel is….. [Laughs]
She is super self-deprecating “What is one word I'd use to describe myself in high school? Hormonal. You were experiencing so many different things at times, and it was so emotional and so difficult to navigate.”
She's PUMPED to be surrounded by so many talented women “The movie is based on a book written by a woman (Lauren Oliver). A woman wrote the screenplay (Maria Maggenti); the director, Ry Russo-Young, is a woman and the movie is about relationships between women!”
She gets life – and she’s only 22 “I feel like it would be impossible for me to have had the opportunity to play this great part and be a part of the story without doing a lot of self-reflection. It just reminded me to not take things for granted and to continue to appreciate my family. You can never say I love you too many times to your mom and dad. Also, to actually appreciate routine and understand the privilege [like my character has] of being able to wake up every day with a roof over your head and a mother that loves you and a toothbrush and a breakfast. There is something to be said about the privilege of routine. Taking nothing for granted."
Watch the Before I Fall trailer here: