For Many, pandemic style may be defined by sweatpants and other casual, comfortable looks for lounging around at home. Yet, according to two Edmonton retailers, demand for luxury clothing and accessories remains strong.
Blogger Armoire, a luxury designer resale boutique in LeMarchand Mansion downtown, has fared “extremely well” during the pandemic, according to co-director and operator Monica Ly. Since opening in 2014, Ly and her team have sourced and sold designer clothing and accessories internationally. Even with an international audience, there is enough demand locally that Blogger Armoire opened a second Edmonton location in Windermere in September 2021, and will expand to Calgary and Vancouver within the next year.
“We have a lot of customers who will drive up to Edmonton from Calgary, and we realized it would be a good fit to expand there,” Ly says. “There is a huge market for luxury goods in Alberta. Our Edmonton customers tend to look for very obscure pieces that are works of art, not just practical products.” Customers covet unique pieces from brands like Rick Owens, Dries Van Noten and Issey Miyake, though classic Chanel and Hermès sell the most quickly.
In recent years, Ly says the luxury resale market has skyrocketed thanks to social media. People will inquire about certain pieces they see on Instagram, either from an influencer account or on Blogger Armoire’s own platform. Ly also attributes the increased interest to a shift away from fast fashion towards sustainability and valuing designer products as tangible, long-term investment pieces.
“Some people think they’re better off buying designer goods at consignment prices instead of a $20 piece that they use once,” Ly says. “They believe in the sustainability of consignment, and want to make sure they’re investing their money in the right pieces. It’s more than just about consuming luxury goods.”
Post-pandemic, Ly anticipates an even greater demand for luxury clothing and accessories. “Because of what we’ve all been through, scarcity comes into play, and people will be making up for lost time.”
In January 2020, luxury retailer Holt Renfrew closed its doors in Edmonton, but interest in the brands it carried remained — and West Edmonton Mall filled the gap.
In April, the first standalone Gucci store in Alberta opened at West Edmonton Mall, following the opening of the only Saint Laurent store in Alberta in December 2020. Both stores occupy space near a luxury retail corner of the mall, complete with Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Canada Goose and Canada’s only SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker boutique.
“Holt Renfrew’s closure allowed us to pursue even more brands and gave us the opportunity to expand our offerings and become the luxury destination in Edmonton,” Sarah Ward, WEM’s retail marketing manager, says. “There is demand here in the local market and with the tourists we serve, and we want to be the place that people think of when they want to shop for luxury goods. We’re always in talks with different brands to see how we can incorporate them here when they want to expand into the Alberta or broader Canadian market.”
Ward says the reception to the two newest designer stores has been overwhelmingly positive with steady demand. “Having Gucci and Saint Laurent open during the pandemic and still be extremely successful really speaks volumes to that sort of appetite for the luxury goods here in Edmonton,” Ward says. “I think guests are really excited to see these brands available so close to home, and be able to actually go into the store and have that full luxury experience.”
“A lot of brands are starting to recognize that brick-and-mortar stores are important to attract new demographics and new generations,” says Ken Christensen, WEM’s creative director. “It’s all about offering an experience to create not just customers, but ambassadors of the brand. To look at a bag online is one thing, but, when you’re spending a significant amount of money, it’s nice to be able to have a sales associate explain every single detail of the bag, or suggest one that you might not have looked at.”
To coincide with the expansion of its luxury retailers, WEM elevated its own guest services. Last November, WEM introduced the Exclusive Services program to offer complimentary personal shopping, styling, itinerary planning and gift sourcing for guests both in-person and online, with curbside pickup and local delivery options. “We’re trying to elevate the overall experience for all of our guests,” Christensen says. “If our guests can’t physically come into the mall to experience all the wonderful stores, we can bring that experience to them on behalf of our tenants.”