Over the past two years, a two-block-deep section between the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver and the Shangri-La Hotel has morphed from a place where you bought lottery tickets at the now-closed 7-11 to one of Canada’s most rarefied stretches of retail—requiring you to win that same lottery ticket to partake in its array of offerings.
Each month, the Alberni Retail District continues to cement its status as the city’s de facto luxury zone with increasing superlatives—the only Brunello Cucinelli store in Canada; the first Saint Laurent boutique in Canada; one of only two Shangri-La hotels in North America. “I’ve been with the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association for 24 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” says BIA president and CEO Charles Gauthier. As luxury brands jostle for the area’s marquis address, we take a tony step through the key players on Canada’s newest Rodeo Drive.
The Shangri-La Hotel, 1128 W. Georgia St.
The pioneer that started it all. “The Shangri-La location came about as a result of a compilation of factors," says its developer, Ian Gillespie. "To begin with Robert Kuok (the founder of Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts) loved the area and had purchased the Palisades Hotel a few years earlier. It was reasonably successful and he was confident that Vancouver would become a more important gateway city. Secondly we were lucky enough to get to know Dr. Ben Yeung (CEO of Peterson Group) who had purchased the site a few years earlier from Sun Life. He shared my enthusiasm for the idea of what became Shangri-La Hotel, Vancouver. By that time, we had already developed the Palisades and the Residences on Georgia with a great deal of success, just a block down Alberni Street. So in many ways, Alberni Street has been our sandbox for going on two decades. Then there is the partnership with architect James Cheng, which was shaped very much by Vancouver's planner Larry Beasley.
"Did we see it developing the way it has? Actually, I think we largely did, although maybe not as quickly as it has. We did in fact try to purchase the other corners of Alberni and Thurlow at different times which I think is evidence of our confidence in the Alberni Street phenomena. And our continued development with our long-term partner Ben Yeung is a most vivid demonstration of that. Alberni Street has the best of everything that Vancouver has to offer.”
Jaeger-LeCoultre, 1012 Alberni St.
The newly opened Jaeger-LeCoultre watch boutique (a hair bigger than its Toronto counterpart) sits in the heart of the new ’hood. “Vancouver represents a real opportunity for the brand to radiate on the Pacific Rim and be exposed to a cosmopolitan clientele that aspires to discover and own beautiful objects,” says North America president Philippe Bonay.
Brunello Cucinelli, 765 Thurlow St.
Bespoke Italian craftsman Brunello Cucinelli chose Vancouver as his first Canadian outpost. “One of the most important aspects of the brand’s success is the inspiration of our environment," he says. "When I started the company, it was important to me that I put an emphasis on creating a beautiful work environment for my employees, filled with history, beauty and humanity. The tranquil, serene environment of Solomeo, the heart of where we work and where product is created, allows our creativity to flourish. We draw our inspiration directly from nature and our surroundings, which is reflected in the brand’s product. Vancouver is a city that values nature and has a respect for its environment and I knew that they would have something to relate to in our designs. I truly believe the city’s people can feel the heart and soul behind the brand’s product. They can appreciate the simplicity, comfort and laid back effortlessness that we draw from the peaceful surroundings of Solomeo.”
Saint Laurent, 746 Thurlow St.
Creative director Hedi Slimane may have left the helm this year, but Saint Laurent still looks golden with its first flagship foray into Canada this past spring (June 2016).
Hermès, 755 Burrard St.
Hermès’s hallowed luxury sits quietly on Thurlow Street, but this September, the brand hosts its touring global festival, Hermès at Work, right here in Vancouver in a giant custom structure at Jack Poole Plaza. Inside, the public can watch old-world craftsmanship–from hand-stitched saddles to silk-screened scarves–in real time. Let the awls begin.
The Urban Tea Merchant, 1070 W. Georgia St.
The Urban Tea Merchant will close down this summer and re-emerge butterfly-like in the fall as North America’s first free-standing TWG Tea boutique, serving some of the world’s most exclusive leaves (some infused with 24-karat gold). Stay tuned for its new restaurant–serving tea-infused fare.