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January 19th, 2011Flagship shops flock to Vancouver

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by Amy Verner
TheGlobeAndMail.com

Last month, a glittering gaggle of VICs (very important customers) converged on the historic Fairmont Hotel Vancouver to take in the renovation of the Louis Vuitton boutique there. After the unveiling and a cocktail reception, guests were ferried via chauffered SUVs and railcar – yes, railcar – to a speakeasy-style party where the champagne continued to flow. As novel as this moveable fête was, however, it was the fact that the store had been remade into one of only 12 LV “maisons” worldwide that had many of the partygoers talking. “You don’t have to go to New York to get that exclusive bag any more,” Heather White, one of the Cupcake Girls in the reality-TV show of the same name, said of the maison, LV’s version of a superstore. “It raises the bar in Vancouver.”

That bar, in fact, has been inching ever higher for some time now. The first in this country and only the fourth in North America, Vancouver’s new LV maison, a 10,000-square-foot space featuring a two-storey display wall for handbags, a “men’s universe,” a private shopping suite and a gallery’s worth of artwork, is just the latest Canadian retailing debut to take place not in Toronto or Montreal, but in the B.C. city. Over the last few years, high-end foreign retailers including Burberry, the British lingerie chain Agent Provocateur and the venerable American business clothier Brooks Brothers all chose Vancouver for their first Canadian location. During last year’s Winter Olympics, luxury watchmaker Omega set up its first Canadian boutique in the city (also in the Hotel Vancouver). And it isn’t just higher-end chains that are marking firsts here: In October, Canada’s Joe Fresh opened its first free-standing shop on Robson Street, a sleek, minimalist outlet that will likely serve as a template for future stores, including its first U.S. location – recently announced – on Fifth Avenue in New York.

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