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Saks in Canada

nordstrom clothing racksOne of the great experiences of my life was my first visit to the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship in New York City. The historic building, the gleaming showrooms on each floor filled with the most luxurious brands in the world, and the mind-blowing shoe department that has its own zip code… heaven.

So I was excited when Hudson’s Bay Co. (HBC) announced it was bringing Saks to Canada. And, I’m sure the flagship in Toronto is amazing, as are the stores in Vancouver and Montreal. I was looking forward to the full Saks experience, right here in Canada.

Unfortunately, the HBC leadership treats the rest of Canada with Saks stores just like it does with Hudson’s Bay stores. Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal have amazing Bay stores, and the rest of the country has significantly lesser versions.

Well, here’s a news flash: rolling out Saks stores with minimal merchandise, small footprints and insufficient staffing devalues the brand. If you’re going to open a Saks store, make it the full experience.

I was just in Calgary where Chinook Centre is home to the first Nordstrom store in Canada, and a recently opened full-line Saks. The difference between the stores is night and day. Nordstrom brought the full luxury experience to Calgary and the store is always humming with activity whenever I’ve been there. Conversely, the rather sad version of Saks was barren, dull and listless. So disappointing.

Why bother?

So, HBC, you might want to study what happened to Target when it brought less than the full Target experience to Canada.

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Is there such a thing as ‘cheap luxury?’

We all know the top fashion labels –and drool over the ones we covet but cannot afford. What makes luxury so, well, luxurious? Details. Fabrics. Tailoring. Finishing.

Oh, and it usually comes with a designer label and a fairly healthy price tag.

So what do you think about designer labels producing lines for discount stores? This trend started with Isaac Mizrahi developing a line for Target in 2003. At the time he was a trailblazer, taking his designs to everyday consumers. Today this trend continues with designers working with a range of stores to create exclusive lines at affordable prices. Prabal Gurung and Zac Posen for Target, and Vera Wang for Kohl’s, are examples of how top level designers have created lower priced lines for everyday wear.

I’m interested to hear what people think about this. The fabrics, details and finishing on discount lines are nowhere near the quality of couture fashion. But the labels are the same. Is this an attempt to connect with mass consumers? Or are designers just looking to make a pile of money. After all, Mizrahi’s five year run with Target garnered him about $300 million a year.

So – cheap luxury. Agree or disagree? Discuss.