Saks Opens New Flagship Store in Toronto

40 years? It was worth the wait. Saks Fifth Avenue unveils a long-awaited new flagship in a new city, Toronto. Dynamic, artistic and expressive, it tells the story of the new Saks.

By Jenny S. Rebholz


Exquisite material applications, emotional storytelling and carefully curated displays—an impeccable interior oozing with such sensory stimulation makes one pause to consider the setting—gallery or department store? This is indeed a retail setting of 123,000 sq. ft. of prime Canadian real estate in a historic building in CF Toronto Eaton Centre at Queen and Yonge streets in Toronto.

“We wanted to deliver to the Canadian customer an experience that is distinctively Saks while honoring this special location, our first in Toronto and our first new flagship in 40 years,” says Marco Oppici, vice president store design, creative director, Saks Fifth Avenue. “The Saks shopping experience combines a world-class shopping environment with gracious amenities and services. This includes the full range of ‘Saks at your Service’ offerings, such as personal styling and beauty services, a restaurant from a well-known Toronto restaurateur, luxury food hall, and spa and salon.”

Saks Fifth Avenue’s internal design and planning teams collaborated with Cincinnatti-based FRCH Design Worldwide to create a one-of-a-kind luxury shopping experience, a gallery-like setting with residential and hospitality influences inspired by the unique natural beauty and energy of Toronto.

“The overall design inspiration can be described as ‘emotion,’” says Heesun Kim, vice president and creative director at FRCH. “The space was reimagined as a gallery-like environment where furniture and fixtures act as art objects, animating a poetic vision that fosters an elegant, reflective and elemental experience. Drawing inspiration from Toronto’s natural and artistic local heritage, we infused the design direction with emotion by highlighting and pushing the spectrum of materials and artisanal techniques.”

The rich, organic textures, warm neutral palette with pops of unexpected color and natural, rhythmic patterns of the materials and finishes were used to achieve an artistic style, one of “abstract expression.” According to Kim, the team used a juxtaposition of warm and cold, matte and polished, textured and non-textured materials to create innovative and eye-catching compositions. A mix of metals inspired by the natural terrain—such as champagne, hand-rubbed bronze, antique brass, satin pewter and chrome—was used to achieve a sense of continuity throughout the store. Likewise, consistent general aisle floor finishes were specified to unify the sales environment.

From the first level to the third level, this store communicates a strong, experiential statement. “The store reflects an international contemporary style with an elegant manner and artistic attitude,” Kim says.

The bold, artistic statement begins at the first-floor atrium, where an iconic, 30-ft.-tall “totem” column and sculptural light installation command attention. The architecturally enhanced column is clad with textured and mirror-finished bronze panels. This structure is encased in vertical framing and punctuated with a canopy of light, a dynamic OLED sculpture (with 1,300 programmable OLED modules) handcrafted by Blackbody. Coined “iRain,” this delicate sculpture was meant to evoke the experience of a rain shower.

This focal point in the atrium draws the eye upward, engaging visitors upon entry and exposing them to the breadth of the experience that awaits. The open plan of the store features women’s contemporary, advanced and emerging designer ready-to-wear, men’s sportswear, designer handbags, shoes, accessories, jewelry and beauty.

The team developed three nature-inspired design stories to create a poetic rhythm between the floors—“the serene ripple effect of rain, the rough texture of the surrounding forest and the anticipation of movement during a storm.” A variety of artists and fabricators, from local to international, were commissioned to help narrate these stories through sculptural installations and surface treatments.

This artistic setting provides an elegant backdrop for the luxury merchandise. From custom plaster panels by Moss and Lam with organic, botanical motifs on the first floor and illuminated vitrines and floor-to-ceiling screens on the second level to 90 ft. of hand-forged, rose champagne brass screens by UnitFive on the third level, intimate experiences were created within the open plan. The visual transparency achieved with these artistic installations and applied finishes subtly guides, or rather entices, shoppers from space to space.

“The space evokes the concepts of “Storm” and “Forest” through art installations,” Kim describes. “These beautiful, handmade sculptural elements create a bold impression while conveying aesthetic beauty and providing general function to divide the space without interrupting the visual landscape. This is where the line between art and fashion begins to blend, celebrating the sophistication and elegance of the Saks Fifth Avenue brand and creating a most luxurious shopping experience.”

Merchandise is curated with displays comprised of an eclectic mix of found and custom furniture, fixtures, decorative lighting and accessories. Oppici emphasizes that the product is the star at Saks Fifth Avenue and that Saks believes the mannequin is the best platform to showcase product. “We have developed a stable of mannequins that are designed by our internal team and are exclusive to us,” Oppici says. “We have specific mannequins for various areas of business that give us a specific look and feel for the product.”

The use of natural light was maximized throughout the store, exposing windows on the sales floor wherever possible, in order to achieve a more residential appeal while also celebrating the historic details of the building. The overall strategy was carefully considered to highlight key merchandise and display areas, as well as serving as visual cues. A variety of decorative light fixtures and custom light installations were then used to activate the ceiling plan in unique ways in each department, such as the Lasvit “Rain” and “Storm” glass sculpture in the Designer department, which is comprised of eight separate chandeliers and nearly three tons of clear and frosted, fluted glass pieces.

“We hope our customers are surprised and delighted as soon as they enter the space,” Oppici says. “At major points of entry, there are dynamic, eye-catching design elements in view. The experience is inviting—open floorplans maximize sightlines and entice visitors to wander and explore. Comfortable seating areas and the overall graciousness of the environment and the offered amenities encourage shoppers to linger and enjoy their time with Saks.”

So, is it a gallery or department store? Yes  and yes.    


Saks Fifth Avenue


Saks Fifth Avenue, Hudson’s Bay

FRCH Design Worldwide


37 Volts

Moss and Lam (Designer and Beauty plaster wall art installations), Unit Five (Jewelry and Handbags, Designer metal screens), Lasvit (suspended glass screen installations), Blackbody (OLED sculpture), Edward Fields/Tai Ping (custom designer inset rug)

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