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Holt Renfrew


Since 1837

Associated Screen News Ltd., Holt Renfrew & Co. under construction, Sherbrooke Street, Montreal, 1937. MP-0000.2099.3 © McCord Museum

Holt Renfrew is a Canadian chain of luxury department stores offering ready-to-wear clothing, footwear, accessories and cosmetics for both men and women. It stocks a wide selection of high-end international labels like Chanel, Hermès, Dior, Prada and Yves St. Laurent. Holt Renfrew also stocks its house brand and products from a number of Canadian companies. As of 2018, the chain has nine stores in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal, with a total work force of about 2,500 employees.

The retailer’s history actually began in Quebec City in 1837 when an Irish immigrant named William Samuel Henderson bought a shop that sold fur accessories and garments.

Initially called William Ashton & Co., the company underwent a series of name changes to reflect the identities of various new partners and owners. The official name of Holt, Renfrew & Co. Limited dates from 1908.

The store first promoted its products to wealthy Canadians across the country by catalogue. It then began to expand by purchasing other fur companies and opening stores in Toronto in 1889 and in Montreal in 1910. Its participation in international exhibitions also contributed to its renown outside the country.

In fact, the British royal family made Holt Renfrew its official supplier of furs in the late 1800s.

During the 20th century, Holt Renfrew became a point of contact between Canadians and high-end clothing, even Parisian haute couture. Marie-Paule Nolin had her own salon in the store from 1941 to 1949, with 20 employees. Alvin Walker, who was a manager at Holt Renfrew in 1937 before eventually being named president, a position he held until the late 1960s, regularly attended European collection showings to select models to be imported into Canada. In 1951, he signed an agreement with Christian Dior under which Holt’s was licensed to reproduce haute couture models in Montreal, the only Canadian city to enjoy this privilege. This agreement would last at least two decades.

Dress, Christian Dior, purchased at Holt Renfrew, about 1959. Gift of Alan J. Waters, M973.98 © McCord Museum

In the 1960s and 1970s, Holt Renfrew changed hands several times, moving from English retailer Blackett & Son to the Canadian Acceptance Corporation, owned by the New York firm C.I.T. Financial, and then on to Los Angeles-based department store group, Broadway-Hale.

In April 1986, Holt Renfrew was purchased by the British-Canadian Weston family, the owner of Brown Thomas stores in Ireland. After acquiring several other department store chains, including the iconic Selfridges in 2003, the Westons grouped their companies under the entity Selfridges Group Limited, whose offices are located in London, United Kingdom. However, the Holt Renfrew head office is still in Toronto.

Sources External link

“Holt Renfrew” LinkedIn. LinkedIn Corporation. 2018. External link

“Holt Renfrew” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation Inc., 4 November 2018, 2018. External link

“Nolin, Marie-Paule.” Répertoire du patrimoine culturel du Québec, Gouvernement du Québec, 2018. External link

Selfridges Group. Selfridges Group. 2018. External link

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Madeleine Goubau, Collaborator

Last edited on
01/02/2019 Suggest an edit