The Selfridges Group is owned by British-born Canadian billionaire W. Galen Weston, and his wife, Hilary, and holds in its portfolio four luxury department store groups: British chain Selfridges, Brown Thomas in Ireland, Holt Renfrew in Canada and De Bijenkorf in the Netherlands, as well as Ogilvy in Montreal.
W. Galen is the grandson of George Weston, a Canadian baker who built Canada’s biggest bakery business. Upon his death, his son, W. Garfield Weston, took up the reins of George Weston Ltd. and began a program of expansion and acquisition. In the Thirties, during the Depression, Garfield secured funding to expand into the U.K. and was soon reporting sales equal to the Canadian parent company. Within a few years, Garfield had acquired a string of British bakeries, trading under the Allied Bakeries banner, and he moved his family to England in 1935.
Meanwhile, the U.S. operations were growing stronger. Garfield remained in Britain during World War II, even sitting as a member of Parliament for a time.
W. Galen Weston was born in 1940 and moved with his parents back to Canada in 1945. He watched as his father’s business expanded globally, acquiring subsidiaries from Rhodesia to Australia, and worked in many of them. In 1961, at the age of 21 and after studying business administration at the University of Western Ontario, W. Galen moved to Ireland and set up a grocery store, Powers, with his own money — his father had put him to work at a young age.
In Ireland, W. Galen saw a major opportunity for growth and his instinct was right: by 1965, Powers had expanded into a six-store grocery chain. He went on to acquire a discount chain, Penneys, and a grocery competitor. He purchased an interest in department store Brown Thomas in 1971, eventually acquiring full ownership in 1984. He married Hilary Frayne, an Irish fashion model, in 1966 and together they have built the retail Weston empire.
The Weston family controls about 200 companies, including Canada’s largest supermarket chain, Loblaws, and President’s Choice brands, a variety of grocery and household products, and services, and the Joe Fresh contemporary fashion brand.
Here’s a look at Selfridges Group’s other fashion retail properties.
The original and first Brown Thomas store was opened on Grafton Street in Dublin by haberdashers and general drapers Hugh Brown and James Thomas in 1859. The company was bought by Selfridges founder Harry Gordon Selfridge in 1919 and it operated as a branch of Selfridge Provincial Stores until 1933, when it was sold to John McGuire, who had made his name at Cerys — another Dublin department store. The company was listed on the Irish Stock Exchange in the Sixties, Weston bought his first share in the company in 1971 and he bought it out in 1983. In 1991, the company bought out the Switzer Group, which included stores in Cork, Galway, Limerick and Dublin. In 1994, Brown Thomas sold its original store to Marks & Spencer and took over what was the M&S store on Grafton Street.
In 1998, the company opened the first BT2 boutique, which stocks contemporary and diffusion brands including COS, Etoile by Isabel Marant and Sandro. The shop became home to Ireland’s largest denim bar. There are now three BT2 stores in Dublin.
By 2000, all of the previous Switzer Group stores were rebranded as Brown Thomas. Since 2005, all four of the stores have been refurbished and stock luxury and designer brands including women’s wear from Celine, Stella McCartney, Mary Katrantzou and Christian Louboutin, as well as men’s wear, beauty and home goods. NEXT: Selfridges >>
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