W. Galen Weston, the Canadian retailer whose businesses spanned two continents, has died aged 80 after a long illness, his family said Tuesday.
Weston sat at the helm of food, retail and real estate companies in North America, the U.K. and Europe. Among his holdings was Selfridges Group, comprising the eponymous store in the U.K., Brown Thomas and Arnotts in Ireland, De Bijenkorf in the Netherlands, and Holt Renfrew in Canada.
His other businesses included Loblaw and Choice Properties in Canada. He retired as chairman of George Weston Ltd. in 2016 to continue his philanthropic work through the Weston Family Foundation in Canada and the Selfridges Group Foundation in the U.K. He stepped down as chairman of Selfridges Group two years ago, making way for his daughter Alannah Weston.
Alannah Weston, chairman of Selfridges Group, said the luxury retail industry “has lost a great visionary. His energy electrified those of us who were lucky enough to work alongside him to reimagine what customer experience could be.”
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Hilary Weston, who was his constant collaborator on every aspect of the luxury retail group.
A former model, Hilary met the man she would marry at a dinner party in her native Ireland (though he liked to say he first spotted her on a billboard there). In the subsequent decades, they left quite a mark on the fashion and retail landscapes, dividing their time primarily between London and Toronto.
“I’m sorry to lose a legend,” said designer Joseph Abboud. “He was one of the last generations of merchant princes and he really trusted his instincts.”
Abboud recalled that when he launched his brand in the 1980s, it was considered a coup to get picked up by Holt Renfrew. “That was the store to sell in Canada, not Harry Rosen,” he said. “It was the Bergdorf’s of Canada. And even though it was mainly a women’s store, it had a very curated men’s area, so if you could get in, it was a real badge of honor.”
“I was very sad to learn about the passing,” said Andrew Jennings, who worked for Weston as president and CEO of Holt Renfrew for almost seven years, simultaneously serving as deputy chairman of Brown Thomas.
“Galen clearly had great passion for the fashion business. I was very much involved with him on the purchasing of Selfridges. It was an incredible process and he had a specific vision to turn Selfridges into an unbelievable world-class emporium, a trophy business.
“What I loved about Galen was that he was very inquisitive, not only a visionary,” Jennings added. “He liked innovation. He believed the windows were critically important. I remember him telling me once, ‘Let’s have a ticker tape running in the windows, telling people what’s happening.’ He was very much into technology and making it easier for customers for shop. He was very much into ‘Let’s make big statements,’ such as with our Viva Italia extravaganza with Sophia Loren who was our guest of honor. He was there, always supporting us.”