News in, Jigsaw is closing its Bluebird concept. After 15 years, the majority of those spent at the quiet end of the Kings Road in Chelsea, it recently moved more central to the prime site of the refurbished ‘Carriage Hall’ on Covent Garden’s Floral Street.
Left - Inside Jigsaw's Shop At Bluebird, Carriage Hall, Floral Street closing this week
Named after the art-deco car garage it was once housed in, it relocated in May 2018 and was part of the landlord Capco’s relaunch of Floral Street alongside the first central London outpost of Petersham Nurseries.
Stocking a mix of designer labels and maison objets, after just over 18 months in this location, The Shop at Bluebird, to give it its full title, is closing its doors for good this week.
A concept store without a concept, its short spell on Floral Street clearly illustrates how a once thriving, premium fashion street in a central location is struggling to pull in the shoppers. The store will turn into a larger Jigsaw store format.
Right - Discrete sign advertising the brands on Floral Street
Floral Street, a charming cobbled street just off the busy James Street, has been a fashion destination since the late 1970s. A pioneer of the area, Paul Smith opened his first store in London at 44 Floral Street in 1979. Over the next 20 years, Floral Street became one of the coolest fashion streets in London. Agnès B, Nicole Farhi, Jones, a cult designer menswear retailer, and Jigsaw Menswear were just some of the stores to make this street blossom. It’s slightly off-the-main-drag location was part of its charm.
Today, many tourists and shoppers walk straight past to the busy market area with its plethora of beauty brands or upwards to the more high-street Long Acre. Peer down Floral Street and it doesn’t look like much is there.
Floral Street isn’t alone, the same thing has happened to South Molton Street in Mayfair. On a map they geographically look as central and in the mix as anything else, but they, seemingly, get so easily passed by. Since the millennium these streets have gradually lost their appeal and declined.
Even Browns, the main pull of South Molton Street is moving. It has occupied its collection of small stores since 1970 and is now moving out. Running from Bond Street Tube station, on the corner of Oxford Street, diagonally down towards Brook Street, South Molton Street has long been a stylish cut through. Today, it has become more synonymous with people giving out free mini samples of soap than chic retail destination.
Browns is closing its collection of awkward stores to move around to a new, singular location on Brook Street. Now owned by online giant Farfetch, Brown’s new store will open this summer in time to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
While not being able to comment on the reason they are moving out, Holli Rogers, CEO of Browns and CFO of Farfetch, says “it really is telling that we found this incredible location to be our new home as we also look to celebrate our 50th anniversary. It was important that we stayed in the heart of Mayfair bringing our clients on this exciting journey, whilst honouring the path we’ve been on and looking to the future of Browns as a pioneer of luxury multi-brand retail with a technology viewpoint. Being in one dedicated space, we are excited to be able to offer a vital and engaging customer experience that draws on the store of the future technology whilst also playing homage to the history and story of both the location and fundamentally Browns.”
Left - Paul Smith's original London shop opened in 1979
So what will become of South Molton Street as even more empty shops pile up? Landlord Grosvenor is proposing investment in a ‘South Molton Triangle’ as the delayed Elizabeth Line finally opens in summer 2021 bringing many hundreds of thousands of more people into the area. But, they’ll need to entice them to venture down South Molton Street and not lose them to Oxford Street.
Right - Landlord advertising Kent & Curwen's Floral Street on the busier James Street
Bounded by Davies Street, Brook Street and South Molton Street and well-known as the home of Grays Antiques Market, this part of Mayfair was always a pedestrianised break from busy Oxford Street.
Grosvenor launched a public consultation in the summer of 2018, no doubt expecting the new underground station and line to be finished sooner. Simon Harding-Roots, executive director, Grosvenor Britain and Ireland, said at the time, “Our proposals are at a very early stage and we want to encourage feedback on how new investment could best serve the community above and beyond the opportunity to better manage increased pedestrian numbers. It is important to us that local voices are incorporated into the planning submission we will ultimately make.”
“The West End is currently ill-equipped to cope with the levels of pedestrian traffic we already see every day, let alone the arrival of thousands of extra visitors expected from the Elizabeth Line. Many of Mayfair’s pavements are too narrow, routes were built for a different era and, perhaps counter intuitively, there are not enough services for those living in and visiting the area.
“We recognise the potential of the South Molton Triangle to address a number of the issues the local community faces. By proposing new investment here, we will be able to better protect and enhance the character and simple enjoyment of living and working in one of the most desirable places in London and the West End.”
Right - Glossier beauty pop-up open until February 9th
These areas need more than simply people management, new pavements and street furniture and it feels like landlords, Capco and Grosvenor, have been focusing on larger and juicer parts of their estates rather than these streets which are more on a Victorian and Georgian scale. At the same time streets like Chiltern Street and areas like Coal Drops Yard have developed and are doing what these locations used to do.
The American beauty brand Glossier recently opened a pop-up on Floral Street, open until February 9th, 2020.
These forgotten about fashion streets were once a destination for those looking for the new cool. Being surrounded by hugely popular shopping areas, there is no reason why they can’t return to this.
These streets need to find a new reason to be and then channel people accordingly. They need to work out and provide what is cool in 2020.
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Easily the most anticipated retail destination - we can’t use ‘shopping centre’ anymore, can we?! - of the year, and the final piece of the huge Kings Cross jigsaw, Coal Drops Yard mirrors the life of the entire area. From industrial power to warehouse parties to sanitised private/public spaces, this could be a micro model of London as a whole over the last 100 years.
Now reimagined by Thomas Heatherwick, who has joined the two ‘Kit-Kat’ pieces with a sweeping roof which lightly touches across the divide. This was the kiss Kings Cross/St Pancras was waiting for and not that cringeworthy sculpture greeting you as you disembark off the Eurostar.
Opening today, with over 50 new stores, it’s currently only about 50% open, and the most stunning aspect, the Samsung store inside the roof, is far from finished.
Firstly, the architecture is great. What could have been clunky, the roof is elegant and sweeping. Reslated in the original Welsh tiles, Heatherwick works his magic and creates something modern yet respectful to the original. This is the human scaled, brick built industrial Britain that is a joy to bring back to life.
Situated just down from Granary Square and up from the main stations, Coal Drops Yard opens out into a generous V shape with two main levels of shops and restaurants. This feels like the type of retail space you want to give yourself time to explore.
There’s also another space on the other side of the main block called Lower Stable Street that is for smaller and start-up businesses. It has touches of the Southbank with the concrete.
There are a few restaurants - Barafina, Casa Pastor and wine bar The Drop, but it feels the mix is too heavy on the retail, today, especially with the need to drive traffic. People don’t need to go shopping anymore, but they do need to eat. You could easily use the space in the middle for market type concepts.
They’ve made an effort to have a mix of brands - COS, Paul Smith, Tom Dixon, Cubitts, Universal Works, Rains, Aesop, Maya Magal, Miller Harris and Le Chocolat and there are a few that are new to me.
You want to explore, but there’s no element of surprise. The retail mix is dry. It’s from the Monocle school of aching design, devoid of personality. This feels like stylish retail from 10 years ago. We’re in the age of Gucci, of bonkers, of wanting-to-get-my-phone-out-and-take-a-picture-mental, not a single one of the finished shop fits was worthy of an Instagram. Even Paul Smith has produced one of the most conservative shop fits I’ve ever seen from him. You’d think he would have tapped into the rave culture history of the site, especially when you consider so many of his more casual clothes would have been worn there.
This is for one type of design customer and I don’t think that’s as aspirational as they think. It’s also needs a destination store. There was lots of talk from the lease manager about going to Paris for inspiration. When didn’t they resurrect Colette here or try a Dover Street Market type concept. It needs a pilgrimage store, or whatever that is in 2018, to get people up from the stations.
I really think Coal Drops Yard has missed a trick by not tapping into the nostalgia for the area. Those clubbers are now in their 40s with money to spend and families to bring. There are exhibitions regarding the history in the Visitors Centre, back in Granary Square, but I would have done more on site to remind people of their happy times spent at The Cross or Bagley’s nightclubs.
As I said, it’s not fully finished and all these things will evolve. When listening to Thomas Heatherwick give his welcoming talk I thought about the reinvention of Covent Garden, which he then mentioned, and was a huge success, and then I thought about the early 90s, when they tried to turn a similar concept, Tobacco Dock, into a similar retail destination. It was the wrong location at the wrong time. This is in a better position, but like I said, they need enough people to know about it to want to walk up from the stations.
I think we’ll see more food outlets eventually and also they need something like a vintage market, similar to Spitalfields, to raise the element of discovery and keep you coming back.
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