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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The next time you arrive at your local mainline railway station have a look at the retailers lining the concourse. Where once it was Boots, a few Upper Crusts and a plethora of deep-frying fast food outlets, is, today, being replaced by retailers who previously wouldn’t have been seen dead amongst the pigeon droppings and leaky roofs.
Following the huge success of retail rail developments such as Birmingham’s New Street and London’s Kings Cross/St Pancras, investors, who still want to invest in retail developments, are looking to where the people are and those symbols of the Victorian steam age are ripe for reinvention.
Rail travel is having a renaissance, in the last 20 years the number of people travelling on the UK rail network has doubled, and looks like it will continue to do so with its lower carbon impact and trends such as Sweden’s Flygskam - Read more here - making people think more about their travel decisions and the impact it has on the environment.
Left - Artist's impression of the new Waterloo development of the former Eurostar terminal
According to the Office of Rail and Road, rail passenger journeys in Great Britain in 2018-19 reached a record high of 1.759 billion. It increased by 3.0% compared to the previous year and was driven by a 3.9% increase in the London and South East sector.
London’s Waterloo is the busiest station in Britain for the 15th consecutive year, despite the total number of passenger entries and exits falling by five million to 94.4 million.This fall was in part due to a three-week closure for upgrade work in August 2017, which brought the former Eurostar platforms back into use after they were vacated in November 2007.
In the rest of the UK, Glasgow Central retained its position as the busiest station in Scotland and 11th in the overall list, with passengers using it 32.9million times this year, and Cardiff Central was top in Wales with more than 12.9 million entries and exits, making it 33rd overall.
We’re seeing a new golden age in rail travel and retail and property investors want in. Waterloo has unveiled plans to convert the former Eurostar terminal into a 135,000sq ft shopping mall to open in spring 2021. Called 'Waterloo.London', forty glass-fronted stores and restaurants will form a new “upmarket shopping destination to rival St Pancras International”. The new scheme is being developed by London and Continental Railways (LCR) – the UK government-owned property development firm and the company behind the redevelopment of St Pancras International train station. A mezzanine and public spaces will run along a new pedestrianised street called the 'Waterloo Curve’. Time Out Market will be an anchor tenant, consisting of 17 restaurants and three bars across two floors.
“Waterloo.London will set a new benchmark for progressive retail and transport destinations in the UK,” LCR development director Adrian Lee said. “Brands will have a truly unique opportunity to tap into a market of Waterloo’s 100 million passengers, the 20 million tourists that visit the South Bank every year, and its surrounding vibrant community and growing office population.” he said.
Over in West London, new plans have been unveiled for Victoria station, the UK’s second busiest station with almost 80 million passenger journeys a year, and said to be biggest overhaul in its 168-year history. Developers plan to take off the roof of the station, creating a giant concrete and steel box around the 19 platforms to allow the building of towers above. The Duke of Westminster’s property company, Grosvenor, developer Landsec and Victoria’s Business Improvement District, have held secret discussions over the past 18 months on developing London’s second busiest station. Details are still vague at this stage, but no doubt retail will feature heavily on the lower floors of the station. The current dated looking shopping centre at the back looks tired and isn’t integrated into the station design well enough.
Right - Waterloo.London will feature a TimeOut Market with 17 restaurants and 3 bars
Much needed modernisation of infrastructure has been a catalyst for cities to develop and reinvigorate themselves. Birmingham’s New Street station went from voted one of the worst buildings in the UK to a modern shopping centre with trains attached when it reopened in 2015. A huge John Lewis department crowned the mirrored steel exterior and has become a symbol of the regeneration of Britain’s second largest city.
These redeveloped train stations have quickly become favourites places where people choose their leisure time rather than simply travelling through. The top four UK stations for customer satisfaction according to Transport Focus data were London King’s Cross (96%), London St Pancras (95%), Birmingham New Street (92%) and Reading (92%), all having undergone major refurbishments in recent years.
The most successful rail retail development has to be St Pancras International, the glamourous home to the international Eurostar service. The station’s arcade area was built primarily as a beer store and 150 years later, and £800 million spent, it has, since its 2007 opening, continued to add premium retailers such as Fortnum and Mason, John Lewis, Godiva, Benugo, Nespresso, Fratelli, Chanel, GANT and Hamleys..
Today, it attracts approximately 50million visitors a year and 1 in 6 of those who visit the station do not catch a train. Total retail sales at St Pancras International during the Christmas trading period (22nd October to 31st December 2018) grew 6.3% year on year.
St Pancras International saw strong growth across all retail categories, including a 4.1% year-on-year growth in food sales, and an 8.7% growth in non-food categories. The station’s 6.3% like-for-like growth over the festive trading period, significantly outperformed the wider UK retail sales results, which were flat year-on-year and -0.7% on a like-for-like basis from December 2017.
People are time poor and combining a journey with a great shopping experience is one way to entice money out of people’s pockets. Consumers are increasingly lazy and no longer want to travel just to go shopping - Read more here - they want shopping integrated with the rest of their lives and their increasing desire to travel. Airports hold too many restrictions, so train stations are becoming an increasing focus. You rarely see empty retail units at stations. Developers need footfall and when yours in the tens of millions, it's difficult to see it not working. City centres will shift towards these rail hubs and they will no longer be the entry point but the destination.
Last night I took part in the #MayfairCollective panel discussion talking about all things menswear in the lead up to London Fashion Week Men’s LFWM. Teo van den Broeke. Style Director, Esquire magazine, was a fellow panelist and said something interesting about how, on his recent trip to Milan, the luxury brands there told him they wanted to appear ‘warmer’ to consumers.
This is welcome news and also timely as their stand-offish approach is alienating consumers and becoming increasing sterile. They realise they've found themselves stuck in a luxury cul-de-sac with sales slowing and boredom setting in.
There was a time when the brands controlled the consumer. The consumer was supposed to be grateful that they were allowed into the luxury shop, buy the luxury goods and walk out with a luxury bag. Thank you, thank you, thank you...
Things have changed and the power is, now, in the hands of the consumer. The market is saturated, there’s more competition than ever and people are being short-changed with the quality of many of these ‘luxury’ goods.
Brand warmth comes from personality, inclusivity and a friendliness, which many brands, without a strong central figure, will find it difficult to find. It’s about tone of voice, retail environment and brand messaging.
This is a big shift for these companies and will take time. I think they need to think small to go big. People like to buy from people they know or feel like they know. They need to think about the cities and neighbourhoods they are in. They brands can have an overall message, but they need to tailor it for the specific consumers and locations.
They have stopped with the identikit shop fits, but it going to take instinct, trust and a more organic feeling of change, which these very rigid luxury brands will worry about. Addicted to control, it’s something they need to wrestle away from themselves otherwise it they will, eventually, suffocate their businesses or be replaced by those who do.