Neue Luxury - - Front Page - By Martin Gin­nane

I love Lon­don. I love its en­ergy and di­ver­sity, es­pe­cially over the last decade. Over the last six years, how­ever, a rapid change of the re­tail lux­ury streetscape has oc­curred that is worth ex­plor­ing.

I don’t in­tend to go too deeply into the democrati­sa­tion of lux­ury brands and how that has come about (as I be­lieve most of the peo­ple read­ing this will be aware, to some ex­tent, of such changes), ex­cept to high­light the fol­low­ing:

As the glob­al­iza­tion of lux­ury brands con­tin­ues, as more and more houses come un­der the con­trol of the all-pow­er­ful few, even Lon­don’s fa­mous New Bond Street has started to take on a Re­gent Street/ox­ford Street feel. What is be­spoke be­comes ob­vi­ous; what is small and in­di­vid­ual be­comes less so.

Thou­sands of tourists line up to en­ter the mas­sive Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret store. Next door is the even big­ger Bel­staff store which is across the road from the new huge Bally store. Throw in the beau­ti­ful Zegna, Canali, Ralph Lau­ren, Tif­fany & Co, Her­mes, Smthyson and a won­der­ful Lora Pi­ano store (LVMH), and every other brand ca­pa­ble of pay­ing the stag­ger­ing rents on this street and what do you have?

A lux­ury shop­ping mall wor­thy of Dubai? Once, lux­ury was avail­able only to the rar­efied and aris­to­cratic world of old money and roy­alty. Their lux­ury of­fered a his­tory of tra­di­tion, su­pe­rior qual­ity and a pam­pered in­di­vid­u­alised buy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. To­day, how­ever, lux­ury is also a prod­uct pack­aged and sold by multi­bil­lion-dol­lar global cor­po­ra­tions fo­cused on growth, vis­i­bil­ity, brand aware­ness, ad­ver­tis­ing and, above all else, profit.

Where has the in­di­vid­u­al­ity gone? Where has the ex­per­tise and craft gone? Walk­ing through Lon­don’s shop­ping streets you need to stop and look at the Vic­to­rian façades to re­mind your­self you are in­deed in Lon­don; the iden­ti­cal shop win­dows are in Paris, Hong Kong, Ber­lin, Sin­ga­pore and Melbourne, rolled out in uni­son, sea­son by sea­son by glob­alised de­sign teams.

The democrati­sa­tion of lux­ury brands is help­ing to drive the global eco­nomic mar­ket. The con­sumer now has the abil­ity to shop in which­ever way he or she de­sires. Choice and avail­abil­ity has grown across the globe as price has fallen due to sup­ply lo­gis­tics and the open­ing up of new mar­kets. Sit up­stairs at the Sel­fridges Cham­pagne Bar and watch the cross-pol­li­na­tion of shop­ping made vis­i­ble by the bags peo­ple are hold­ing: Sel­fridges, Marks & Spencer, Pri­mark and Chanel lay in har­mony along­side one and other.

In this world of ex­panded choice and me­galithic re­tail­ers, where does a con­cept of lux­ury ex­ist? Cus­tomers in Lon­don, as in the rest of the world, are of­fered per­ceived and real lux­ury now in every­thing from toi­let-tis­sue to soap, food and wine to cars, cloth­ing and footwear to cof­fee and ser­vice. How do we judge the lux­u­ri­ous­ness of a prod­uct? What does it do for us be­yond its per­ceived value?

Does it equate to the dark-suited se­cu­rity guard — re­plete with ear­piece — stand­ing in the door­way? Does it equate to the num­ber of black Bent­leys or Range Rovers parked at the front of the store? Or, very sim­ply, is it merely the price of the mer­chan­dise? Do these sym­bols carry through the prod­uct to our per­ceived iden­tity? Or is it the crafts­man­ship that pleases us emo­tion­ally? Is it our aes­thetic value that is be­ing mas­saged, over­whelmed, ro­manced?

In 2004 in quiet Dover Street, just off Pic­cadilly, Dover Street Mar­kets opened. A unique space with unique mer­chan­dise and spe­cialised staff, it de­liv­ers some­thing dif­fer­ent, some­thing be­ing lost else­where by any num­ber of fac­tors — but most sig­nif­i­cantly by the urge of global cor­po­ra­tions to try and ap­peal to ev­ery­one. Dis­creet Lux­ury is a new for­mat that has been so suc­cess­ful there are now stores in New York and Shang­hai.

Will this change when Vic­to­ria Beck­ham opens in the same street later this year? Will the rows of iden­ti­cal black Range Rovers and iden­ti­cal blonde wives of foot­ball play­ers, the Chi­nese tourists rolling in ‘new cash’, des­per­ate for im­ported celebrity and brands — in or­der to cre­ate their own new his­tory — drive up rents to the point that only global com­pa­nies can ex­ist here? In this new en­vi­ron­ment, what will our con­cept of lux­ury be? Where will it have space to ex­ist? Will the charm of Dover Street be lost?

Most prob­a­bly. Just off Bond Street is a slightly hid­den gem called Clif­ford Street. An­der­son and Shep­pard, one of Lon­don’s most re­spected Sav­ile Row tai­lors, have brought lux­ury to an af­ford­able level with the open­ing of their Hab­er­dash­ery store.

In this place there are no se­cu­rity guards wel­com­ing you, just a small bell over the door and an open fire­place. The won­der­ful Audie (the store co­or­di­na­tor) greets you and shows you the most amaz­ing col­lec­tion of ready-to-wear men’s cloth­ing in Lon­don. They’ve cre­ated, just for you it seems, an at­mos­phere rem­i­nis­cent of a home. Com­fort, pri­vacy, unique de­signs with lim­ited sup­ply and won­der­ful, won­der­ful ser­vice.

On leav­ing the store Audie calls out, “don’t for­get to call by if you are pass­ing in the af­ter­noon for a sherry.”

On the op­po­site cor­ner, be­spoke with blue awnings and blue tiles punc­tu­ated with warmly lit win­dows, is Drakes. Again we have ac­ces­si­ble lux­ury cloth­ing but pre­sented with style and sold to you with knowl­edge and con­fi­dence in a town­house-like ex­pe­ri­ence.

And Mount Street. Why Mount Street? Be­cause you feel spe­cial as you walk down the street. The brands are in­ter­na­tional but you feel con­nected to them in terms of store size and their street pres­ence. There’s Mount Street Prin­ters, who de­sign and man­u­fac­ture some of the best sta­tion­ary in the UK, and the amaz­ing new Ce­line Store lo­cated blocks away from Bond Street. There’s one of Lon­don’s old­est and most re­spected butch­ers (what can be more lux­u­ri­ous than a fine cut of meat?) sit­ting by one of the world’s true lux­ury brands, Mai­son Go­yard, trunk mak­ers.

Street af­ter street in this area still of­fers the won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence smaller stores and unique cu­rated prod­ucts can pro­vide.

Nes­tled nearby is a beau­ti­ful quiet church court­yard and fur­ther on, in Brook Street, the iconic John Smed­ley knitwear store. Es­tab­lished in 1794 and still man­u­fac­tur­ing in Bri­tain, the prices, while not in­ex­pen­sive, are far less so than many of the global com­pa­nies on Bond Street. But John Smed­ley oozes com­fort, dis­cre­tion, knowl­edge and again, ser­vice, ser­vice, ser­vice. Here there is some­thing that will never, can never, be repli­cated in a mall.

Reach­ing Ox­ford Street you are quickly brought back to re­al­ity. While the stores do not open un­til ten am, the streets are al­ways packed with tourists wan­der­ing around gaz­ing lov­ingly at the win­dow dis­plays. And why? The win­dows back home are iden­ti­cal, af­ter all.

Ox­ford Street is still a mecca for shop­ping but not for lux­ury. While lux­ury prod­ucts are still avail­able at the grand dame that is Sel­fridges — and no one does the­atre re­tail bet­ter than Sel­fridges — the ex­pe­ri­ence there is not one of lux­ury.

Wit­ness the queue three deep at the Gucci counter. Visit the new three-level Louis Vuit­ton town­house in the mid­dle of the ground floor. It is stun­ning. But can a queue wait­ing to use the only oval lift in the world be viewed as lux­u­ri­ous? Glam­orous, yes. Ar­chi­tec­turally beau­ti­ful, yes. But lux­u­ri­ous? Not for me.

You can buy al­most any­thing you need on Ox­ford Street. But the ho­mogeni­sa­tion of the street has also made it lose its lus­tre; it has be­come a vic­tim of its own suc­cess. The tourists who come here to ex­pe­ri­ence its es­sen­tial ‘Bri­tish­ness’ might find there is not a lot of that left.

Head north of Ox­ford Street to the won­der­ful Maryle­bone area. Much of this re­mains un­der the own­er­ship of the pres­ti­gious Port­man Es­tate and re­tains much of its 18th cen­tury charm.

Here, there are many long-term tenants and new ones are se­lected to en­sure, as it re­mains up to date, the in­tegrity of the area re­mains. The pace here is slower. Visit Ciri Trudon, the old­est wax man­u­fac­turer in the world, where you will be in­di­vid­u­ally guided through the amaz­ing range of scented can­dles all en­cased in hand-blown glass. Try So­lis Rex, a fra­grance in­spired by the vast wooden floors of the Grand Ver­sailles, a place whose lux­u­ri­ous­ness brought down a monar­chy.

Keep search­ing and you’ll find Trunk Cloth­iers, a small but won­der­ful two-storey build­ing with its aes­thetic and mer­chan­dise beau­ti­fully edited. The Burberry Pror­sum fall/win­ter col­lec­tion fea­tured um­brel­las with ster­ling sil­ver han­dles as a fash­ion item. Archer Adams, an­other won­der­ful store in Chiltern Street, has, been pro­duc­ing them for decades, not as a fash­ion item, but as use­ful, tra­di­tional crafts­man­ship.

My idea of lux­ury is about dis­cov­er­ing what makes you ex­cited. It can be as sim­ple as a sec­ond-hand book long out of print, or a mag­nif­i­cent pocket square wo­ven in Is­tan­bul. It can be a beau­ti­ful char­coal grey cash­mere jumper or a vin­tage scarf that is fifty years old. When you wear it, peo­ple say where did you find that, as op­posed to where did you buy it? Lux­ury is a dis­cov­ery, not a com­mod­ity.

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