Look beyond the facade

Regent Street is fast becoming a mecca for flagship stores as restrictive tenancy agreements expire, giving retail designers more freedom, says Scott Billings

A hefty £300 lease value places Regent Street just behind Park Lane and Mayfair as one of the most prestigious locations on the Monopoly board. Stay over in an opponent’s hotel and you could expect to pay more than £1200 for the privilege.

It’s a posh plot, indeed, and located in the heart of London’s West End. However, a long-term tenancy agreement created more than 80 years ago has stifled retail regeneration until recently. As current leases begin to expire, Regent Street owner The Crown Estate is taking the opportunity to embark on a £500m makeover of the area. The first fruits of these labours will be unveiled later next month.

The sweeping curve of Regent Street’s Edwardian architecture forms an impressive channel in the run from Oxford Circus to Piccadilly Circus. Under the regeneration programme it is becoming a key location for premium retailers’ flagship stores and a destination for shoppers and tourists.

‘We see it as a street of flagship stores,’ says David Shaw, head of retail portfolio at The Crown Estate. ‘We have got to give people a reason to get up in the morning and want to come to Regent Street.’

Many examples of the street’s original fenestration and architectural features will be restored or retained in the regeneration. Some blocks have undergone a dramatic removal of the entire interior behind the Grade II-listed facades. Chesham House, just north of Piccadilly Circus, is currently bereft of all but its street-facing facia. While this is not normally regarded as good conservation practice, according to The Crown Estate it will allow Regent Street tenants to create ‘dramatic and fresh’ interiors for both retail and office use.

Though Shaw is keen for retailers to install shop designs that are exciting and appealing, there are restrictions imposed by an agreement between English Heritage and Westminster City Council.

‘Perhaps retail does not shine out as much as it might due to the protection agreements. I can totally understand why certain retailers might want a more dramatic shop front,’ concedes Shaw.

Nevertheless, a raft of high profile brands is preparing for tenancy on the street and shoppers will be tempted with a number of design-led flagships before Christmas.

Apple Computer will open its highly anticipated UK flagship store at numbers 235-241, with a launch expected on 20 November (DW 23 September). Apple’s store design and interiors are overseen by architect Gensler, though neither company is willing to disclose any details on the store at present.

Considered a paragon of design by many, Apple’s presence among the four mosaic archways of the block perhaps symbolises the vision of style, prestige and quality that Regent Street is hoping to promote. Curiously, despite the volume of chatter surrounding Apple’s occupancy, it remains the one retailer whose presence Shaw refuses to confirm: the infamous Apple secrecy in action.

The Apple shop is nestled between two more retail developments: stores for clothing brands Ted Baker to the north and Lacoste to the south. All three are set to open in mid- to late-November.

Brighton group Design LSM has created the Lacoste format, in conjunction with an in-house team at the retailer’s Paris headquarters. Lacoste recruited a collaborative team of designers from the fashion and furniture industries to work alongside retail interior designers.

According to Design LSM director David Rooney, Lacoste’s Regent Street flagship will introduce technology elements to the store. ‘We are using Sony hologram screens that can display content to all the Lacoste stores globally. Events, ads and product launches can be presented in all the stores simultaneously on these screens,’ he explains.

At Ted Baker, retail design is handled by an in-house team and each store produced to bespoke specifications. With a floor space in excess of 560m2, the Regent Street outlet is the company’s largest to date, says special projects manager Mark Valerio.

The two-storey store will combine menswear and womenswear ranges on the same floor for the first time and will also house a dedicated area for Ted Baker’s suit brand Endurance.

Suspended above a cantilevered staircase, a swarm of more than 60 hand-blown, glass pendants is designed to lure customers upstairs. It will also feature a revolving circular area where shoppers may sit among grandfather clocks and other ‘gentlemen’s club-style’ decorations.

‘Regent Street is a great brand location in a commercial sense, but the challenge is to make it cool,’ says Valerio. ‘There is a lot of pressure to create a warm, exciting store; a non-white shop fit with rich materials.’

The Regent Street location is an evolution for Ted Baker, says Valerio. It is not a boutique, nor is it situated in an innovative retail environment like the Covent Garden flagship. Still, there will be a few surprises for Ted Baker visitors, he promises.

‘People are sick of seeing the same line-up on the high street. We are trying to get a lot of props in to make it fresh every week.’

The opening of Ted Baker, Apple and Lacoste next month will be followed by additional developments between now and 2007, including the 93 000m2 Quadrant.

Shaw is confident that the regeneration will breathe a new lease of life into Regent Street. ‘We are directly targeting retailers we want in the street – the ones that fit the Regent Street brand – and it is important that we try to persuade them to develop their most interesting shop designs,’ he says.

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