Flagships shape up

Flagship stores are popping up across London’s West End as major property developments come on stream and global brands jostle for retail presence, and this can only be good news for designers. Emily Pacey investigates

Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Apple, Primark and TK Maxx have all just opened, or announced their plans to open, flagship stores in London’s West End. This is despite our potential tumble into the second valley of the recession and an imminent, much-feared VAT rise to 20 per cent. Yet these openings seem to suggest a rebelliously buoyant retail market in the capital – good news for interior designers.

Chanel has paid a reported £4m fee for a 25-year lease on a Bond Street flagship location opposite Louis Vuitton’s new London store, which boasts fantastically opulent interiors crammed with bespoke art pieces by Anish Kapoor, Chris Ofili and Gary Hume. New York-based designer Peter Marino is responsible for the Louis Vuitton interiors and also created the Shanghai, Las Vegas and Hollywood Chanel stores.

Earlier this month, Apple opened its biggest-ever store in Covent Garden, which is taking over from the Regent Street shop as its UK flagship. The three-storey temple to Apple’s products was designed by architect Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. When asked at the launch how much the store cost to create, Apple’s senior vice-president of retail Ron Johnson answered coyly, ’We spent just the right amount on the store.’

It’s not only the luxury brands that are pouring cash into Europe’s busiest shopping district: Primark has just announced that it is opening its second vast Oxford Street store – and TK Maxx recently launched its first central London outlet, in Charing Cross Road.

’This is a very localised London phenomenon that you certainly won’t see in Manchester, Liverpool or other UK city centres, which are having a very tough time,’ says The Local Data Company business development director Matthew Hopkinson. He cites London’s thriving international tourist market and the weak pound as responsible for the area’s retail success, and says the market is also being stimulated by property developers’ strategies.

’If we’re going to get people to continue to come to the West End, we’ve got to produce the retail that people want to see. That’s all about flagships [such as] Apple, National Geographic and Banana Republic,’ David Shaw, head of the New West End Company’s Regent Street portfolio, is quoted as saying on the group’s website, referring to last year’s influx of US brands, which also included Anthropologie.

An NWEC spokesman adds that the West End’s big landowners are investing millions in redeveloping prime retail spots to offer vast and airy premises which are a world away from the poky units still to be found at the eastern end of Oxford Street.

’This is precisely why that section of the road has done so badly in terms of retail,’ says the spokesman. ’The units are tiny and do not offer any scope for retail design and theatre, which is what the industry is all about nowadays.’

At the wrong end of Oxford Street, Primark is in the process of gutting Zavvi’s former premises – the only really sizeable property east of Oxford Circus. Primark chief executive Paul Marchant says that he is looking forward to helping regenerate the Tottenham Court Road end of the street: when Primark’s flagship store opened at the western, Marble Arch end of Oxford Street, it increased traffic to the local area by 15 per cent.

Dalziel & Pow has worked extensively with Primark over the past 18 years. The consultancy’s creative director David Dalziel believes that, despite the recent flurry of activity in the West End, any impression of increased investment is a mirage.

He says, ’If anything, there is less activity now than ever before, but because there are a few key openings and news is quite rare, they get made a big deal of.’

Dalziel does concede, however, that the general trend is an upward one that looks set to continue as landowners and property developers conspire to bring high-quality, large-scale premises all along Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street. The Crown Estate has been particularly lauded for the work it is doing to bring Regent Street out of the clutches of the discount cashmere shops and into the arms of big global brands.

Going forward, Crossrail will be responsible for releasing what is almost undoubtedly the biggest mass of retail space in one go, from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road. Despite the recession, there is little doubt that the retail boom is set to continue in the capital’s destination shopping areas, ’and it is an extremely good thing for UK designers to be associated with that trend’, says Dalziel.

New flagships in London’s West End

  • Opened 28 May -Louis Vuitton, Bond Street. Designed by New York-based architect Peter Marino
  • Opened 22 July – TK Maxx, Charing Cross Road
  • Opened 7 August – Apple, Covent Garden. Designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
  • Yet to open – Chanel, Bond Street
  • Yet to open – Primark, Oxford Street

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