Temples of Retail Taste…?
Our man is in pensive mood this month as he ponders the loss of Mayfair’s retail charm and individuality alongside the current rise of an overly-polished homogenisation
Column by Trevor Pickett
I think my inspiration was the Twinning Shop on Fleet Street, or is it now a museum with its mandarins on pediments like the Deux Margot? Wandering further along Fleet Street, that epicentre of the ‘great halls of print,’ it is now hard to believe they started moving out 30 plus years ago. The next step of this pensive train of thought over the last few months was Paris. In the Paris Metro I was inspired by stark white tiling and brushed steel – so I am not a philistine where modern architecture is concerned. It appears that great structures have recently been added to the cultural landscape; the extension to the Tate Modern and Sackler Wing at the V&A stand as testaments to the fact that the historic have not been demolished like other museums and galleries of learning, simply that they have evolved and been added to or extended. Largely, they remain a record of our change in taste and style of buildings. Though recently added to, the great new modern temple to art is the Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris. It follows in the wake of the Guggenheim Bilbao. I do though, wonder if these will survive the test of time?
It all makes me reflect on the retail landscape. I fear the obsession with the concept store (now that’s an overused word!) continues – concept store meaning “I don’t have a f****** clue so I’ll throw money at the problem.” Like a butterfly, the concept store is a short beauty that fades without a trace. It is the bastard step-parent of the pop-up shop but in truth you only have to look up Colette in Paris (the so called “trendiest store in the world” is shutting), to make you ask, is that nothing more than an extended pop up shop – squeezing every last drop out of an over flogged concept? Does it have the longevity that say, BIBA, still has? The allure and mystery never faded whilst the bricks and mortar are no longer. Though the Derry and Tom’s prior department store’s façade still stands proud on Kensington High Street, it only provides a short fix and we move on to the next one in much the same way would cruise through cocktail parties. Retail is in danger of fast becoming the next Music Hall. There is no gravitas.
Historically, only a percentage of the buildings of previous decades and centuries survive as a record. The saving of Battersea power station for example, where it has now become residential, does not detract from its imposing mark on the Thames landscape just as Tate Modern further east has re-utilized Bankside with a new purpose for the building of strength and authority and as a hub of energy. Now it is the same in the contemporary art world, although not all the greats have survived. Office space requirements make so many spaces redundant as they become less friendly for current necessities such as air con and cables, not to mention the new open space floor places which are so preferred today. Fortress House on Savile Row was another victim.
No one has accepted that just because our modern lifestyle means buildings need functionality and to be effectively useful, some also need to be kept as a record of our architectural evolution. My concern is the apparent demise of retail architecture. Again, I love the clean, modern, striking interiors that I see. They are a great backdrop for collections however I fear that any will survive.
On Bond Street there are a few that have lasted the test of time; the heavily painted lacquering that has occurred over the centuries to the façade at number 143 (look up and it seems to have a modern building growing out of it.) The cheesemonger, Paxton & Whitfield on Jermyn Street, Fribourg & Treyer, former snuff maker Haymarket, the book seller John Sandoe Chelsea are others – they all remind one of the paintwork in Paris. Sadly, at number 26 Bond Street, the impressive façade has survived more than the store front has. Have the great heavy shutters been kept I wonder? The delicate Oliver Messel – esque feel of what was Rayne is still there although it is now an Italian high fashion boutique. In a similar style its neighbouring shop, Delman, did not survive. Whilst writing this I noticed that the right entrance to what was the Jackson store on Piccadilly – a competitor to the Twinnings which I opened this piece with – which is located opposite the Burlington Arcade with a pair of fine entrances in ornate Chinese Chippendale and decorative chinoiserie, has been replaced simply with a single pane of glass. F Pinet has also closed! What will happen to the rest of the store’s impressive window frames and history? Will they survive?
Will the impressive flagship store of Ralph Lauren survive 100 years? I lament the destruction of Asprey. The Bond Street store was a warren of department selling. The term ‘fancy goods,’ a description which isn’t often used today but which truly covers all of the products that were sold by Asprey. It was a bazaar of baubles, real trinkets, of bugles, bangles and beads! The list of tempting luxuries which one doesn’t need but must have would be as long as one’s arm. Probably like describing my shop’s product mix. In French it is maroquiniere which says it all. I guess William & Son (William a direct descendant of Mr Asprey), has reproduced the fixtures to the same standard at his ‘fancy-goods’ store on Bruton Street. Until quite recently there were about five 19th Century purpose built art galleries and showrooms for fine antique furniture, the last survivor now being The Fine Art Society. It is a purpose built space which is coming up to 150 years old and is well worth visiting.
What we see on Mount Street, Sloane Street and Bond Street is no longer exclusive. There has been the same destruction and homogenization on Faubourg St. Honore and Ave Montaigne; the hallowed shrines of the likes of Yves St Laurent, Prada and Dior are merely shiny temples of the honed and over-polished. They are layered, marquetry’d, painted and varnished Mecca’s of fashion. The marble, stone and mirror are impressively expensive and are a reflection of current retail architecture. Will there be examples in 2117 that will be referenced as I am doing so now? There has been less change at Hermès. Theirs is a calm, classic, globally reproduced signature that appears to have evolved since before one can tell. I hope there will be no radical change there.
This is not to knock these global brands as theirs is a careful analysis and reflection of the retailing and the consumer demands of our age. Yet will future generations be able to have a first-hand experience of these temples of retailing? A taste of the luxurious chapels, churches and shrines? Though it seems critical, often the fixtures and fittings are a higher standard of finish than the stock and thus appear to be in the quality of material that will survive the centuries, but sadly not the taste.