It’s the architectural equivalent of making the A-list: only buildings of special interest are granted the English Heritage seal of approval. No wonder, then, that London’s listed properties are becoming the hottest destinations on the retail market. Highest on the VIP list are the graded beauties. A Grade II listing equals “of more than special interest”, while those receiving a coveted Grade I are of exceptional interest – all according to English Heritage.
But these addresses are not only architectural gems. With a magical atmosphere that no modern store can match, they hold the key to transforming goods from mere products to objects of desire. Place a silk dress under a light bulb, and it’s a piece of fabric. Drape it under an Edwardian chandelier, and it springs to life. An emerald necklace set against intricate cornicing becomes a work of art. That’s why fine jewellery houses, international designers and cutting-edge newcomers have all chosen to display their creations in surroundings that celebrate Britain’s architectural inheritance.
Founded in a humble South London suburb in 1781, Asprey grew to become the jeweler of maharajas and movie stars. In 1847, they found the premises to match: five buildings on New Bond Street, crowned by a grand cast-iron faÐ·ade. The award-winning re-design by Lord Norman Foster links them together with a light, modern touch, culminating in a sunlit courtyard at the heart of the store. Another of the thoroughfare’s addresses making the cut is 47 Conduit Street, where crystal and jewelry giant Lalique has joined forces with longstanding ally Haviland. Bathing in a bespoke, colour-changing light, the objets d’art are displayed in cabinets gently recessed into the Georgian walls. After designing the V&A’s jewellery gallery, Eva Jiricna turned her hands to Marcus in Bond Street. Fittingly, it’s very 007. A sleek glass, marble and steel gallery with raw masculine angles guarantees maximum exposure of Marcus’ extraordinary watch collection.
Harrods has cleverly turned features such as the Egyptian Escalator into sights in their own rights, while Harvey Nichols has gone for a subtler, minimalist approach. Fortnum & Mason is Piccadilly’s doll’s house, from the delightful mechanical window displays to the oak floors heaving under rows of pastel-packaged delicacies. Art Deco jewel Selfridges is considered the most important store building of the 20th century. The beautiful Queen of Time statue floats above the main entrance, bearing Time on her shoulders and riding the Ship of Commerce. Columns, gilded mirrors and open-plan interiors frame the equally well-crafted designer goods.
It’s not just the grand old dames who know how to present their assets. A string of debutantes are lining up for their share of the best of British, occupying treasures in the streets surrounding Bond Street. LA-founded Juicy Couture has fearlessly invaded a stately Grade I listed building in Mayfair. Here, Juicy’s deliciously anarchic style is juxtaposed with a tender restoration of ornate fireplaces and moldings. Georgina Goodman announced her arrival on Bond Street by elegantly positioning her show-stopping heels under a dramatic gold and bronze mirrored drop ceiling. And when Abercrombie and Fitch landed in a Grade II listed former private home turned Bank of England outpost stemming from 1725, the original vaults became as much a talking point as their signature portraits of bare-chested Grecian males.
Savile Row’s illustrious tailors honor their heritage with milieus that complement the bespoke experience. At Huntsman, the hunting and shooting set pick from an array of tweeds rolled out on gleaming mahogany tables. The hunting theme is tongue-in-cheek; two stag heads, left behind by a customer in the 1920’s, are snugly wrapped in cashmere scarves. Up the road, Alfred Dunhill unveiled a flourishing emporium in 2008 dedicated to the modern gentleman. Built in 1720 and Grade II* listed, Bourdon House is the former home of the Duke of Westminster and a shining example of Georgian architecture. Today, the Dunhill flagship houses a floor dedicated to personalization and bespoke, spa, barber, private cinema, bar and fumoir. Flying the flag for impeccable Italian tailoring is Brioni. Entering the sumptuous store through a Gothic-style oak door, customers are drawn towards the magnificent marble fireplace, adorned with chiseled Roman motifs.
Burberry, Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney and Jasper Conran are British names keeping the heritage alive. McCartney’s trademark playfulness comes out in eclectic wallpapers and graphic prints, with white pillars lending a neoclassical air. At Conran’s Grade II listed Georgian townhouse, original fireplaces, fresh greenery and richly-coloured rugs maintain the illusion of a lived-in home. The Red Carpet Room is a dressing-up attic brimming with evening gowns – the sweeping stone staircase with wrought-iron balustrades was designed for making an entrance.
Like all inheritances, our surviving architecture should be enjoyed and used for new, exciting means. Art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) once said, “When we build, let us think that we build for ever”. We’re convinced that this new energy flowing throw the buildings of Ruskin’s heyday would have won his seal of approval.