“Difficult customer…,” leather master craftsman Tomasz Nosarzewski quips at my request for an exceptional classic contemporary patent shagreen briefcase. Swathes of brightly coloured exotic skins drape from his work counter in the Discovery Room of Bourdon House. The enclave – all Palladian cabinets and heirloom relics – has been closed off especially for our consultation. I stroke the goatskins that provide the linings, finger moulded handles, survey the engraved spangle of the brass fittings signed and dated by the artisans – all components of the “piece of art” the former Hermès and Tanner Krolle aficionado describes his bespoke briefcases with.
The flags of Old Bond Street beckon with their majestic salute in the summer breeze. The epicentre of fashionable London for over three centuries, the thoroughfare’s tradition of excellence dates back to pre-ready-to-wear Victorian times, when the tailors, milliners, shirtmakers, perfumers and shoemakers residing above their showrooms offered 24-hour personal service to preferred clientele.
Today the regal artery running from Oxford Street to Piccadilly, with its network of sprouting streets, each a miniature village in itself, is the most exclusive retail district in Europe. Here, age-old practices and services jostle alongside cutting-edge spaces and state-of-the-art events, a sybaritic playground open only to the highest echelon of luxury shopper.
Bourdon House is among the new flagship ‘Maisons’ unveiled by the luxury brands. Originally the residence of the Duke of Westminster, the magnificent mansion today unfolds an experiential lifestyle destination replete with bespoke tailoring, humidor, spa and two Dunhill-customised Bentley Continental Flying Spurs. The nearby Louis Vuitton Maison features blue chip contemporary art from the ceiling-height Gilbert & George installation in the Men’s Universe to works by Jeff Koons and Jean-Michel Basquiat in the opulent suites of the subterranean Apartment. This, like Alfred’s, the inaugural members’ club adjoining Bourdon House, is a by-invitation-only sanctuary for privileged guests.
Today an expert array of VIP stylists, specialist personal shoppers and Mandarin, Russian and Arabic-speaking staff guide clients through secret entrances to exquisite fashion and jewellery masterpieces especially selected and presented in Bond Street’s burgeoning salons privés: the all-new destinations-within-the-destination boutiques.
Want Pal Zileri’s master tailor flown over tomorrow to assess your character and showcase their exclusive diamond- or platinum-lined fabrics in preparing your suit? Or perhaps an audience with Burberry supremo Christopher Bailey in the privacy of your suite, lunch with Dianne von Furstenburg or a consultation with Joan Burstein, the fashion doyenne who launched Ralph Lauren and Mary Quant? Tory Burch may have just left the building after one of her fabled in store lunches, but her especially trained VIP consultant has arranged some must-have pieces for me to consider over champagne and petit fours in the jewel-like salon privé, with its private dressing room and exquisite design.
Hotel concierges are the go-to guys for VVIP access and Simon Thomas, my concierge at Brown’s Hotel, has organised for a top fashion stylist to guide me through the stores en route to my next stop – a private tour of Asprey’s workshops, situated atop the showrooms and home to top-level English artisans and jewellers expertly moulding figurines, graving monogrammes and setting stones in what is a hive of industry, fire, vats, sparkle, sheen and jawdropping skill.
And if all that is a bit too conspicuous, the collections – and even designers – can be brought to you. Thomas regularly arranges for collections by Chanel, Gucci, Dior and Lanvin to be brought to guests’ suites, accompanied by one of the many specialist stylists or colourists in his little black book. I wander upstairs, where the launch of Jimmy Choo’s iconic 24:7 collection is taking place. Two suites have been transformed into a temple to feminine excess. Boxes of crisp white paper unveil sartorial works of art drawn from their hero shoes and carriers collection, as the palpably chic clientele enjoy champagne and macaroons in the same elegant pastel shades of the leather, manicures and makeovers, and the new season’s collections one edgily transformed suite down.
As the sun sets red over London’s most venerable shopping street, and the patter of heels and soles over the Georgian pavements lessen, the thoroughfare is reborn as stores reopen for private visits and champagne sparkles at in-store receptions for invited guests. Private performances at the Royal Opera House and suppers at Buckingham Palace via Van Cleef & Arpels, impromptu gigs in the Louis Vuitton Apartment, an intimate dinner at Boucheron, tonight transformed into a Japanese garden, dance across Mayfair’s landscape and hinterland, the jewels of London’s original shopping street glittering like diamonds in the dusk.