Couture milliner Laura Apsit Livens, 25, is astonished. “I never thought I would be so busy,” she says of her Mayfair shop, a surreal, tiny half-staircase in Duke Street, North Mayfair. It’s a riot of colour, original shapes, bowlers, feather creations, panamas and helmets.
Her clients include singers Paloma Faith, Rita Ora and Jessie J, along with the Duchess of Westminster. London College of Fashion graduate Livens is one of the new-look retailers jazzing up North Mayfair, as major local landlord, Grosvenor, shakes up what was once a dull, anonymous part of its estate with a £785 million regeneration programme. The move has been prompted by Crossrail, which is building a new Bond Street station nearby.
Founded in 1677, Grosvenor controls about 30 per cent of the wider Mayfair area. When the new station opens in 2018, trimming 13 minutes off the journey to Canary Wharf, the estate hopes to have established a strong identity for North Mayfair.
Up to 220,000 passengers a day are expected to use the station, and there will be 24 trains an hour at peak times in each direction. A total 300,000sq ft of retail, commercial and residential space has been approved above the eastern ticket hall in Hanover Street, while Craig McWilliam, executive director of Grosvenor’s London estate, says it is creating more rental flats because “we want people to live and work in the area”.
There are 28 flats at 65 Duke Street and 62 Green Street and about 500 rented properties across the estate. However, homes to buy under £1 million are rare, and a new apartment block being built at the Audley Square car park site is a few years away from completion.
Savills calculates the price per square foot of residential property in Mayfair at £2,320, while in Knightsbridge and Belgravia it is £2,490 and £2,370 respectively. The point of Grosvenor’s plan, however, is not necessarily to shoehorn homes in, but to restore the neighbourhood’s vitality.
It likes to say that out of 700 shops across the estate, only 17 per cent are chain stores. Now Duke Street, on the other side of Oxford Street from Selfridges, wants to be part of the campaign to steal the crown from Knightsbridge and turn North Mayfair into the highest-performing enclave of prime central London.
The transformation has begun. Restaurateurs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, the duo behind The Wolseley, The Delaunay and Brasserie Zédel, recently opened the wow-factor Art Deco-style Beaumont Hotel, with 75 rooms created from a converted garage. The eye-catching Antony Gormley inhabitable sculpture sitting atop the entrance houses the £2,500-a-night master suite.
New-style independent brands are very much encouraged. The Duke Street Emporium, a two-storey concept store by Jigsaw and The Shop at Bluebird, offers international womenswear, menswear, beauty and lifestyle brands, plus an in-store Fernandez & Wells café. Down the street is bespoke menswear brand, Rake, soon to be joined by a new Private White VC menswear shop — the original is on arty Lamb’s Conduit Street. And Goodman Restaurants, which launched the successful Burger & Lobster chain, has opened Lobster Roll, a two-storey deli-cafe concept.
Opposite Duke Street is Brown Hart Gardens, where you can bring sandwiches or buy your lunch at The Garden Café. The gardens were originally opened above the old Duke Street electricity substation in 1906, with a 10,000sq ft roof, a domed gazebo and steps at either end. Grosvenor transformed the site into a public rooftop garden, adding an Andrew Ewing water feature last year. There’s also a monthly food market.
The first stage of Grosvenor’s investment focused around Mount Street, restoring the heritage and élan of old Mayfair with a contemporary twist. The project saw £4 million spent on roads, pavements and public spaces, as well as a wider range of shops while keeping treasures including The Mount Street Deli and Allens of Mayfair, the butchers’ shop established for 120 years.
The Connaught was spruced up and passers-by can enjoy a £10 million water feature, Silence, by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, commissioned by Grosvenor in partnership with the hotel.
Grosvenor Hill is turning into an arts quarter, with the new Gagosian Gallery opening at number 20, while bronze sculptures in the street, by Neal French, depict the late Terence Donovan, whose studio was nearby, photographing Sixties fashion model Twiggy.
Community events include Grosvenor Square’s Summer in the Square and film festival, plus Mount Street Christmas Lights, while a tranquil escape in the heart of the city is provided at 77 Duke Street, with yoga, meditation, dance and storytelling.
Grosvenor isn’t a lone moderniser. The Portman Estate sexed up Marylebone’s Chiltern Street, The Crown Estate worked wonders in Regent Street, and the Portman Estate is behind the £12 million regeneration of Portman Village on the other side of Oxford Street.
Could all this galvanise Kensington’s council into action? It’s no small irony that the borough with Europe’s wealthiest residents has a dreary High Street full of luggage stores and mobile phone shops.