By  on March 21, 2006

LONDON — Not too long ago, Sloane Square was a quaint hangout for the Sloane Rangers, those well-off residents of the neighborhood who dressed in Barbours, tweed skirts and pearls and regularly headed to their retail temple, the department store Peter Jones.

But today, the women and men strolling through the square are an altogether hipper and more international crowd. And they are eager to give their credit cards a fashion workout at nearby Cartier, Hugo Boss, Tiffany & Co. and Zara; even Peter Jones has had a major facelift.

Global brands like these are rapidly nudging out the travel agencies, newspaper shops and country casual clothing stores that once lined the square and the south end of Sloane Street, which leads to it. The posh clothing and accessories brand Bamford & Sons, which has an organic cafe in the basement, now graces one of the square's corners, while across the way, the Sloane Square, a new hotel, will open its doors in June.

"All we did was concentrate on improving the buildings in the area, and demand from the retailers snowballed," said Stuart Corbyn, chief executive of Cadogan Estates, which owns and manages some 90 acres of prime central London property, including large swathes of Sloane Square and Sloane Street.

"Today, the tenant mix is better than I ever anticipated," he added.

Earlier this month, Hugo Boss opened a 10,800-square-foot store in the former W.H. Smith news agents. The store stocks the full range of Hugo Boss lines and is the size of Hugo Boss units on Fifth Avenue in New York and the Champs-Elysées in Paris.

Alfred Dunhill plans to open a 1,620-square-foot store on Sloane Street, across from Cartier, in June in the former Cadogan Travel agency. The store will carry men's wear and accessories, and be the first "new concept" store that Dunhill eventually plans to roll out globally.

"We're convinced Sloane Square is the cool place to be," said Phillip Wolff, global communications director for the German brand. In late January, he hosted a pre-opening dinner in the building — which is still a raw space that's under construction."Sloane Square is a great, up-and-coming location, and there is so much pedestrian traffic," said Wolff. The store is catty-corner to the Sloane Square Underground station.

Last year, Zara moved into a 25,000-square-foot former furniture store at Duke of York Square, an upmarket, open-air mall up King's Road from Sloane Square. Another newcomer is Cartier, which opened on Sloane Street in time for Christmas last year.

But those are only the latest arrivals. Over the past few years, Pringle, Chloé and Tiffany have all opened stores at the south end of Sloane Street. Later this year, Alfred Dunhill is set to replace Cadogan Travel.

Florence Paul, Cartier's head of communications for the U.K., said the brand jumped at the chance to open on lower Sloane Street, near Tiffany and across from Chloé.

"The area has glammed up so much, and it's not as neighborhood-y as it once was," said Paul. "This store is fresh and new, and I think more relaxed and comfortable than our Bond Street store."

Helen Wright, managing director for clothing at Bamford & Sons, compares the retail energy of Sloane Square to that of Notting Hill and said the pedestrian traffic was a huge attraction for the company.

Cadogan's Corbyn said prices on the southern end of Sloane Street and the square remain low compared with the northern end of Sloane Street, which is in Knightsbridge, near Harvey Nichols and Harrods. Rents hover around $450 to $530 per square foot at the end of the street in the Chelsea neighborhood, compared with $740 to $765 per square foot at the Knightsbridge end of the street. "Rents are considerably cheaper, but I don't think that will last very long," predicted Corbyn.

Sloane Square isn't the only west London area in bloom. A cluster of streets in Belgravia, between Harvey Nichols and the Berkeley Hotel, is in a retail renaissance, thanks to one property developer. An area known as The Halkins, including Motcomb, Lowndes and West Halkin Streets, was once a sleepy corner of town filled with small art galleries, antique furniture stores and a tired old nightclub. Today, it's home to 45 businesses, including shoe designers Christian Louboutin and Rickard Shah; L&B London, a luxury linens and home store; the upscale Waitrose supermarket, and Amaya, an award-winning Indian restaurant."It was clear from the start the area had the wrong retail occupiers. It's a wealthy neighborhood, and the residents wanted something different. First, what they needed was a nice supermarket," said Nigel Kempner, the developer whose company, Benchmark, now owned by GE Capital, bought the lease for the area in the late Nineties.

The neighborhood is packed with wealthy locals and residents from Europe, the Middle East and the U.S. Gwyneth Paltrow used to live nearby, and Lady Helen Taylor, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, and her family are locals. The Halkins is a five-minute walk from the Berkeley Hotel.

Kempner brought in Waitrose — the Hermès of big British supermarket chains — as the anchor in the area and said the rest fell into place. Since he began the revitalization, rents have risen from about $150 per square foot to $240 per square foot.

Retailers say they take a lot of pride in the discreet charms of the neighborhood. "We wanted a destination store," said Elizabeth Rickard, who opened a boutique on Motcomb Street with her partner Binith Shah more than two years ago.

"The street is just beautiful. It has a very English air to it and an upbeat vibe," said Rickard, adding the store has been getting more locals than tourist traffic.

French native Leonora Beaubois chose Motcomb Street as the venue for her first retail venture: a 4,320-square-foot luxury linens and home store. "The cobblestones remind me of the Paris streets, and the space was exactly what we were looking for."

The store, designed by Jean Michel Wilmotte, carries everything from cashmere pillowcases to linen sheets and chocolate orchid candles from a Swiss company called Mizensir.

Kempner said he sees the area as an ongoing project. It's also one that will go to the highest bidder. Kempner has put the lease for his piece of the neighborhood on the block with a $125 million price tag.

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