By  on November 26, 2007

LONDON — Mount Street, a quiet, quintessentially English thoroughfare off Mayfair's Berkeley Square here, is undergoing a retail resurgence.

Among the reasons: Marc Jacobs, who opened his first London store on the street this year. And in the last 18 months, rents on Mount Street have jumped an estimated 50 percent to 170 pounds, or about $350, a square foot, as designer boutiques have sought to secure space alongside the art galleries and antiques dealers that have traditionally populated the street.

Balenciaga signed a lease to open a store on Mount Street early next year, and a 2,850-square-foot Christian Louboutin boutique is set to launch this year next to upscale hairstyling salons Jo Hansford and Nicky Clarke and seafood restaurant Scott's. Meanwhile, Dunhill will unveil a retail space, members' club and apartments on Davies Street, at the end of Mount Street, in February, and Aesop, the Sydney based natural beauty brand, is also set to open a unit there.

The renewed interest in the neighborhood means rents are now on a par with the city's more established shopping areas, such as nearby Conduit Street, where rents are about $384 a square foot, and not far behind Regent Street, where prices are about $543 a square foot.

But Keith Wilson of Wilson McHardy, retail leasing agent for the Grosvenor Estate, which owns most of the property on the street, said the estate doesn't plan to turn the genteel row of stores into just another shopping destination.

"We're trying to avoid making yet another Bond Street," Wilson said. "I don't think it will ever be a busy street — it's on a much higher level in terms of the quality of [shops]."

Part of the appeal for fashion brands is that besides labels such as Marc Jacobs and Emperor Moth, a Russian label designed by Katia Gomiashvili, the street's 18th-century red brick buildings house businesses such as Allen's, a 170-year-old butcher shop that's a favorite of Prince Charles, and Mount Street Printers, which is known for its bespoke stationery.

"Mount Street and [the adjoining] South Audley Street are certainly appealing to [designer] brands seeking atypical locations away from Bond Street or Sloane Street," Wilson said.Gomiashvili, who opened her store there in 2006, agreed. "It's not a shopping street," she said. "You don't have customers stumbling around there. People who come here, come especially to go to the restaurants, or because they live here, or they come to go the park."

The street's ambience was also a factor in Robert Duffy's decision to locate a Marc Jacobs store there. "This area has more charm and appeal," said Duffy, president of Marc Jacobs. "The retail spaces here are...beautiful, deep and interesting."

And Wilson said the Grosvenor Estate, whose chairman, the Duke of Westminster, is Britain's richest landowner, doesn't plan to replace all the street's long-term leaseholders with glitzy boutiques. "We want to see a complete mix of retail," Wilson said. "We don't want to force people out. The idea is that there will always be a reason for people to keep coming back to the street. We wouldn't want to see a particular sector dominating the street."

Wilson added that although rents are rising, the Grosvenor Estate is "pragmatic" about different brands' ability to meet rising real estate value. "They won't impose rents," he said. "A florist can't pay the same rent as someone who sells jewelry."

And while the street's growing appeal has meant it's now a more costly location, the thoroughfare still represents less than half the rental outlay required to open a store on Bond Street or Sloane Street. "If you notice, there has been a downturn in other parts of Mayfair," said William Asprey, chairman of William & Son, who set up a silverware, jewelry and crystal store at 14 Mount Street in 2000, after his family sold its share in Asprey & Garrard in 1995. "The rates on Bond Street have become far too high [and] the street has lost its character. It's been taken over by the large brands."

Wilson acknowledged that with major fashion brands opening flagships, the atmosphere will no doubt change. "I've seen a lot more people wandering around, and since Balenciaga opened we're receiving two to three phone calls [from retailers] each day about the street."Balenciaga opened a 29,000-square-foot store at 12 Mount Street, the first in the U.K.

But Paul Davies, a designer and developer who's set to open a Maison of Luxury on the street later this year, said its Mayfair location will ensure the neighborhood retains a tony charm.

"I just think it will become the Rodeo Drive of London, where people will be able to pull up in a beautiful car, and then step out into a very pleasant street," Davies said. "It's not going to be a high-density shopping street, and I think that's what people want."

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