Covent Garden Undergoing Transformation

The neighborhood's covered market has become the heart of a dynamic retail project.

Covent Garden in London.

Covent Garden, which until recently was best known for its street performers, troops of student tourists and quirky stalls in the central piazza’s covered market, is rapidly undergoing a transformation into a retail hub with a focus on fashion, beauty — and youth.

This story first appeared in the November 26, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

London real estate developer Capco has been seeking to give the neighborhood more of a luxury edge while still preserving its youth-oriented vigor and bohemian flair.

“We’re definitely focused on luxury — but not exclusively,” said Beverley Churchill, Capco’s marketing and communications director. “We want it to be a very democratic neighborhood with a broad appeal.”

Churchill, a former marketing director at Selfridges, said that unlike Mayfair and Knightsbridge, there are no anchor department stores in the neighborhood.

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“So I took the logic of the department store with me to Covent Garden, thinking of the covered market as the ground floor with lots of color and great food, and the streets off the piazza as different retail departments.”

This month, Dior opened a stand-alone beauty concept store in the building that encloses the covered market. The Dior unit joined a stand-alone Chanel beauty boutique and shops such as Links of London, L’Occitane en Provence, Penhaligon’s and Tea Palace.

According to industry sources, Burberry Beauty is planning to open a freestanding store in Covent Garden, not far from its competitors, although both Capco and Burberry have declined to comment.

Aesop opened a shop in July on nearby King Street, joining Jo Malone and Aveda, which is on Russell Street, also in the neighborhood. Over the summer, MAC Cosmetics moved to a larger, two-story shop closer to the piazza, on James Street.

On the fashion front, Opening Ceremony opened its first European outpost in fall 2012 on King Street, and Y-3 opened on Floral Street late this summer.

Unlike Mayfair and Knightsbridge, Covent Garden does not rely on international tourism to boost sales. “We bucked the normal trend, and about six or seven years ago, we focused on reconnecting with Londoners,” said Churchill.

She added that just over 50 percent of Covent Garden’s 44 million annual visitors are London residents, and there is a definite focus on the Generation Y audience from around the world.

In 2010, the world’s then-biggest Apple store opened on the edge of the piazza. In October, Sir Paul McCartney was clearly looking to tap into Covent Garden’s Generation Y customers when he chose the piazza for his London pop-up show. He sang four songs from his latest album, “New,” from a truck parked on the piazza — having broken the news on Twitter just an hour before.

The neighborhood is also serving as a testing ground for new concepts: The British footwear, accessories and ready-to-wear brand Hobbs chose Covent Garden for the site of its first new-generation retail flagship, which opened in September on Long Acre, across from the Covent Garden tube station and near Marks & Spencer.

This month, Blow Ltd. Fast Beauty — a full-service, in-and-out beauty bar — was opened in St. Martin’s Courtyard, not far from the Leicester Square tube station.

The services — blow-dry, makeup, nails — range from 15 to 30 minutes, with products, advice and booking services available online as well as in-store. The company describes its services as “high-end fast food” for beauty, and there are plans to roll out the concept to other London neighborhoods.

Rents in the area are also less expensive, with prices per square foot roughly half those of Mayfair. According to Cushman & Wakefield’s most recent world retail report, prices on Mayfair’s uberprime New Bond Street are now $1,047 a square foot.

Next up for Capco is a revitalization of Covent Garden’s Floral Street, “which starts out brilliantly with Paul Smith, and then runs out of breath around the Sanctuary [spa].”

The developer is planning a 15,000-square-foot retail space on the street, having spent 89 million pounds, or $140 million, buying up property in that area. “Because if you own it,” Churchill said, “you can control it.”