London’s Covent Garden, once a touristy area with street performers and eccentric market stalls selling kitschy or novelty objects, paintings and clothing, has bloomed into a lifestyle destination offering a plethora of fashion and beauty brands alongside a series of restaurants and other places to eat.
This story first appeared in the May 18, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
A former convent/monastery in the 13th century, the neighborhood transitioned into an open-air fruit and vegetable market in the 1600s. Additional stalls began popping up in the central square and eventually the space grew into a tourist and shopping destination in the Eighties and houses the British capital’s Royal Opera house. Covent Garden was famously depicted in the 1964 film “My Fair Lady” and its story of fabled flower-seller Eliza Doolittle.
Real estate developer Capco has been working to give the area a more upscale edge. Luxury beauty brands including Chanel, Burberry and Dior have moved into the neighborhood, while the newest residents include Charlotte Tilbury and Nars, which opens in this summer.
“Since Chanel came in for the first pop-up, Dior and Burberry were fighting to get in next to them,” said Capco creative director Beverley Churchill. “It’s just really grown from there.”
The company marks its 10th anniversary this year as well as its 100th brand signing: Sushisamba. Capco spent its first four years developing its vision, cultivating relationships and networks including local stakeholders and residents. When the recession hit in 2009, business stalled, but the developer persisted with its luxury vision.
Its plan was always to focus on a “department store-style” concept in a physical open street.
Their estate has since tripled in size and is now more than a million square feet.
“The first acquisition was about 450 million pounds [$650 million],” Churchill said. “We are now over 2 billion pounds [$2.9 billion] in terms of value in 10 years so it really is a story of almost creating a mini-estate in London.”
Capco’s total investment in the area since 2009 has totaled 540 million pounds, or $780 million. There are 170 retail and restaurant units with 43 residential units. Rents in the area vary, with Capco asking for 600 pounds, or $865, a square foot, according to sources. This year, the area will see the revitalization of Floral Street, near the Covent Garden tube station, and the addition of the Kings Court, which will connect Floral Street to King Street and Carriage Hall, a glass-covered atrium that will be converted into a retail space.
“Floral Street is one of the biggest developments in Covent Garden’s history,” Churchill said. “So it’s a huge piece of work. Our ambition is to take it to the next level. If you think of its history, it was the place where there was lots of innovation. Floral Street had that really cool vibe. Paul Smith is still there and we want to go back to that heritage. We would love to have a mix of premium fashion, diffusion level brands, premium denim and contemporary women’s wear.
“What we are doing is connecting three streets, between Long Acre, Floral Street and James’ Street, creating a new public courtyard, which has a passageway,” she added. “In this there will be two signature restaurants, eight retail spaces and above it 45 apartments. The look and feel will be inspired by the old fruit and vegetable warehouses of Covent Garden. Carriage Hall, which had been our office, was a very quirky set of different office spaces. It has an open courtyard. What we are doing there is covering that and creating a 12,000-square-foot retail space.”
Other developments in the works include a planned revamp to the areas near the entrances to Covent Garden and a project with Ira Drukier and actor Robert De Niro, owners of the Greenwich Hotel in New York.
The firm also noted that crowds have gravitated toward the area once again for its restaurants, which include Shake Shack, Balthazar and The Ivy Market Grill.
“What we are seeing in terms of micro trends within that is the area previously wasn’t shopped by the people who were in the area,” Churchill said. “They all turned their back on Covent Garden and went elsewhere for restaurants and retail. The office population and the residents are now coming back.”
The company said 43 million people visit the area each year, with 45 percent coming from London, 21 percent domestic U.K. and 34 percent international.
Capco’s retail plans include a digital innovation and a bigger accessories offering.
“I think going forward, we want to really challenge ourselves on what we can do to bring the digital experience into Covent Garden; how we do omnichannel from our space and with our brands, and potentially brands that don’t have a physical footprint in the area,” said Sarah-Jane Curtis, Capco’s director of Covent Garden.
“We were really missing out on accessories,” added Churchill. “We’ve got three great new concepts that we’re about to reveal, probably in the next couple of weeks. This will really transform and change [the area’s] personality and shape.”