LONDON — First came the ravers, followed by the Potterheads. Now it’s time for fashion and lifestyle retailers to take over King’s Cross. They’re setting up shop or moving their headquarters right near the station to the new 100 million pound development designed by Heatherwick Studios called Coal Drops Yard.
Located alongside Regent’s Canal, near Central Saint Martins, the two-story destination will open its iron gates to the public on Friday, with stores including Wolf & Badger, Samsung, Beija London, Nike, Paul Smith, Margaret Howell and Maya Magal.
The area has had many lives: It was known for its rave scene in the Eighties and Nineties, and also served as a home for squatters and sex workers. By the early Aughts, it was gripped by Harry Potter mania, as the train from King’s Cross became the fictional route to Hogwarts.
Now retail is having its moment: British property developer Argent had the herculean task of building a shopping destination to rival those of Oxford Street, Covent Garden and Bond Street, keeping in mind the changes in consumer spending, fears about Brexit and the advent of online shopping.
“We had to ask ourselves, ‘What is the function of physical retail now, and what is the role of the shop?’” said Craig White, senior project developer at Argent. He decided to build with a design-led strategy and a focus on the area’s history. Each retailer taking part in the Coal Drops Yard project had to embrace King’s Cross’ past and create a compelling interiors story.
The catchment area is ideal for retailers: The new project is located near large residential developments and is surrounded by international corporations including Google, Facebook and Universal Music. It is also adjacent to St. Pancras station, with train links to the rest of the U.K., France and Belgium.
According to White, there are close to 2,000 homes in the area housing about 5,000 residents and a workforce of 50,000 people alongside 5,500 students and 1,000 lecturers from CSM. Thanks to those adjacencies, Coal Drops Yard is set to see 20 million visitors annually with a projected annual retail spend of 1.2 billion pounds.
“These are premium residential areas and 85 percent of all our buyers are residential Londoners and Brits, as well as quite a few Chinese and Asian buyers,” White said of the consumer demographic. “Students are spending, too, about 300 pounds per basket at 18 Montrose [the multibrand contemporary fashion store] whereas the lecturers are spending 1,000 pounds a basket — they are very powerful spenders.”
While the demographic surrounding Coal Drops Yard is diverse with plans to draw an international clientele, the new stores are meant to act as glue between the different neighborhoods, creating a new London community.
Retail will only make up a third of the stores, whereas local amenity shops will make up the rest. “We wanted to bring together our wider community and create a place that is very democratic with a homely ambience, and that also applies for retail as well,” White said.
He also wanted to bring back the tradition of shopkeeping: His company spoke to 1,200 retail brands and chose the 65 fashion, jewelry, dining and lifestyle names that offered the most compelling interiors stories.
Lifestyle boutique Wolf & Badger has taken over three floors of the building at the start of the street. Wolf & Badger has also relocated its offices and photographic studios to the new site.
“We are so keen on having these bigger experiential spaces and building a creative hub that can service everyone at every step of the day,” said Samantha Emson, global head of public relations at Wolf & Badger.
The 12,000-square-foot flagship is ambitious and inclusive. Aside from women’s and men’s wear, the space will be home to Freddie Grubb, a classic bicycle manufacturer; florist Edie Rose Designs; stationer Papersmiths, and an antiques section that will stock items including Japanese silk screens, bronze vases and decorative rugs.
“There’s something for everyone and we are also doing events such as yoga morning sessions in the atrium. We’re very conscious of the demographic of the local area and we want to be a one-stop lifestyle hub that’s ever evolving,” Emson said, who also pointed out that brands stocked at the store will rotate every six months.
To create a draw for consumers, the majority of brands stocked at Wolf & Badger will be independent American labels that have yet to hit the U.K. market, including The Vintage Twin, Lindsay Nicholas, Previse and Bassigue.
“We’re able to present an edit of some of our favorite stores that we traditionally have not had the space to work with and the area is a wonderful mix of new and established brands and concepts,” said Henry Graham, creative director and cofounder of Wolf & Badger.
The lifestyle store will be a magnet for visitors and act as a guide to other consumer touchpoints at Coal Drops Yard. “Each store is strategically placed,” White said. A furniture store will help traffic flow better — furniture draws fewer, less frenzied customers — while dining areas are meant to even out the flow of the space and smaller retailers will be able to take advantage of being near more internationally known brands.
“We’re about encouraging smaller brands and giving them an affordable platform. Where else can a smaller retailer park next to Paul Smith?” White added. “At the same time, it brings an energy and creativity and makes these established brands raise their game.”
Founders Mazie Fisher and Abbie Miranda from Beija London, the lingerie brand said they had trialed different areas of London with pop-ups and when the Coal Drops Yard opportunity came up. “We knew it would be a good fit. Everyone on the team felt confident to take the gamble on this totally new shopping district,” Fisher said.
For his part, White was looking for a brand that could act as a foil to the 19th-century architecture. The 1850s cobblestones, original brickwork and iron viaducts provided now serve as a backdrop for silk lingerie.
Margaret Howell, too, said she felt the industrial setting of Coal Drops Yard reflected the utilitarian style of her brand. For Paul Smith, it felt like a homecoming. “I’ve been traveling in and out of King’s Cross for decades and have seen it evolve. I’m filling the store with a series of little rooms that will house different things,” he said, mentioning that one of the highlights is a changing room covered with 100,000 yen coins.
Also joining the community is contemporary jewelry brand Maya Magal, Coal Drops Yard’s first resident jeweler. This will be the brand’s third store and they are aiming to make it as experiential as possible — a jeweler’s bench will be positioned in-store, allowing the customer to view the design process.
“We want our space to be inviting and interactive, not intimidating or fussy and break down these barriers that exist in traditional jewelry shops,” said Maya Magal, founder of the brand.
“We want you to buy things you never intended on buying,” said White regarding the curation of the space, which is also home to Samsung’s 20,000-square-foot flagship store.
“It’s a social place and easily accessible with lifts and staircases and lots of entryways from the canal. We call it the Sunday morning effect. It’s a place for you to share things with because the environment is constantly changing, which means you can constantly keep sharing stuff with your friends and family,” White said.