On a recent visit to Covent Garden I noted a new proliferation of luxury brands trading from the Piazza. On approaching the Piazza from James Street one is confronted with stores by historic luxury brands Chanel, Dior and Burberry. These new stores make up part of Covent Garden’s ‘Beauty Quarter’. According to the Covent Garden website “In just two years, Covent Garden’s Beauty Quarter has become a mecca for luxury beauty, now housing the most stand-alone beauty boutiques within one square mile in London” (Covent.garden.london, 2015).
In 2010 the New West End Company and Heart of London Business Alliance established London’s Luxury Quarter. This newly branded and mapped area encompasses Mayfair, St James’s and Piccadilly. It,
…presents a unique and exclusive experience for fashion lovers, retail tourists and history buffs encompassing 53 iconic streets, arcades and lanes catering for discerning shoppers seeking out the best of British and international flagship stores as well as niche discovery brands (londonluxuryquarter.com, 2016).
London Luxury Quarter’s website (2016) states that it “is positioned as [a] global destination and is marketed worldwide with an estimated £3bn retail spend per year attracting visitors from a multitude of countries.”
According to King (2016) “London is home to more luxury retailers than any other European city, making the capital of the United Kingdom attractive for brands looking to cement a bricks-and-mortar presence in a strong market.” King (2016) reports that growth in the luxury sector “has been propelled by international tourists from China and the Middle East.”
The growth of this luxury market in central London appears at great odds with the current retail climate where I live in Wood Green, a north London suburb in the borough of Haringey. Wood Green is Haringey’s commercial centre and recently there has been a spate of closures of well-known high street brands. Topshop, Topman, Dorothy Perkins and Wallis have all stopped trading in the past year or so, but the closure most lamented by locals is Marks & Spencer. M&S had been trading on this high street site for over a hundred years, since 1913. In his Guardian article (2015) Ruddick explains, “M&S is attempting to adapt its collection of stores to cope with the rise in online sales and a slowdown in clothing sales.” Despite a petition and support from local councilors, Wood Green was no longer a financially viable location for Marks & Spencer.
Marks & Spencer, Wood Green 1958 (image from Tottenham Independent)
According to Haringey.gov,
Haringey is an exceptionally diverse and fast-changing borough. We have a population of 267,540 according to 2014 Office for National Statistics Mid Year Estimates. Almost two-thirds of our population, and over 70% of our young people, are from ethnic minority backgrounds, and over 100 languages are spoken in the borough. Our population is the fifth most ethnically diverse in the country. The borough ranks among the most deprived in the country with pockets of extreme deprivation in the east. Haringey is the 30th most deprived borough in England and the 6th most deprived in London. (2016)
Rashid (2011) describes Wood Green as “Haringey’s commercial centre, awash with mobile phone and sportswear shops, low-end chains and discount stores.” Wood Green is two miles away from Tottenham and in 2011 the High Road was subject to both protests sparked by the police shooting of Mark Duggan in addition to well- documented looting.
The rise of the luxury brand in central London alongside the demise of the high-street store described above suggests an ongoing stratification and separation of centre and periphery of the global city. Whilst the centre caters to wealthy tourists keen to consume high-end and ‘heritage’ brands, the retail environment of the periphery caters to an equally diverse population, albeit one of much lower social economic class.
According to figures published by Haringey.gov (2016) Wood Green retail has a 3.3% vacancy rate (the national average is 13.7%). This suggests that despite its problems Wood Green’s retail sector remains buoyant and that retail spaces are both desirable and profitable. It is still a ‘bricks and mortar’ retail location.
Wood Green is less than seven miles away from Mayfair but it is like another city or town, both visually as well as in its economy. It is Wood Green’s particular visuality that I am exploring in (work in progress) video ‘The Brand Nobody Knows’. Taking its title from (Writer) Geoffrey Fletcher and (Director) Norman Cohen’s 1969 film “the London Nobody Knows” – a 45 minute documentary capturing a ‘dying’ post-war and post-Victorian London – my video ‘The Brand Nobody Knows’ seeks to capture the remnants of a previous iteration of the local high street, one which is not prone to the machinery of the superbrand and transnational company. At once global and parochial, ‘exotic’ and quotidian, this ‘other’ London high street is a zone of conflicting ideologies, aesthetics and consumer practices. My video will trace and question the informal and asymmetric economies and vernacular aesthetic of such a high street and its products. It will consider the abuttal and resistance to the global brand identities and values of the Anthropocene.
This year there has been a big consultation on the future of Wood Green – there is money for ‘regeneration’. I intend my video to function as an elegy to a particular aesthetic moment in Wood Green’s history; a complicated and problematic celebration of this frustrating and interesting place.
I will be documenting the making of the video on this blog as well as the development of my paper. Feedback most welcome!
List of Works Cited
Coventgarden.london (2015) Available at https://www.coventgarden.london/beauty-quarter-covent-garden (accessed 25/05/16)
Haringey.gov (2016) ‘Local context for drivers and change’ PDF from The future of Wood Green, Available at http://www.haringey.gov.uk/regeneration/wood-green/future-wood-green (accessed 25/05/16)
Haringey.gov (2015) Figures about Haringey, Available at http://www.haringey.gov.uk/social-care-and-health/health/joint-strategic-needs-assessment/figures-about-haringey (accessed 27/05/16)
King, J. (2016) ‘London Luxury Quarter boasts strongest retails sales in Western Europe:report’ in Luxury Daily: the news leaser in luxury marketing, 28 March [online] available at https://www.luxurydaily.com/london-luxury-quarter-boasts-strongest-retail-sales-in-western-europe-report/(accessed 27/05/16)
Londonluxuryquarter.com (2016) Available at http://www.londonluxuryquarter.com/about/ (accessed 27/05/16)
LSECities (nd) Super-diverse streets: economies and spaces of urban migration in UK cities, Available at https://lsecities.net/objects/research-projects/super-diverse-streets (accessed 27/05/16)
Rashid, N. (2011) ‘Behind the wood green riots: a chance to stick two fingers up at the police, in The Guardian, 5 September [online] Available at http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/sep/05/behind-the-riots-wood-green (accessed 27/05/16)
Ruddick, G. (2015) ‘Marks & Spencer triggers local anger after confirming store closures’ 29 July 2015 in The Guardian [online] Available at https://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jul/29/marks-spencer-local-anger-confirming-store-closures-nine-shops (accessed 25/05/16)
Tungate, M. (2008) Fashion Brands: branding style from Armani to Zara, 3rd Edition. Reprint, London, Philadelphia, New Delhi: Kogan Page Ltd., 2015