London fashion week: retail palaces confirm city's pedigree

Tom Ford, Alexander McQueen, Longchamp and Paul Smith unveil new or refurbished stores to mark sartorial celebration

"British customers are among the most discerning and stylish in the world," says Tom Ford of his investment in a London store which opens this weekend.

Ford is not alone in this view. London fashion week will also see the opening, or upgraded reopening, of new landmark boutiques for Belstaff, Alexander McQueen, Longchamp and Paul Smith.

The trend for retail muscle-flexing on Bond Street, Sloane Street and Regent Street reflects a resurgence of self-confidence in the British fashion industry, as well as the nascent economic upturn. British Fashion Council chief executive Caroline Rush believes that they are "a great signifier for London. British and international brands now consider London the go-to destination for fashion."

Bond Street will be closed to traffic on Saturday evening for a motorbike parade celebrating the opening of the Belstaff store. Harry Slatkin, vice-chairman and chief executive of Belstaff – the recently revived British luxury label whose motorcycle jackets have been worn by Hollywood stars from Steve McQueen to Johnny Depp – said this week that he "wants the British Fashion Council to know that we are committed to helping establish London as a major fashion capital".

In fact, the style and ambition of the new retail palaces suggest London is already secure in its status in the fashion world.

Sarah Burton will unveil the first new look for an Alexander McQueen store since she took over on the death of the designer. In the store, moulded plaster panels feature wings, shells, cactus flowers, mushroom gills, seahorse tails and the skulls that are a house motif. The velvet sofas feature solid bronze animal feet: gazelle hooves and monster claws.

"It's very McQueen to see something from a distance and think it's one thing and then to look up close and discover something else," said Burton of the design. At Paul Smith's new Mayfair store, a trio of small drawings by Smith are cast into the facade's iron panels. "We talked about the element of surprise always found in Paul's clothes," said architects 6A of the project.

Tom Ford, legendary for his insistence on 360-degree control over every element of his company and brand, has devised the ultimate finishing touch: a perfume specifically created for the store. Private Blend London is described as a "rich and spiced, woody animalic fragrances [which] captures London's cultural vibrancy and unique dynamic between elegant, urbane composure and sometimes scandalous carnal amusements."


Jess Cartner-Morley

The GuardianTramp

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