Kat Hopps discovers why younger buyers are choosing to call Mayfair home, and why the prime central London location has become the capital’s most fashionable address
It’s time that Mayfair had a new vocabulary. Seismic changes are afoot in this well-heeled district, which has long been an enclave of exclusivity, refinement and tradition. A new identity is emerging and it’s hip, dynamic and modern. Make no mistake, Mayfair’s affluence still flows through its pristine streets but an excitable buzz accompanies it – along with a spate of new sumptuous property developments, international fashion retailers and fashionable restaurants.
Peter Wetherell, Founder and Chief Executive of Wetherell estate agent – and the man in the know – believes the changes are significant. ‘It’s the most exciting decade Mayfair has seen for 100 years,’ he says.
It’s an argument justified by a simple stroll around Mayfair’s garden squares, which speak volumes about what’s coming in and what’s on the way out. Preparations are already underway for the exit of the US Embassy to Battersea in 2017. Luxury residential developer Finchatton Residences, which bought the former nearby US Navy Building at 20 Grosvenor Square, is in the process of creating 36 luxurious apartments, due for completion in 2017. And take Mount Street, which was once a quiet thoroughfare home to quaint antique dealers: now international fashion emporiums vie for an enviable position in fashion’s new heartland – Alexander Wang and Roksanda Ilincic amongst them.
Modernity is having an intoxicating effect and buyers are returning in droves to an area more commonly associated with commercial residences, auction houses and embassy buildings. ‘Our buyers are getting younger and they’re spending more money,’ Wetherell says. ‘They are working in media and technology and are making a lot of money.’
According to agent Knight Frank, Mayfair saw a 4% rise in the number of buyers in their 30s between 2010 and 2014 compared with the period from 2006 to 2010, while there was a 4% decrease in buyers in their 50s over the same time. But why now?
Put simply, residential development is booming. ‘Mayfair has not had a residential pipeline with such an overwhelming focus on quality for several decades,’ says Knight Frank in its 2014 Mayfair report, and the explanation for the surge has its roots in World War II. After families failed to return to the Blitz-bombed capital, former residences were granted temporary office permissions by local governments, licences that only began expiring between the 1970s and 1990s.
Grosvenor Estates, which owns swathes of Mayfair, seized the opportunity in the latter decade to banish these licences and restore Mayfair as a residential area. Consequently, 674 new private units have been built in the area since 1994, with a further 447 units planned.
The key difference between present and past, however, is the larger scale of these developments, allowing planners the capacity to introduce the private spas, swimming pools, lavish portered entrances and underground parking that have until now been the domain of nearby Kensington and Chelsea.
Harvey Cyzer, Partner at Knight Frank, and the head of its Mayfair and St James’ offices, says it’s having a noticeable effect. ‘Properties with high-end facilities are pulling more people back to live in Mayfair who ordinarily might not have thought about living there,’ he says.
Peter Wetherell goes even further, stating that the new schemes are enabling Mayfair to finally rid itself of some of the ‘pretty hideous architecture’ that was established in the 1930s and 1960s. One of the newer developments he mentions is Clarges Mayfair – sold by British Land and currently under construction – a residential scheme of 34 uber-luxe private units with premium lifestyle services. Half were soft launched on the quiet last summer to test the market. ‘By the end of our pre-marketing period, we had sold over £200m worth of property,’ he says.
Keeping in step with this chic new image is the hip fashion brigade that has been descending en masse to Mayfair since Marc Jacobs arrived on Mount Street in 2007. The street’s public-realm improvement programme in 2010 provided the wider pavements, parking space expansion, improved lighting and simplified crossings to match the immaculate outlets – and now it’s a beacon for luxury brands from Balenciaga and Christopher Kane to Oscar de la Renta and watchmaker Richard Mille.
And it’s not just Mount Street: South Audley Street has just welcomed the arrival of a 1,350-square-foot Balmain flagship store and Alexander Wang is set to open his eponymous store on Albermarle Street this July. Soon-to-be retail neighbour and British fashion designer Amanda Wakeley, who launched her flagship store here in 2014, is feeling positive. ‘We are seeing more of the traditional Bond Street shoppers on the street and we are definitely noticing an influx of new clients in the store,’ she says. ‘We chose Mayfair for the location because it is central and chic – we are also surrounded by London’s exciting and creative art scene on Dover Street.’
Nothing signifies Mayfair’s new-found coolness better than the current dining scene. Characteristically known for starched collars, fine dining and stuffy service, a more relaxed vibe is being brought to Mayfair tables, bridging the gap for fashionable foodies who appreciate a concept as much as they do good food. Mayfair may be home to 21 Michelin-starred restaurants, but hipster outlets now sit alongside super-fine dining, previously confined to the likes of Shoreditch and Soho.
Hotels have also been revived, Claridges and The Lanesborough included, while The Beaumont, a 50-room five-star hotel that opened in 2014, has upped the ante with an Art Deco-style interior, hammam, spa, and 24-hour gym.
The question is whether Mayfair’s trendy image can be sustained? The completion of Crossrail, a new high-frequency railway for London, in 2018 will bring an additional 65,000 visitors to Bond Street a day, sure to keep trend-setters working overtime to find new interesting places for shoppers to peruse, drink and eat. Peter Wetherell estimates that the next stage of residential development will also see a new wave of diplomatic buildings moving out. ‘In five years, you’re going to see the biggest change in Grosvenor Square since the 1920s,’ he says.
Ultra-prime and ultra-cool, buyers are falling over themselves to get a foothold on this attractive-looking ladder – move over Kensington and Chelsea, Mayfair has got its sexy back.