The balance of power is shifting in Mayfair, and men are no longer the dominant sex. The Resident pays tribute to the area’s influential women…
Words: Nick Hammond
It was once the bastion of red-braced banking behemoths, but these days, Mayfair is different. There aren’t so many city chaps, for a start. And hardly any of them enjoy regular marathon lunch sessions anymore. The world has moved on and this enclave of exclusivity has moved with it.
These days, the powerbrokers in Mayfair are just as likely to be ladies as gents – and the place is all the better for it.
‘It’s changed a lot,’ says Emma Willis, who opened her bespoke shirt makers in Jermyn Street back in the 90s when the power lunch and the striped shirt still ruled the roost.
‘Our first customer base was very traditional, but over the years it has subtly changed. The peak of the hedge fund era really made the big change for us; my customers were suddenly wearing earrings; they had their own style and money.’
Founder of the Style for Soldiers charity, which provides complimentary bespoke shirts, walking sticks and accessories to injured members of the British Armed Forces, Willis has been awarded an MBE and her Mayfair shop is a delight to visit; luxurious wooden interiors and a vast range of colours and materials to browse through. But while that sense of luxury and tradition is important, she says it is the fine detail and craftsmanship of her shirts that makes the brand.
‘It’s very important to me to employ local people at our factory in Gloucester to keep alive the highly-skilled traditions of the seamstress,’ she says. ‘There are so few British-made things these days. We are proud to be one of them.’
Mayfair’s kitchens may have launched the careers of a host of lauded chefs, but the days of foaming-at-the-mouth machismo have largely receded to memory. And it’s no fluke that this has also coincided with the rise of the female chef
Mayfair’s kitchens may have launched the careers of a host of lauded chefs, but the days of the pot-bashing, foaming-at-the-mouth machismo have largely receded to memory. And it’s no fluke that this has also coincided with the rise of the female chef.
‘Mayfair customers will stay with you for life,’ says Angela Hartnett. Since working for years alongside celebrated chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing, she has opened her own Michelin-starred ventures; Murano in Mayfair and Café Murano in St James’s.
‘They are very loyal, as long as they feel they are getting what they pay for. And that may sometimes still be an all-afternoon lunch with several bottles of wine, or just a couple of courses and a glass of wine. We feel we cover both options; Murano for fine dining and Café Murano for a more relaxed version.’
Hélène Darroze is also at the culinary vanguard; with three Michelin stars and restaurants in Paris, Moscow and London, she replaced Hartnett at The Connaught when the hotel underwent refurbishment.
Kathryn Sargent is cutting a swathe through traditional Mayfair masculinity. She runs her eponymous bespoke tailoring service from outlets in both Savile Row and Brook Street, and while traditionalists may splutter at the thought of a lady cutter measuring them up, both high-powered gents and ladies now visit her for stylistic advice.
The magic of Mayfair is the real blend of elements of luxury living. There’s the large international brands with flagship stores as well as more artisanal brands and crafts like Savile Row
‘I think that the magic of Mayfair is the real blend of elements of luxury living,’ she says. ‘There’s the large international brands and their flagship stores to the adjacent streets of smaller, more artisanal brands and crafts like Savile Row, where you can get truly personal service and still have handmade luxury products made to order. This, layered with the history of the area and its vibrant bars and restaurants, is what attracts people from around the globe.’
Have you heard of Alison Nimmo? Perhaps not, but she’s helping shape the way Mayfair will look 50 years from now. She is Chief Executive of the Crown Estate – overseeing a property portfolio in excess of £10 billion. As well as vast tracts of London of course, the Crown also owns property, estates and even seabed dotted around the country. A major refurbishment and modernisation of Crown Estate property in St James’s and Jermyn Street is currently underway.
Then there is the ‘queen of the curve’ Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born architect whose works now stand in memoriam around the world. Tragically, she suffered a fatal heart attack in 2016, but her practice and ideas live on.
And, of course, it would be remiss not to mention the greatest female influence of them all – Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II herself. She is inextricably linked with Mayfair; Buckingham Palace sits on its borders – and she was born in Bruton Street. The most powerful of them all…