When Breitling decided to moved its London flagship from Bond Street to Regent Street in February last year, it could not have anticipated the dramatic impact on retail and real estate in central London that the pandemic was about to unleash.
The new two-storey showroom on Regent Street was forced to close for six out of its first 12 months in operation, but its exciting industrial loft concept was soon pulling in punters and repositioning Breitling as a casual luxury brand with a social conscience.
But what to do with Bond Street?
The Mayfair unit, with 87 feet of prime street level frontage on Bond Street and Grosvenor Street, is still operating as a Breitling boutique, but its pop art interior is now out of step with the watchmaker’s carefully crafted new image.
Commercial real estate giant CBRE still has the unit listed for £1.6 million per year plus an estimated rates bill of £442,780.
Anybody who has visited the West End of London over the summer will know that footfall on Bond Street is a fraction of its usual level as wealthy tourists from Asia and the Middle East have been forced to stay at home.
Breitling would have hoped to have been shot of the unit over a year ago, but the pandemic has nobbled that plan, so it stumbles on.
Refitting a store is expensive, and it is unlikely Breitling’s UK team wanted to throw good money after bad, but there was an opportunity to put the Bond Street store to better use, and at least keep the look and feel of the space on brand.
The Breitling team in America has provided a template London might have followed in the form of a pop-up store in New York.
Breitling moved into a midtown Manhattan pop up space because its flagship is closed for renovation.
Instead of creating a scaled down version of the industrial loft theme, the team instead went all out to promote the brightly colored Superocean Heritage ’57 Pastel Paradise Capsule Collection and the brand’s carefully crafted association with surf culture.
It uses pastel shades to light up the space in a way that may appeal more to female customers than the regular stores that feature more masculine themes including motorcycles, aviation, surfing and motoring, which is another part of CEO Georges Kern’s mission to soften the image of Breitling.