It is amazing what you can learn walking the length of London’s Old and New Bond Street in the height of summer, as I did this morning.
You may already have seen a couple of brief news stories I wrote about damage to the Rolex boutique run by Watches of Switzerland, where somebody has managed to puncture the store front window and crack the glass from floor to ceiling.
And the fact that work has begun on a large expansion of Patek Philippe’s directly run boutique, with branded scaffolding appearing this week as work begins to knock through to a neighbouring unit.
Scaffolding has become an advertising opportunity for brands as they redevelop retail space.
Burberry and Gucci both had towering branded scaffolding in front of construction sites for properties on Bond Street. Both are not removed. In the case of Burberry, the work is complete and a capacious new store has reopened.
Gucci must be close. That is good news for Watches of Switzerland, which is taking over the old Gucci building at No.34 and turning it into an enormous Rolex store and exhibition space.
I will be keeping an eye out for the Rolex branded scaffolding appearing, which will signal the start of a building project that could take up to a year to complete in such a historic property.
Tourist tax is biting
In addition to scanning the real estate, I also keep a keen eye on the people up and down the luxury shopping thoroughfare, and this tells an entirely different story.
While Mayfair is usually teeming with overseas visitors at this time of year, it looked like an almost entirely domestic crowd during my stroll at 11am this morning.
Flagship stores for the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, Hermes and Chanel would normally have velvet ropes and security outside to manage queues of Asian and Middle Eastern customers.
Today I saw only pasty looking Brits on the pavements, and none of them were queuing with that rapacious retail therapy look in their eyes. Rishi Sunak’s tourist tax is biting.
Freddie Mercury pulls in the crowds
There was one queue on Bond Street today, and it snaked for almost 100 metres out of Sotheby’s auction house, where an exhibition of Freddie Mercury’s possessions is taking place.
The exhibition is taking place ahead of a series of auctions that take place from September 6 to 11 for art, fashion, musical instruments, personal papers, photographs, furniture, and jewels, accrued over the course of fifty years by the Queen singer.
He was clearly not a watch collector, because I can find only one timepiece among over 700 lots, a vintage ruby, sapphire, emerald, onyx and diamond fob watch, dating from around 1925, which is expected to sell for eight grand.
Al Fresco Retail
One final observation came from a gathering of journalists at the Hermes flagship, where an exhibition of its exquisite watchmaking was on show.
Here, I enjoyed catching up with friends in the press over pastries while taking in the sun on an outdoor terrace on the showroom’s first floor.
I wrote earlier this month about a trend in the United States for al fresco retail by high end watch brands, but struggled to come up with examples in the UK.
London is a crowded and expensive city, so it is hard to justify devoting valuable space to open air experience, but the Hermes terrace proves there are nooks and crannies throughout Mayfair, if you know where to look and if retailers embrace the great outdoors as a way to elevate customer experience.
Keep your eyes peeled and you may see it emerge as a trend over here too.