Easily the most anticipated retail destination - we can’t use ‘shopping centre’ anymore, can we?! - of the year, and the final piece of the huge Kings Cross jigsaw, Coal Drops Yard mirrors the life of the entire area. From industrial power to warehouse parties to sanitised private/public spaces, this could be a micro model of London as a whole over the last 100 years.
Now reimagined by Thomas Heatherwick, who has joined the two ‘Kit-Kat’ pieces with a sweeping roof which lightly touches across the divide. This was the kiss Kings Cross/St Pancras was waiting for and not that cringeworthy sculpture greeting you as you disembark off the Eurostar.
Opening today, with over 50 new stores, it’s currently only about 50% open, and the most stunning aspect, the Samsung store inside the roof, is far from finished.
Firstly, the architecture is great. What could have been clunky, the roof is elegant and sweeping. Reslated in the original Welsh tiles, Heatherwick works his magic and creates something modern yet respectful to the original. This is the human scaled, brick built industrial Britain that is a joy to bring back to life.
Situated just down from Granary Square and up from the main stations, Coal Drops Yard opens out into a generous V shape with two main levels of shops and restaurants. This feels like the type of retail space you want to give yourself time to explore.
There’s also another space on the other side of the main block called Lower Stable Street that is for smaller and start-up businesses. It has touches of the Southbank with the concrete.
There are a few restaurants - Barafina, Casa Pastor and wine bar The Drop, but it feels the mix is too heavy on the retail, today, especially with the need to drive traffic. People don’t need to go shopping anymore, but they do need to eat. You could easily use the space in the middle for market type concepts.
They’ve made an effort to have a mix of brands - COS, Paul Smith, Tom Dixon, Cubitts, Universal Works, Rains, Aesop, Maya Magal, Miller Harris and Le Chocolat and there are a few that are new to me.
You want to explore, but there’s no element of surprise. The retail mix is dry. It’s from the Monocle school of aching design, devoid of personality. This feels like stylish retail from 10 years ago. We’re in the age of Gucci, of bonkers, of wanting-to-get-my-phone-out-and-take-a-picture-mental, not a single one of the finished shop fits was worthy of an Instagram. Even Paul Smith has produced one of the most conservative shop fits I’ve ever seen from him. You’d think he would have tapped into the rave culture history of the site, especially when you consider so many of his more casual clothes would have been worn there.
This is for one type of design customer and I don’t think that’s as aspirational as they think. It’s also needs a destination store. There was lots of talk from the lease manager about going to Paris for inspiration. When didn’t they resurrect Colette here or try a Dover Street Market type concept. It needs a pilgrimage store, or whatever that is in 2018, to get people up from the stations.
I really think Coal Drops Yard has missed a trick by not tapping into the nostalgia for the area. Those clubbers are now in their 40s with money to spend and families to bring. There are exhibitions regarding the history in the Visitors Centre, back in Granary Square, but I would have done more on site to remind people of their happy times spent at The Cross or Bagley’s nightclubs.
As I said, it’s not fully finished and all these things will evolve. When listening to Thomas Heatherwick give his welcoming talk I thought about the reinvention of Covent Garden, which he then mentioned, and was a huge success, and then I thought about the early 90s, when they tried to turn a similar concept, Tobacco Dock, into a similar retail destination. It was the wrong location at the wrong time. This is in a better position, but like I said, they need enough people to know about it to want to walk up from the stations.
I think we’ll see more food outlets eventually and also they need something like a vintage market, similar to Spitalfields, to raise the element of discovery and keep you coming back.
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When did Margate become the epicentre of cool? This once unloved seaside town has seen a renaissance, not only with its minimal Turner Gallery and reopened and vintage inspired Dreamland theme park, but its collection of quirky retro and vintage shops.
Left - Eau De Parfum/GPS 23’34”N - 100ml - £160
Well, it was only a matter of time before Margate would spawn a collection of local brands. The first to catch my eye is Haeckels. Kent’s answer to Aesop, Haeckels is a premium, natural fragrance and skin care brand.
Using local ingredients, most prominently the ‘hand harvested’ seaweed, all Haeckels’ products are formulated in their cliff top lab in Margate where they only use and distill locally growing botanicals, offering the very best anti-oxidant properties.
They hold one of only two licenses in England to harvest seaweed from the English coast. (Margate’s coast is genuinely unique: built on a giant 14 mile long Jurassic chalk reef which makes up 20% of the UK chalk reefs which means its able to nourish families of seaweed not found anywhere else in the world).
The local seaweed forms the base ingredient of the skincare range based on the tradition of 'Thalassotherapy' derived from the Greek word meaning ‘sea’ or ‘ocean’. Thalassotherapy treatments use ocean water, seaweed, ocean mud and marine minerals to treat ailments and enable the body to replenish, remineralise and revitalise to enhance good health for body and mind.
Haeckels was founded in 2012 by film maker, volunteer beach warden and coastal enthusiast Dom Bridges. When Haeckels was starting out Dom would collect seaweed and local botanicals along the Margate coast and bring them bring back to his family kitchen to experiment. Dom’s wife, Jo, soon said it was time to get a proper lab and turn a passion into a business as every saucepan in the kitchen was starting to smell like a skin care product. Taking his wife’s advice he acquired the 'Lab on Cliff Terrace' in 2013 where more product formulas were developed to complete the range.
Right - Chalk Room Diffuser - 100ml - £100
The company has now grown: taking on members of staff whilst still playing an active part in the local community by organising beach cleans and taking part in marine conservation surveys.
Haeckels currently has two stores: one in Margate, the other in Shoreditch and has just gone into Selfridges. They are planning the world's first Victorian sea bathing sauna on Margate beach. Watch this space.