London’s Kings Cross is an area that has lived multiple lives. Once an industrial hub that linked the capital to the north of England in the 1900s, to a derelict, impoverished wasteland following the Second World War, and then a hotspot for warehouse raves that drew in the city’s hedonistic creatives in the 1990s.
Since the dawn of this century, the area stretching from the iconic Saint Pancras station to Regents Canal and beyond, has been rapidly evolving into its next, future-proof iteration: a lively, modern community which will be home to some of the world’s largest companies (Google, Nike, Universal Music and Facebook, to name a few), alongside schools, restaurants, bars, housing and retail destinations.
The latest, Coal Drops Yard, opens today. Sitting next to Central Saint Martins university, the Heatherwick Studio-designed space takes its name from its history: the two long red brick warehouses were built in 1850 to store and distribute coal to the city. Now, two “kissing” rooftops connect the buildings, which will house over 50 businesses — bars, restaurants and a curated collection of stores — to create a new community within Kings Cross. “We want Coal Drops Yard to have a unique personality that is born out of its history and subculture, to what it is today,” says Craig White, senior retail director at Argent, the property developers responsible for the rejuvenation of not only Coal Drops Yard, but all 67 acres of the Kings Cross estate.
Paul Smith, Margaret Howell and COS stores sit alongside CSM graduates Lost Property of London, lingerie brand Beija London, Emin & Paul and rainwear label Rains, who were drawn to the thoughtful brand mix as well as the visually striking retail environment. “You want to make sure you’re amongst like minded brands,” says Tom Bettinson, UK country manager of Rains. “We’re really proud of the space and we think it’s something our customers will quite like, because that’s what Coal Drops Yard offers: a new version of retail,” he says. “It’s not a mall or a shopping centre, it’s a nice row of shops where everyone is doing something similar but a bit different.”
“What we wanted to do was work with brands that had a really big bandwidth, they would offer something from £5 to £10,000 in their space,” says White. “We always talk about being respectful, welcoming and democratic, and that’s what guided us with our brand [selection.]” While words like “democratic” and “welcoming” aren’t usually associated with luxury, White believes that widening the definition of luxury is crucial to the identity of Coal Drops Yard. “We don’t think luxury is a product, we think it’s time,” he says. “If you give us your time, that’s the most valuable commodity you have in your life — it’s rare and therefore it’s a luxury. It’s about thinking through things a little bit differently.”
“Your retail strategy should come out of your area...It shouldn’t be global, it’s about the community”
Planting the seeds of an authentic community is at the heart of the project, believes White. “Your retail strategy should come out of your area,” he explains. “It shouldn’t be global, it’s about the community — we want to create a community of shopkeepers.”
Placing established and emerging brands side by side creates opportunities for collaboration and mentorship. “We split it into categories —womenswear, menswear, unisex, accessories, beauty, footwear — taking the same view as if we were running a department store,” says White. “When you do that, you find that you don’t have that many stores for each category. We were able to really target brands, but we wanted them to all become friends...we’ve just opened and they all know each other, they’re already starting to collaborate.”
With the launch of Coal Drops Yard, White’s work here is largely done: he’s ready to pass the baton on to the retailers who will keep the sense of community, collaboration, engagement and entertainment alive. “We hope — and the true test will be in a years time, when you’ll be able to tell whether Coal Drops Yard has been successful — that people also feel that,” he says. “We build buildings, but our skills is choosing the right people, the right retailers. It’s their job now to be the stewards of the area.”