The great British bounce back

Vanessa Kingori MBE, the first female publisher of British GQ, tells us why when it comes to luxury retail London will always ben streets ahead of the competition.

London remains the world’s most promising city for luxury retail growth, despite troubles faced by the Brexit vote ,various political woes and rising rates.

CBRE and Walpole’s latest report looked at the most attractive luxury shopping destinations in the world, including New York, Hong Kong and Dubai, and found that London still holds the greatest long-term potential. Although all these destinations face upcoming troubles, London’s Brexit woes are considered to be less of an issue than the uncertainty facing New York under new US President Donald Trump, and the decline in tourism faced by Hong Kong.

It’s a positive message, something Vanessa Kingori, the first female publisher of British GQ, responsible for the menswear media platform’s commercial success, is keen to promote.

“We’ve taken a few knocks haven’t we,” Vanessa, who was awarded an MBE last year, tells me from her Hanover Square office. “I think everybody thought Brexit would be absolutely disastrous for retail and it certainly retains a lot of challenges, but there was this great moment of buoyancy when we saw that actually because of exchange rates and because people love coming to London, irrespective of all of that, lots of the luxury retailers are doing very well, anyone with a high price point. With some of the things happening with London there is a new wave of challenge, but London’s ability to bounce back is quite incredible.”

Indeed, the report adds that as the “market is cooling” in New York, and alternative Asian markets put the squeeze on Hong Kong, London is reaping the benefits of a spike in international visitors who are cashing in on a weaker pound.

What makes London, and in particular Mayfair and St James’s stand out against other global cities is the mix of large flagship luxury stores, high street retailers and smaller, historic boutiques. Vanessa, who serves on London mayor Sadiq Khan’s Brexit business advisory panel, agrees that this mix is incredibly important.

“It’s really vital to have those levels. When you travel to other European cities, New York and so on, there are areas where there are all flagships, 100 per cent, all the cute little areas which are boutique-y are separate, I think that means that if one part of retail is suffering, that whole area is quiet. What’s really important in London is that people don’t shop in such a specified way. There’s that high/low thing which I think London does the best,” Vanessa explains.

This high street, luxury, independent mix is reflective of how consumers are shopping now: “Women have been doing it for a long time, they will buy beautiful handbag, shoes, outerwear, in luxury outlets, but they may buy their every day less considered pieces from high street retailers, so I think having at least a close proximity is really good.”

And what about the guys? As publisher of a leading men’s title, which reaches 4.1 million people across its platforms, she should know.

“The way men shop has really changed, 100 per cent, it’s really interesting. On one hand, the fast fashion thing is becoming less important. It is motivated by something different. I think that lots of women like high street because of how quickly trends change so it’s really easy to add a quick little boost or update to your wardrobe, then you have your staples and key pieces that are luxury, more considered purchases. In the men’s sector, it’s less driven by updating your wardrobe and the fast fashion element, and more that there are more premium retailers on the high street offering things like basics, things that you turn over a lot of, staple t-shirts, those kind of things, in great quality, at that level. We have definitely seen our readers indulging in both ends much more, and not feeling that there is anything odd about that,” Vanessa says.

In the luxury sector, brands are upping their game in the customer experience arena. Cross cultural collaborations are increasing – Burberry’s Maker’s House was a huge success – as well as in-house service and food and drink offering – Ralph Lauren’s Regent Street café and Burberry’s Thomas’s spring to mind.

“This is huge now, the experiential element of luxury,” Vanessa agrees. “Many more brands are tapping into that side of things. The luxury brands that we deal with, the biggest request now it for us to either help them generate an event for the brands as part of a project, or to support an event because experiential is so much more important. I have actually just hired someone this year to focus on providing that for many of our luxury brands, and brands across the board, because people equate product and services with great experiences and this is the part that everyone is trying to deliver much more of. I see that in fashion, grooming, drinks brands, people want to bring to life a world that is associated with their product or service.”

Before joining Condé Nast (simultaneously becoming the first black publisher at the company), she was fashion manager of Esquire magazine in the UK, and prior to that she worked on the Evening Standard’s ES magazine. Born in Kenya, Vanessa later grew up in the Caribbean before moving to London and studying at Royal Holloway University. She’s always been a huge fan of the city.

“I never get tired of being here. I get to look over a very green Hanover Square. With the sun shining down, you see so many different walks of life. I like the little green spaces. Sometimes when I have lots on my mind, I will take a stroll through Mount Street, which I love, I mean if you’re ever feeling down, the amount of beautiful things and people down Mount Street will cheer you up, I might stop for a cup of tea in The George and then I like to walk in Berkeley Square. Sometimes I nip to Mount Street Gardens after lunch at Scott’s (hands down my favourite place to eat in Mayfair), you can get moments of reflection in amongst all of this beautiful luxury, dining, all of this going on and I think that is incredibly special and we’re really lucky to work and be amongst that.”