Do we need another area dedicated to worshipping at the alter of consumerism ? That is the big or bigger question, but nonetheless Coal Drop Yard, the new lifestyle and recreational area in the heart of what was once the main delivery spot into London of goods of every notion and concoction you can imagine.
Designed by Thomas Heatherwick and his design studio, who’s past projects include the British pavilion for the Shanghai Expo 2010 (“The hairy design,” he calls it, referring to its 60,000 swaying optical rods); the Bombay Sapphire Distillery in Hampshire; the revamped London Routemaster double-decker bus.
But what is Coal Drop Yard’s USP ? Well, whatever it is, it’s got tongues wagging and a buzz louder than a swamp of bees around the proverbial pot of honey. Essentially, you don’t have any of your traditional big name retailers that you normally associate with the launch of a shopping concept of this nature, no M&S, no House of Fraser, no Debenhams and certainly no Primark as your cornerstone, flagship retailers. This area has brands, honestly, falling over themselves to take retail premises in this former pair of Victorian sheds on the edge of the canal site that were once used for the storage and distribution of coal around London. Already you have the likes of Universal Works, Wolf & Badger, Tom Dixon, Paul Smith, Rains, Christopher Raeburn, Fred Perry and Lavenham all occupying units and then COS, AESOP, Finisterre all about to! Kings Cross is set to become one of London’s most unique shopping destinations,
However, the brand we are concentrating on through today’s post is the Great British shoes brand Joseph Cheaney. With a concept that is sympathetic to both the brand and London’s latest new shopping district’s history. The distinctive brick viaducts with their cast iron columns, have now been reimagined with a contemporary design with the industrial heritage of the existing Victorian structures to create a dynamic and vibrant retail destination.
Cheaney is a brand with craftsmanship and heritage at its heart. Their shoes are fully handcrafted in England, in the same Northamptonshire factory where they have been hand-making shoes since 1886. Like Coal Drops Yard, Cheaney has undergone a similar reimagination; whilst they still make traditional footwear ranges, these are complemented by their contemporary designs which seamlessly fit into their collection. In turn the brand’s new store concept, also follows the architectural vision, with the area’s architect, Thomas Heatherwick suggests “merges the language of the old and the new”.
Collections are presented in the centre of the store, on a large ‘cutting’ table reminiscent of those found in Cheaney’s Northamptonshire factory. Celebrating the art and craft of shoemaking, the table features silhouettes of the shoemaker’s tools and shoe patterns, which have been carefully cut out of the thick inky blue felt, revealing rich, burnished Cheaney leathers beneath. The language is echoed in a playful Airfix style ‘kit of parts’ installation, located behind the perimeter display, which features the many components that go into making a single pair of Cheaney shoes.
Drawing the attention of customers and passers-by, the central table is also host to a ‘polishing station’ where Cheaney’s staff ‘finger polish’ customers’ shoes to achieve the perfect mirror-shine. The polishing station provides some in-store theatre, whilst promoting the importance of shoe care and the complimentary service Cheaney offer their customers.
At the back of the store, customers can metaphorically meet Joseph Cheaney in person, as a large portrait of the founder presides over the store, some 232 years after he set up the company. In this generous space, furnished with a full length mirror, customers can try on footwear and browse the display of belts and shoe-care accessories presented in pigeonholes above the cash-desk and below the central table.
While the store appears effortless, every detail is considered; from the bonded shelves reminiscent of the layering of materials that can be seen in Cheaney’s Goodyear welted shoe construction to the deep pile carpet which gives a sense of luxury when trying on shoes; and the thick felt upon which Cheaney’s footwear is displayed, that not only creates cosy, aesthetically pleasing surface that protects the leather soles – it’s also an innovative material made from recycled PTF bottles, which once again, like the Coal Drops Yard and like Cheaney, gives the sense of something traditional, done in a new way.