03 Sep 2019 • Living
What can property developers learn from luxury brands? Ask Roksanda
London’s property market continues to stutter, buffeted by Brexit uncertainty, a natural cyclical correction in prices and a massive oversupply. There were 31,508 unsold homes in the capital as of 31 March, the highest number since such data has been collected. And problems are worst at the top end: Bloomberg’s analysis suggests London is facing its longest slump in luxury property sales in decades.
Not ideal conditions into which to launch the centrepiece residential development of a regeneration project almost two decades in the making, but that’s the situation Argent faced. Their WilkinsonEyre-designed apartment complex, situated inside a cluster of Victorian gasholders overlooking Kings Cross station, was completed in early 2018. Prices for studios start at north of £800,000 and run to the mid-7 millions for a penthouse.
A year and a half on and the developer has been forced to invest in some creative marketing, calling on fêted fashion designer Roksanda Ilinčić to stage one of the most expensive units. Once a rarity, home staging has become an increasingly important part of the estate agent’s arsenal in recent years. It now seems to be metamorphosing into a practice that goes beyond merely dressing a space to help buyers imagine what it might be like to live there, and towards something far more curatorial. The inference has shifted from ‘what could you make of this home’ to ‘what could this home make of you.’
The fashion designer has greater name recognition with potential buyers than an equivalent interior designer or architect might
Ilinčić’s treatment is a case in point. With its juxtaposition of furniture by the likes of Lina Bo Bardi and Charlotte Perriand, Pierre Jeanneret and Tobia Scarpa, the space could well be accompanied by a series of wall texts and velvet ropes. As it is, a series of scents chosen by Lyn Harris of Perfumer H acts as an olfactory guide. Add in a liberal scattering of literature that runs from monographs on the likes of Barbara Hepworth and Anni Albers to books by Nell Dunn and Joan Didion, and you begin to understand that nothing here is incidental. You can buy the property in this fully furnished state for £7.75 million.
Argent clearly knew what it was doing. A majority of the major UK newspapers and most of the design press has covered the story – which is ostensibly about a complex that has been on the market for 18 months. That’s largely down to Ilinčić. Despite this being her first interior, the collaboration makes a lot of sense. She originally studied architecture in Serbia, before moving to London to pursue a fashion MA at Central Saint Martins, whose new campus is within throwing distance of the gasholders. But perhaps more importantly, the fashion designer has greater name recognition with potential buyers than an equivalent interior designer or architect might.
Indeed, this project speaks of a property developer paying attention to the wider shifts in the way luxury consumers – and this demographic treats property as a luxury good like any other – are being engaged by brands. Fashion houses in particular are appealing to customers by contextualizing their products within an elevated cultural field. Take Prada’s Mode members club, which launched at Art Basel in Miami Beach last year with a site-specific intervention by Theaster Gates. Whether Ilinčić’s penthouse will sell rapidly – furnished or otherwise – is something to watch, but the opportunities provided by such developer-funded crossovers can add value to design nonetheless.
This piece is part of Frame 130, our September/October print issue. You can purchase a copy here.