One of the wonderful things about London’s Regent Street is that each building is at least Grade II Listed, and that means that there is a story behind every façade.
Take Banana Republic and Armani A/X: until its closure in 2006, that entire block was given over to Dickens & Jones, one of London’s most venerable department stores, situated on Regent Street since 1835. Or Superdry, in the wonderful old Austin Reed building at 103–113 Regent Street, with its fabulous sweeping staircases and 1920s Art Deco barbers shop — which is now a Superdry hair salon.
For those that aren’t familiar with it, Regent Street is a glorious north — south sweep that bisects central London, reaching almost from Regent’s Park (Portland Pace completes it) to Piccadilly Circus and just beyond. It was completed by John Nash in 1825 at the behest of the Prince Regent, later George IV to link the park, ostensibly with the Charing Cross area, but really with his grand London home, Carlton House in St James. Although Nash’s street plan remains, none of Nash’s buildings themselves remain, bar All Soul’s Church on Langham Place at the very top end of Regent Street.
Of the buildings on the street, 121 Regent Street, further down towards Piccadilly Circus has fascinated me since I first saw its Wurlitzer organ at a store launch in 2006.
At first glance it is the shiny new, all singing, all dancing Burberry flagship. But to anyone who worked in central London ten years ago or so it was a nondescript boarded up building for ages, until it became a giant new Habitat store
But that’s not what makes it interesting. Oh no. Constructed in just three months in 1888, on the site of an old fruit market, the original building was known as the New Gallery, with a lavish interior of faux marble columns, platinum leaf and galleried halls, which played host to exhibitions of work by some of the leading artists of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, from Burne-Jones to Holman Hunt.
After briefly becoming a restaurant, in 1913 it became a cinema, with a Wurlitzer organ — and in 1938 was the first UK cinema to show Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It became a Seventh Day Adventist Church between 1953 and the mid 1990s until it was boarded up.
So when you enter the Burberry flagship, walk straight on through and down the steps into the main atrium, and you’ll be able to see the backbone of the building and imagine the gallery and then the grand cinema that it once was. Look up behind you in the apex of the curve of the mezzanine gallery and you’ll see the embrasure of the old projectionist’s window. (The Wurlitzer organ is still there too, although it’s hidden away these days.)
And to the far left of the building’s frontage is a separate front door into a slip of a room: as of last week it now houses the Burberry Beauty range, but once upon a time it was the cinema’s ticket office.
Although narrow, the soaring ceiling makes it a suitably grand location for Burberry Beauty: a beauty hall in miniature. It’s a lovely space, designed to allow the cosmetics to be tested and tried, with make-up experts on hand to guide. There’s no pressure to buy, and you can ask for make-up touch ups if someone is available.
I like the look and feel of Burberry Beauty: the finesse and engineering of the packaging, (the lipstick tubes in particular are fabulous), and the neat embossing of the Burberry check on each and every colour cosmetic product speaks to Christopher Bailey’s forensic level of care upon the tiniest detail.
And the product? I’ve been using the Smokey Grey eyeshadow palette this week, and found the colour pigment to be excellent, with a silky, very finely milled texture. The colour is quite sheer, but builds beautifully. I like the texture & taste of the lipsticks, and the colours are just interesting enough, (they are never going to encroach on MAC ‘s colour cosmetic territory). The entire range is perfect for a natural face, perfectly in keeping with the Burberry English Rose look.