Fashionig development - how retail can shape a property market

I must have signed up for them because almost every day I receive newsletters from a publication called The Business of Fashion. I read those emails rarely but the publication (here it is) is impressive.

Today, an article looked at how retail, and specifically fashion retail, influence and interact with property development. Its main reference is the story of London’s Dover Street Market (DSM), a multi-brand fashion store, formerly Mayfair-based, now set up in the less salubrious but considerably cheaper Haymarket.

The story goes that three months after agreeing the rent with DSM, the owner (Lord Sugar’s Amsprop) sold up for more than double ($94 million) what it paid two years previously; the implication that the much-lauded store takes at least some credit for the whopping price tag.

The article (in full here) led me to thinking of the impact, if any, of retail, fashion or otherwise, on Sri Lanka’s property market. It’s a far cry from Mayfair but the obvious reference point would be inside the Fort at Galle. As much-described, the place has changed hugely in the last 5 years and continues to host ever more boutiques and fashion outlets. There isn’t really the single brand there to claim any unique impact but as a collection that retail experience has almost certainly contributed to price inflation inside (and outside) the Fort in recent years.

Perhaps there’ll come some tipping point where too many trendy boutiques start to spoil the place; a handful making a welcome contrast to the island’s typical town-scape, one every 10 yards quickly getting pretty dull. There’s certainly a risk of that but whether it’ll put off paying visitors…probably not.

Colombo with its grand plans, of course, has the opportunity to leverage the kudos that high-end brands will bring. No doubt much thought has gone into the retail side of the Port City – at least you’d hope so. That project is the kind of start-from-scratch development the BoF article references where there’s real opportunity to shape neighbourhoods thoughtfully, with retail playing a significant part.

The article describes Dubai’s Design District, d3, “a $1 billion investment that has brought in 2,000 people to work at the 70 or so design companies that have moved to the neighbourhood”. With Sri Lanka’s industry heritage you’d imagine a district focused on garments and fashion would make decent sense.

Kandy’s another interesting case. There’s a great deal of speculation over plans for the now-empty Bogambara prison right in the middle of town. It’s the kind of self-contained area that could in some respects follow a pattern of controlled gentrification (serious gentrification in this case) you feel has gone on in Galle – less residential in this case, but certainly something that echoes the boutique style of the Fort.

Perhaps this all rather fanciful – it’ll be some years before Luis Vitton et al. open their flagship Colombo stores. Sri Lanka right now, though, is undeniably aspirational – having a few aspirational retail brands on board will be no bad thing.