For over two centuries, Mayfair has represented the heart of British craftsmanship. As one of London’s most storied neighborhoods, Mayfair has weathered economic transformation and the changing face of luxury, creating a tale of modern legacy and triumph.
Comprising just 42 streets on the western edge of central London, Mayfair tells the story of British craftsmanship—and perhaps holds the keys to its future. Since the turn of the 18th century, Mayfair has embodied the gilded shop-front of Britain’s artisanal industries, but despite the apparent permanence of its Georgian façades, the neighborhood has witnessed dramatic change.
After much of central London was destroyed in 1966, the area now known as Mayfair became a destination for craftspeople who were forced west. The more affluent artisans set up shop in Mayfair—among being Lock & Co Hatters (inventors of the bowler hat) and John Lobb Bootmaker, both of which survive to this day.
As the English Civil War and revolutions in France and America continued on, political turbulence drained the aristocracy’s resources, forcing them to sell their country residences and move into Mayfair or lease properties to craftspeople. Natalie Melton, co-founder of Mayfair craft retailer The New Craftsmen located on North Row, explains why this was so important: “A gentleman living in Mayfair could walk around the corner to his maker,” she says. “Economics and geography allowed them to exist side-by-side, so commissioning was straightforward.”
In 1733, The Daily Post announced “a new pile of buildings”’ marking the arrival of Savile Row, now distinguished for men’s bespoke tailoring. By the 19th century, Savile Row was populated with the tailors who eventually made it famous, including Henry Poole & Co, originator of the tuxedo and renowned tailor of Winston Churchill.
Mayfair’s North Rowwas once entirely occupied by craftspeople, many of whom lived above their workshops. “My great-grandfather lived over the shop for a number of years,” says John Hunter Lobb, descendant of the original bootmaker. “I suspect most shopkeepers were the same.”
However, this lifestyle was not built to last. Eventually, rising property prices forced makers out of central London, where rent prices are now among the highest in the world. “With the exception of a few very longstanding businesses, it’s simply not possible for modern makers to be in central London anymore,” says Melton.
For a while, Mayfair became better known for luxury brands than the craftsmen behind them—a realization that inspired the establishment of The New Craftsmen. “Products had become disconnected from the making process,” Melton explains. “Brand names were driving consumption; the appreciation for the skills behind them had disappeared. We wanted to reconnect consumers with making.”
The New Craftsmen now brings craftspeople into contact with a bigger and more diverse audience than ever before. With the recent rebirth of interest in handcrafted products, visitors and residents alike are now commissioning work directly from their makers once again. Lobb confirms that the West End continues to be a center of excellence for handmade bespoke, and echoes the tenacity of craftspeople. “We continue to attract customers because of our steadfast commitment to craftsmanship. As long as economic conditions allow, we will stay well into the future.”
Melton agrees that the definition of luxury is changing. “Time has become more valuable than wealth, so anything that has taken a long time to make is precious. The appetite for craft doesn’t seem to be abating.” So long as that appetite remains, craftspeople will continue to adapt to satisfy it. Thus, Mayfair is set to remain the making heart of London for generations to come.
To capture the quintessential glamour of living the InterContinental Life, InterContinental London Park Lane has teamed-up with the London Luxury Quarter, keepers of the prestigious 52 streets of Mayfair, Piccadilly and St. James, to offer a bespoke ‘Made in Mayfair’ Insider Experience that explores the center of British craftsmanship. For more details, please visit www.intercontinental.com/insiderexperiences.