The days when London’s King’s Cross was a seedy no-go zone are long gone (though I can still remember the nerve-jangling walk from the Tube station to the Scala nightclub in the late 1980s). After major redevelopment, the area – now home to the British Library, Central Saint Martins and the Eurostar terminal – has evolved into a cosmopolitan shopping destination. Coal Drops Yard is the district’s latest retail development, designed by Heatherwick Studio around former Victorian viaducts built in the 1850s, and opening on October 26.
Award-winning footwear designer Tracey Neuls was invited to take a space there. “We weren’t looking to add to our portfolio, but the ethos of the place is just right,” she says. “It’s curated very well. There are lots of small creative independents and the food selection is amazing.” This new retail quarter will house selected fashion and lifestyle brands that include Universal Works, Aesop, MHL, Tom Dixon and Paul Smith. Food and entertainment come from the likes of Barrafina, the Everyman Cinema and Redemption Roasters.
Retailers were each given an empty shell to work with and encouraged to create distinct spaces. Neuls was involved in all the contracting with her industrial designer partner Karl Humphries. “There were no disagreements – we see eye to eye on what good design is.” Expect to see vintage fittings and shoes presented more in the style of an art installation than a traditional shoe shop. ‘‘We’re really proud of our shoes and all the details, and we want to show them off,” continues Neuls, who doesn’t “do” shelves and prefers to display her footwear hanging from the ceiling on ribbon or string.
The designer’s lifelong love of footwear began when she created an early prototype at the age of nine, using a couple of cereal boxes with loo rolls for heels. After studying fashion design in Canada she went on to work for Nike in Portland, Oregon, before moving to London to attend Cordwainer’s College. Establishing her eponymous brand in 2000, she opened two London boutiques on Marylebone Lane and Redchurch Street before this latest venture.
Neuls has created an exclusive design to accompany the opening of the King’s Cross store. Arlinder (£410) is a red calfskin mid-heel ankle boot with an almond toe shape and a snug fit. As with all Neuls’ design work, the boot was developed by hand using plasticine sculpting to achieve the heel and toe shape. “For me, it’s a kinetic process, a touchy-feely thing – from fingertips to brain cells,” she says. “It’s a bit like digital music versus vinyl. I want the shoes to feel right for the wearer.”
Renowned for her striking run-around styles – or what the Design Museum has called “beautiful shoes for an active life” – Neuls’ autumn highlights include Denis (£295), a blue velvet mid-heel lace-up; King (£450), a brown patent-leather ankle boot with a golden curved heel; and Powell (£295), a pink leopard-print ponyskin shoe with a flat, chunky sole. Neuls describes her customers as “creative professionals who don’t care about the dictates of fashion but do care about design”, thus emphasising the importance of form, function and flair. “There are so many uncomfortable shoes out there. I like the idea of a woman confidently walking down the street; shoes have to work, otherwise it’s not empowering.”