[O]n the way back I decided to take the No. 19 bus rather than the Tube because it was a lovely day and I felt like looking at London rather than at a tunnel wall.
Part of the route was along Sloane Street into Knightsbridge, and of course it’s on this street where you find all the Usual Suspects: Dior, Ferragamo, Versace, Hermès, Pucci, Prada and all those furrin names. As a place of wealth and ostentation, it’s difficult to top Sloane Street …
… except that it’s not. I’ve seen Sloane Street many times before, only it was called “Hofbahnstrasse” in Zurich, “the Golden Mile” in Chicago, “Kollmarkt” in Vienna, “Northcross Mall” in Dallas, “Champs-Elysées” in Paris and “Park Avenue” in Manhattan. It’s all the same stores, the same overpriced merchandise and (pretty much) the same customers, only speaking with different accents and languages.
Phooey. You can keep all that crap. Give me a street with character like King’s Road or Upper Street in Islington (further along on my bus trip) any day of the week. Luxury shopping isn’t just overpriced, it’s banal — and I want no part of it.
By the 90s the Sloane style couldn’t have been more unfashionable. The accent, the language, the dress code, the “miniature stately home” interior styles were all wrong, wrong, wrong in the world of mild mockney, the “information super-highway” and mid-century modern. Sloane seemed archaic and unprofessional — only for the magic world of Richard Curtis rom-coms — in the new high-maintenance world of Big Money London.
And by 2000, the second great wave was underway. London was becoming the first international city of the global super-rich. Since then, London’s prime and “super-prime” property — particularly the best, biggest houses and flats in Knightsbridge, Belgravia, Mayfair and the top slice of Chelsea — were bought out by an extraordinary mixture of Russian oligarchs, Middle Easterners, new petrodollar types from Nigeria, Indians, Malaysians and, latterly, Chinese. These were people with money that dwarfed those 80s and 90s American bankers. People with hundreds of millions. People with billions. Driving up the prices of London property and driving all but the richest, most adaptable Sloanes further south and north — and some out of London altogether.
What goes around comes around, but the price never seems to go down.