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The London High Life

May 2011

By Quentin Clarke, London

London was resolutely low-rise. High-rises were cheap social housing, replacing the slums post-war, reviled as eyesores. But suddenly attention-grabbing towers are everywhere and driving this new wave of luxury lofts is Asian culture—at least, the super-rich elite of Russia and the Middle East.

“The Shard”, by architect Renzo Piano, is the most striking. On completion in 2012 it’ll be the EU’s tallest building with top-level flats to sell for tens of millions. The forthcoming Vauxhall Tower penthouse expects to go for £50 million, and a Ukrainian oligarch recently snapped up the top levels of Richard Rogers’ One Hyde Park for £137 million. The result is that while UK property is in meltdown elsewhere, top-end London prices have risen 30% since 2009 and our skyline rivals Shanghai—well, almost...

How does this relate to someone like me? People of lower incomes can live on the lowest floors in “shared ownership” deals with housing associations. There has to be someone to oil the wheels, though good luck finding a mortgage!

International money isn’t buoying the property market alone: fashion house Burberry recently opened its first UK “Burberry Brit” store. But, ironically, they credit their own counter-trend 30% rise in profits to Russian, Chinese and Middle Eastern customers over Kate Middleton’s patronage of their trench coats.

Meanwhile, if the Royal Family weren’t wisely playing down their riches amidst unprecedented disparity, Kate might just have chosen these House of Borgezie shoes for her big day: solid gold, encrusted with 2,200 diamonds and currently displayed in an art gallery. They’ll likely find another London buyer—just pray no broken lifts.

Design & Luxury
London

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