Alongside scores of big names like COS, Samsung and Paul Smith, Thomas Heatherwick’s Coal Drops Yard is awash with smaller brands migrating from London’s fringe design locales into NC1, attracted by the high (and well-heeled) footfall the Kings Cross destination promises.

As well as the obvious benefits of securing a coveted plot in the city’s most exciting new retail hub, its a sense of creative kinship that seems to magnetise these like-minded brands to Coal Drops. Indeed, the site’s developer Argent paid special attention to selecting precisely the right retailers – balancing large, small, fresh and heritage – to fill the elegant archways of Heatherwick’s vision.

Bonds of Hackney Kings Cross Location

Inside Bonds Kings Cross, Coal Drops Yard. Photography: Andy Donohoe

Take Bonds Hackney, which has turned into Bonds Kings Cross for the opening of its second London outpost. Founded by Niko Dafkos and Paul Firmin, the lifestyle emporium launched in 2017 as a way to build a world around the pair’s travel-inspired fragrance line, Earl of East London. The new store has a pouring room where candles will be made directly to be sold in-store, alongside its carefully curated selection of products, and a coffee shop-cum-event space which will provide a central base for the brand’s collaborations, workshops and exhibitions.

Loyal to their east London creative spirit (and the aesthetic established in the brand’s Hackney location) the store design is all about flexibility. Dafkos and Firmin, through a revised version of 1980’s Bowellism, exposed the space’s internal structures and fixtures. A network of grids and frames can be re-arranged on demand, providing a transmutable backdrop for the store’s various functions.

Lower Stable Street, Coal Drops Yard

Lower Stable Street, Coal Drops Yard. Photography: Luke Hayes

Elsewhere in the complex, Lower Stable Street is a market-style boulevard home to a slew of smaller pop-ups and interventions. ‘Our vision for the street was to provide an incubator space for innovative and emerging businesses,’ explains Frederique Jungman, senior project manager at Argent, ‘offering them the unparalleled opportunity to retail alongside some of the UK’s most visionary brands and its leading fashion and design university – Central Saint Martins, while benefiting from an affordable and low-risk structure.’ The street includes a mix of two and three year tenancies, which will anchor it, and enhance its feeling of community; alongside shorter residencies, ‘which will change every few months to foster experimentation and encourage the unexpected’.

Argent was aided by independent magazine Kiosk N1C to help curate and fill the 11-shop street. They picked the likes of Honest Jon’s (Ladbroke Grove’s resident independent record store); MDR Gallery (a space for contemporary design, selling, commissions and promoting the work of emerging designers); and Beautystack (a new beauty network and booking app dedicated to connecting clients with beauty professionals via a visual network).

McKinley & Paget IYA collaboration, Coal Drops Yard

Coal Drops Yard candle, by McKinley & Paget and IYouAll, 2018. Photography courtesy McKinley & Paget

Kiosk is a product of design studio IYouAll, which has also opened its third London outpost at Coal Drops (following on from its Deptford Market Yard and East Dulwich locations). Offering a double-whammy of London-centric design, it chose to celebrate its Kings Cross debut with a collaboration with another emerging lifestyle brand McKinley & Paget (also hailing from south-east London). The neighbouring collaborators created a heady and complex fragranced candle inspired by the store’s multifaceted lifestyle offering (which includes homeware, magazines, and ephemera), wrapped in a label of IYA’s signature glyphs (pictured above). ‘I think it’s very promising to find this major development championing smaller, local brands,’ Jake Paget (of McKinley & Paget) explains. ‘World-leading work comes out of London all the time, so its nice to see platforms open up to let the newness come through.’

The list of city folk joining the Coal Drops family goes on. Shoe designer Tracey Neuls; jewellery designer Maya Magal, who’s graphic gold and silver stylings already have a permanent homes in Marylebone and Islington, now stand pride of place in a centrally-facing Coal Drops archway; cult online retailer Wolf & Badger (which previously expanded from its Notting Hill home to New York) has staked its claim in an arresting four-storey department store, unavoidable on entry to the Yard. Further representing UK-wide design, Nottingham-based modern menswear brand Universal Works has opened its newest boutique at the Yard (pictured top), sensitively designed by Studio Mutt (which itself has roots in London and Liverpool).

Others still are choosing to cement their digital presences in bricks and mortar for the first time at Coal Drops. Maker of ‘excellent essentials’ Form & Thread; body-positive lingerie designer Beija London; official Coal Drops lubricator House of Cans (which brews beer just down the road in Tile Yards) have all launched pretty boutiques, under the comforting arm of the development’s balanced attitude towards both emerging and established retailers. First stop, Coal Drops. Next? The world. §

Additional reporting by Sotos Varsamis