With the property market still deep in confusion, estate agents are going that extra length to lure in clients. Grosvenor Estates, the property group owned by the Duke of Westminster, has recently teamed up with famous fashion designer Ben de Lisi to entice the big spenders. De Lisi, best known for dressing celebrities on the red carpet, has re-modelled one of their rental properties which will be "launched" on 9 September.
"Grosvenor realised the validity and strength of having a designer name attached to a property," de Lisi told me self-assuredly. "They are buying back their leases, redeveloping their properties and looking to maximise their profits."
To date, he has decorated just one of their properties - a luxury three-bedroom 1,900 sq ft apartment in Mayfair - but if this is successful, there are more to follow. "If the Ben de Lisi branded apartment reaches the level expected - and nobody can see why it wouldn't - I will work on another property. The publicity of two major brands together is a reason for it to be a win-win situation."
What did re-modelling involve? Within the apartment, there are three Ben de Lisi designed bathrooms, his own paintings, ceramics and an open staircase. He has selected iconic Tom Dixon pendant lights of different shapes and sizes to hang above a table and designed a stone feature wall and fireplace.
"It doesn't feel like a showroom," de Lisi explains. "It feels like someone has lived here and collected treasures over the years. There’s a slight contradiction to it - you'll have a beautiful 1940s sideboard but there’ll be a multi-coloured lacquer chair from Capellini. It has a very rich feel - the kind of thing you’d expect to see in an old picture of Carey Grant." The cloakroom has been designed in the style of a "jewel box" with the whole space clad in timber with nickel inserts. The overall aesthetics are beautiful and elegant; ideal for someone who doesn't have the time or inclination to decorate their own home.
This designer decor doesn’t come cheap, he makes clear: "Because it is a branded apartment, it will demand a premium price."
From collaborating with the architects, working with the builders and hanging the last picture on the wall, de Lisi was very much "hands on". I would have thought putting a "designer" flat with an inflated value on the market seems incongruous in current times. But de Lisi is confident of its success; "The economic situation is tough but you have to have a point of difference. You can't just regurgitate something that has worked in the past. I don't think the apartment will be marketed to someone who is price sensitive. It is aimed at someone in the financial industry or someone from an affluent family for a child studying in London."
He is best known for his signature long slinky dresses favoured by celebrities including Kate Winslet but has, in fact, been working in interiors for over a decade. He has partnered with Countryside Properties on several projects in Manchester including The Edge and the NV building. He launched Ben de Lisi bathroom concepts with Abacus Direct six years ago. Over the past six years, he has been selling abstract St Ives-esque paintings and has an exhibition at Jill and George later this year. And yet this is his first venture in the London residential market.
Since closing his fashion boutique earlier in the year, de Lisi has funnelled his energies into his collaborations. The brand now works for him; it's "payback time" as he puts it. This summer saw him launch his first high street home range of lacquer vases, photo frames and bright cushions exclusively with Debenhams. "My hero piece is the red Ella cushion featuring my French bulldog who sadly I lost."
It's hard to keep up with the yo-yoing of the property market in these mystifying times. Like any entrepreneurial business, Grosvenor Estate is right to try a new tack. "Grosvenor understands that in this financial situation, it is easy to be complacent. It is harder to think of something new. They saw the potential of a designer name; it's completely different to anything done before. It's quite a departure for the Grosvenor Estate who previously stuck to a rigid formula."
Tim Reade, investment director for Grosvenor's Mayfair portfolio, says: "We hope this [partnership with de Lisi] will open the door for a series of designer tie-ins in this attractive, but less well known, area of Mayfair between Grosvenor Square and Park Lane to appeal to those who value location and unique design."
Power partnerships are conceivably just the formula for succeeding in a recession. This summer has seen Kate Moss partner with Philip Green and Victoria Beckham with Simon Fuller. Just as Ben de Lisi was right to recognise in his joint venture with Grosvenor Estate, two names are bigger than one.