CEO Letter | The Anglo-Italian Relationship

What’s your favourite luxury under a tenner? Mine costs even less than that: €7.50, the price of a single ticket on the Vaporetto Uno, buys me 40 minutes of speechless wonder on Venice’s Grand Canal.

The peerless vantage point of a seat in the prow of Venice’s public waterbus reveals renaissance palazzi – ochre and pink above the canal’s opaque green waters – rococo edifices and baroque churches like wedding cakes, gondolieri in striped shirts singing lustily to their cargoes of Chinese tourists, Venetians trundling shopping baskets across Rialto bridge to shop in the Pescaria for fish fresh from the lagoon or for fruit and vegetables in the Mercato di Rialto (ride early enough in the morning and you’ll glimpse its bright pyramids of pale green artichokes from nearby Sant’Erasmo, bitter red radicchio trevisano, stout white asparagus, scarlet tomatoes, and purple aubergines.)

The vaporetto stops on either bank just long enough for you to peer into the tantalising darkness of tiny canale e calle leading off the Grand Canal to hidden gardens or ancient wells in squares, and takes you under Accademia bridge to look for the long, low façade of the Palazzo Venier Dei Leoni, home to Peggy Guggenheim’s collection of 20th century futurists, modernists, cubists and abstract expressionists, and then left to see a 21st century collection of hedonists and industrialists taking lunch on the elegant terrace of The Gritti Palace.

You might be tempted to hop off at the Salute stop on the opposite side and have a look around the Basilica Santa Maria Della Salute, built in 1631 to give thanks for Venice’s deliverance from the plague, but if you’ve done this trip more than once, you know that the city’s magic isn’t inside its buildings, so you’ll stay on as the boat pulls into the lagoon, blue as the robe worn by a Titian Madonna, to show off the splendour of St Mark’s Square (so much nicer from the water, and not hugger-mugger with the hoards of pigeon feeders and Instagrammers), before allowing you to disembark at San Zaccaria, in front of one of the nicest and most luxurious hotels in Venice, Hotel Danieli.

I took this trip a few weeks ago for Walpole’s visit to the FT Business of Luxury Summit. Venice, a city with luxury in its bones, is rather a fitting home for luxury’s defining conference, particularly given the Summit’s themes of disruption and innovation – of which more can be read here from Tim Jackson: Luxury Disruption at FT Business of Luxury. The visit also allowed Walpole to mark not only the long relationship it has enjoyed with the FT, but the close alliance between the Italian and British luxury sectors.

Altagamma, Italy’s luxury association, led by Armando Branchini, was founded in the same year as Walpole, and shares the same emphasis on craftsmanship, entrepreneurship and creativity, as well as having a similarly diverse range of businesses in its high end sector – like Britain, luxury in Italy encompasses automotive as well as fashion, home interiors and luxurious hotels, high quality food and drink and high culture. Altagamma and Walpole also worked together to help found ECCIA, where the five main European luxury associations come together, and Armando Branchini was on the telephone to Walpole Chairman Michael Ward within hours of the Brexit vote, pledging continued support for British luxury in Europe, regardless of EU membership. In addition, British luxury’s supply chain is heavily dependent on the skills available in Italy, particularly in textiles and leather accessories – think of Burberry’s recent acquisition of Florentine leather goods manufacturer – Italian investment in some of Britain’s finest luxury brands has also been a great success, notably Prada’s purchase of Church’s Shoes, and British luxury goods are much prized by consumers in Italy, locals and visitors alike.

To celebrate the very special Anglo-Italian relationship, Antonello de’ Medici, General Manager of Hotel Danieli, and Silver Carpanese, Resident Manager of Hotel Danieli, gave a dinner for members of Walpole and of Altagamma, and for HM Consul General and Director of Trade and Investment Italy, Tim Flear, MVO. After Bellinis on the Terrace of Restaurant Terrazza Danieli, looking out onto St Giorgio Maggiore and the Lagoon (I thought my office view onto the Thames and the Houses of Parliament was one of the best in the world but it’s knocked into a cocked hat by Hotel Danieli’s), we dined in the rather sumptuous haute-Venetian interior of Danieli’s private rooftop dining room designed by French architect Jacques Garcia, where the modest and charming Executive Chef, Alberto Fol created a clever, inventive menu designed to bring together elements of Venice and London – an amuse bouche of pea cream and lagoon shrimp, followed by scallops with caviar, then a pasta with Sant’Erasmo artichokes, a delicious new take on Vitello Tonnato, Tortino Estivo (that’s Summer Pudding to you and me) and a burnt cream with rhubarb and lovage flavoured strawberries. Hotel Danieli quickly established itself as my favourite luxury –  not one that’s under a tenner yet utterly priceless and completely unforgettable.

Having spent most of last week at the European Parliament in Strasbourg (lobbying MEP’s on a small yet crucial element of the new Consumer Refit legislation affecting luxury brands across Europe), it feels more important than ever to cement our links with Europe – luxury is a European phenomenon with close ties across borders that go far beyond politics, and which have outlived many successive governments. It’s what we have in common that makes us so much stronger than what divides us, and the effort we put into those relationships – not least the generosity and hospitality Walpole has been shown by its friends in Europe – will be increasingly important in the months and years to come.

Luxury, more than any other sector, is a place where magical things happen, and perhaps the time I spent in the bewitching embrace of Venice was a timely reminder of that. In her travel journals, Rambles in Germany and Italy, Mary Shelley wrote, there is something so different in Venice from any other place in the world, that you leave at once all accustomed habits and every day sights to enter enchanted ground”.  The essence of luxury – its soul, its heart, the strength of its bond with its customers – is about turning the everyday into something enchanted. Perhaps Venice’s ability to transform a journey on public transport into something breathtaking and an exceptional dinner in exquisite surroundings into a symbol of enduring generosity in challenging times is just the metaphor we need.

Walpole was the guest of Hotel Danieli, Venice – A Luxury Collection Hotel. For more information about Hotel Danieli, please visit www.hoteldanieli.com.