CEO letter | What does British luxury mean?
What does British luxury mean? What is it about the British bit of British luxury that makes it so alluring? Is it tangible things like craftsmanship and creativity, design, quality and attention to detail, service and experience?
Or is there a uniquely British sensibility, a spirit; something that’s hard to define or measure, but has to do with national identity; with idiosyncrasy and irreverence; tradition and heritage; mavericks and makers; the creative entrepreneurs and the brand custodians?
The 2018 Walpole Book of British Luxury, which launches this evening at a party at Simpsons in the Strand, offers some responses to these questions and more in thought-provoking essays from some of Britain’s finest writers. Alex Bilmes, writing on British luxury, says that ‘to be British is to share a collective spirit’ and suggests it can mean being ‘at once a diehard traditionalist and a committed subversive’. Lucia Van Der Post looks at the role cultural heritage plays in setting a luxury agenda, exploring how ‘the myths of British country house style have subliminally shaped the aesthetic thinking of a nation’. Guy Salter argues that the craft renaissance in British luxury is symptomatic of ‘a new, more thoughtful, open-minded and knowledgeable consumer mindset’ and Jessica Fellowes, writer and niece of Downton Abbey creator, Julian Fellowes, asks what makes Americans, the world’s number one luxury consumers, fall for all things British, and why the ‘lessons of the past can guide us to an ever brighter, better future.’ Moving beyond questions of identity and into luxury’s wider context, The Economist’s Executive Editor, Daniel Franklin, gives us his view from the bridge of the ‘known unknowns’ in store for luxury in 2018; Jeremy Langmead gives advice on storytelling for luxury brands – don’t forget the ‘conversational catnip’ – and as brand purpose and social impact become fundamental to building a connection with the new luxury customer, Lorraine Candy shares her thoughts on why luxury needs a heart. Last but by no means least, Justine Picardie analyses the etymology of the ‘L’ word, looking not at the meaning of Britishness, but at the meaning of luxury itself.
At 192 pages, it’s the biggest yearbook Walpole has ever produced, and with a clever, elegant new design by boutique design group Studio Buffalo, a specially-commissioned cover illustration by 2017 Brand of Tomorrow, Rory Dobner, and distinctive editorial sections using Colorplan paper by G.F.Smith, The Book of British Luxury is more than the official voice of the sector, it’s a perfect showcase of the tangible power of print – the haptic luxury of the beautiful object.
Returning to the idea of what it means to be British in 2018, Rory’s cover illustration – a bold, charismatic British lion, wearing at a jaunty angle a top hat on which a butterfly has alighted, like an idea ready to take flight, looks out into a new horizon – reminds me of George Orwell’s seminal essay on English national identity, The Lion and the Unicorn. Written as a rallying cry for a revolutionary patriotism at a time of war, Orwell is clear that “patriotism has nothing to do with conservatism. It is devotion to something that is changing but is felt to be mystically the same. It is the bridge between future and past.”
Perhaps a ‘revolutionary patriotism’ is the message of this year’s book: it’s time to learn how to take the compliment given by the many customers around the world who value British luxury so highly. We should be rightly proud about the ingenious, inventive, beautiful things we produce. If British luxury is an example of the best of which we’re capable in this country, there’s never been a better time to shout about it.
The Walpole Book of Luxury 2018 is published today, 12th March. All enquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.