CEO Letter | The Engine of British Luxury

Luxury’s showroom may have always been London, but its engine room is entirely national. There are Walpole members the length and breadth of the British Isles, from the Highlands and Islands to Land’s End and everywhere in between.

It’s this sense of place, of being rooted in the landscape, that creates provenance, informs the sensibility of each Walpole brand and helps British luxury conjure the stories that so fascinate its customers. But none of this is window dressing. It’s not some fable made up to build a luxury folk memory: wherever there’s a luxury business in the UK, there’s a business that contributes significantly to its local economy, creates sustainable employment and is committed to long term growth. I’m not sure our sector gets quite enough credit for its commitment to keeping its businesses in the UK, but that’s a story for another time.

This week, Walpole’s Head of Membership, Stephanie Robinson, and I will be in the South-West visiting some of Walpole members there. Over the course of the next three days our itinerary will take in Lucknam Park, one of Britain’s most elegant country house hotels and the recent recipient of a prestigious Spa of the Year Award; Mulberry, who manufacture 50% of their output at Chilcompton and whose Somerset factories are integral to their brand story; Halstock, who make incredibly beautiful bespoke furniture for fellow Walpole members and many others from their workshop in Yeovil; Sunseeker, Britain’s biggest boat builder with a yacht order book that’s up 52% year on year; Farrow and Ball, whose unique, best-in-class paints and block wallpapers are made in their factory in Dorset; Superyacht designers RWD, who designed Faith, the winner of the Motoryacht of the Year Award at the recent World Superyacht Awards; and last but not least Hildon, whose product literally springs from the ground in Hampshire’s Test Valley and whose quality makes it first choice for the world’s leading sommeliers.

Our objective for the visit is to see under the bonnet of these impressive luxury businesses – it’s something of a mantra with the Walpole team to always be learning as much as we can about our members so that the organisation can deliver the best possible value, whether it’s about making sure we get a great British manufacturing story in front of the business editor at Newsnight, developing the right kind of events programme, or facilitating meaningful relationships with other British luxury brands.

We also want to float the idea of starting regional chapters for Walpole – one of the challenges we have as a small, London based team is that the 41 events we’ll host this year are all in the Capital and so not always easy for members out of town to access. I’m interested to know what the appetite is for connecting members in the same area with one another to share thoughts, challenges and objectives and if you have thoughts on this, do please drop me a line on helen.brocklebank@thewalpole.co.uk.

Speaking of going under the bonnet of luxury, travelling to the cream of British luxury in my rather unimpressive old banger felt very much like letting the side down, so Bentley has – thrillingly – come to the rescue with the loan of a brand new Continental GT, which we shall be putting through its paces not only on the motorways but on the leafy green country roads of Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire. Anyone who thinks the future of cars is driverless has clearly never driven a Bentley. As I drove the car down to the ancestral lands at the weekend, I finally understood the visceral pleasure of an engine that growls with pleasure with the lightest tap on the accelerator. Reader, it was awfully hard to obey the speed-limit and only the thought of how utterly embarrassing it would be to be nicked for speeding in a borrowed Bentley held me back from giving the Continental its head. However, accelerating to overtake is really quite extraordinary. I’m not sure I’ve ever been quite this in love with an inanimate object and won’t gush on now, but do follow my and Stephanie’s adventures on Instagram stories on @walpole_uk, and on @walpoleceo.

An update on the Digital Detox
A fortnight without email or social media was absolutely the rest I needed – it turns out that the iPhone is a terrible time-thief, and without it, I finished Middlemarch (every bit as captivating as its hype suggests) and eight other novels too, and still had time for daily yoga, swimming, sailing and all sorts of other proper holiday stuff too. I came back to about seven thousand emails, so do forgive me if I haven’t replied yet to yours, but I feel so refreshed and renewed, it was worth putting them off. Not always easy to go offline in a small business, and I certainly couldn’t have done it with the support of the team, so huge thanks go to them for holding the fort.

helen.brocklebank@thewalpole.co.uk