CEO Letter | The Auld Alliance
“We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation”, wrote Voltaire, and last week, as I luxuriated in my snug bed at The Balmoral, gazing through the window at the pale, early morning sunshine glinting on Edinburgh Castle, Scotland felt very civilised indeed.
Voltaire should have looked to Scotland for ideas of luxury, as well as of civilisation – he, like me, would have been particularly inspired by the passion for perfection, for craftsmanship and for Scottish provenance and heritage common to the Walpole Scottish members I visited.
Gleneagles, legendary playground of the bright young things, is once again luring the jeunesse dorée with a clever combination of luxuriously hygge interiors featuring local craftsmanship – for example, the cashmere on the walls of the American bar comes from Scottish weavers at Lovat Mill, famous for the tweed they produce for Chanel and Purdey – and an enviable programme of sporting pursuits – falconry and gun-dogs, fishing, archery, off-road driving as well as the golf for which Gleneagles became so famous. At Hamilton & Inches, I went behind the scenes to meet with the Master silversmiths and their talented apprentices, one of whom will be a seventh generation silversmith, and found myself so entranced by the extraordinary skill of the craftspeople, I knew exactly why the Queen spent nearly an hour in the workshop on her official visit last year. A very secret royal commission, worked by another talented apprentice, caught my eye at Dovecot Tapestry Studio; Dovecot’s founding master weavers, themselves apprentices to William Morris, were killed in the Great War, leaving their work to be carried on by their young apprentices and that tradition of master and apprentice continues to this day. If you can’t get to the studio in Edinburgh, visit The National Gallery where ‘Weaving Magic’, a collaboration between Dovecot and Turner-prize winner Chris Ofili, is on display until 28th August. It was also tremendous to meet up with John Galvin, an alumnus of the 2015 Crafted programme, and to hear him talk about the contribution Crafted made to his development and to hear how the strong bond he forged with his Crafted mentor, Alistair Hughes of Savoir Beds, continues to this day. Scotland would not be Scotland for me without whisky, which I learned to appreciate properly whilst at Esquire, and meeting with Glenmorangie and Ardbeg CEO, Marc Hoellinger, to hear his vision for the brands, was both an education and an inspiration.
Is LVMH’s ownership of Glenmorangie a modern take on the Auld Alliance, Scotland’s historic relationship with France? My conversations with Marc touched on Macron’s win at this month’s French presidential election. The result came as a relief to many, though it’s a relief tempered by the knowledge that 43% of those who voted for Macron did so to keep Le Pen out, and only 16% did so because they backed his programme. Next month’s French parliamentary elections will be key to whether Macron can build a strong enough coalition to give him a mandate to deliver his ‘great renaissance’. Macron is a fervent supporter of the EU, and whilst the implications for Britain of a Macron presidency remain to be seen, his determination to forge a stronger bond between France and Germany can only add to the challenge of Brexit over the next two years and beyond. Macron has talked of Brexit leading to the ‘Guernsification of Britain’ yet however much French presidents (and German Chancellors) would fondly like to imagine their respective financial capitals of Paris and Frankfurt benefitting to the detriment of London, London is not about to become the new Singapore (or Guernsey). Au contraire, says Walpole board member and former Coutts CEO, Michael Morley; ‘If you were going to place a bet on whether the City of London will continue to reinvent itself in both onshore and offshore capacities, or whether any of the principal European financial services centres was likely to seize the capital markets crown, I think you would be brave to bet against the breadth, ingenuity and creativity of the City, working together with the UK regions and Crown Dependencies.’
The same should be said of British luxury: original, inventive, innovative and pioneering, the sector will weather political squalls with equanimity and emerge on the other side the stronger for it, and not only because we have always taken the long view when it comes to building brands. Our own forthcoming General Election, now less than a month away, will not change the reality of Brexit – and nearly a year on, it seems we are resigned to it, with a recent poll suggesting that 69% of the electorate now believe the Government has a duty to leave the EU – but the predicted Tory landslide may have some unexpected outcomes. How our election, and events in Europe, will affect the business of luxury is something The Economist’s Executive Editor, Daniel Franklin, will be discussing at Walpole’s event on 30th May. I would expect to open his acclaimed book on long-term trends, ‘Megachange: The World in 2050’ , to find luxury enjoying a healthy and prosperous future; as for what the next six months have in store, join us on the evening of the 30th to find out.