My Life’s Work | Iain Watson, Founder and CEO, David Collins Studio

In this weekly series, we meet a Walpole member chief executive to discover what makes them tick, how they define success, and what keeps them awake at night. This week Iain Watson, Founder and CEO, of the world-renowned David Collins Studio on British luxury as the counter point between heritage and innovation and how he regrets not relocating to New York in the 90s

Iain is a founding member of David Collins Studio. Over the course of three decades, he has helped to steer the studio from its original incarnation – a staff of two, David and Iain, to a 60-strong globally-recognised brand and a leader in the design and delivery of architectural and interior design projects. From the outset, Iain played a key role in establishing the foundations of the studio. He brought commercial rigour to the mix, complementing David’s creative ideas and vision, while acting as the guardian of the David Collins Studio brand and helping to develop the three core strands of the business: hotels, bars and restaurants, retail, and residential.  Under Iain’s stewardship, David Collins Studio has steadily expanded its scope and scale without ever losing sight of the studio’s guiding principles: creativity, craft, collaboration, and a near-obsessive attention to detail.

What does British luxury mean to you? 

British luxury at its best is an interesting counter point between heritage and innovation, it is a powerful combination of the quality of materials and of great thinking.

What’s your vision (for the company)?  

To create inspired interior experiences with integrity.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?        

The breadth of our knowledge of customers’ lifestyles across the retail hospitality and residential sectors.

How do you define success?     

The long-term relationships with our clients, where it feels very much like a partnership.

What’s your greatest extravagance?    

Clothes. A lot of British luxury features in my wardrobe, from early Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen to KTZ.

What do you like most about your job?

I like the most the diversity of clients and immersing ourselves in new territories. Currently, we have a project in Seoul, so it has been fascinating to learn about Korea.


Email. As powerful as it is, it can be a barrier to actually sitting down and working with people.

What has been your greatest regret? 

Not relocating to NYC in the 90’s.

What’s the smartest business idea you have ever had?

Working to convert the Bergdorf Goodman penthouse for my friend John Barrett’s salon – it was our first commercial project in NY and it was pivotal in the Studio expanding in the US.

What was your big break?    

Meeting David Collins. He gave me the opportunity to work for a month in the summer in 1998, rather like an earlier version of ‘The Apprentice’.

What is your guiding principle? 


Which living person do you most admire?        

Vivienne Westwood.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?       

Asking people to ‘reframe their thinking’. Some people just don’t get it. It is interesting to see their reaction.

What keeps you awake at night?       

Thinking of details.

What do you most value in your friends?      

Humour and loyalty.

In a parallel life, what would you be doing? (fantasy job)         

I am really interested in food in terms of nutrition and wellbeing so I would be fascinated to explore that.

What piece of advice would you give someone entering the luxury industry now?

Look for inspiration far and wide beyond your immediate sector and luxury. Often, I see real creativity happening at the interface between quite different disciplines.

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