CEO Letter | 2020. So good they named it twice
I’ve always been mad about the twenties. It’s a decade that conjures impossible glamour – girls with shingled hair and young men in Oxford bags lounging in Cecil Beaton poses, cocktails in smoky jazz clubs, the Venice-Simplon-Orient- Express (with or without a murder). It gave birth to some of my best-loved books – Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, T.S Eliot’s The Waste Land, Joyce’s Ulysses – and saw the invention of one of my favourite things: God bless John Logie Baird and his amazing television.
(Image above: Earl and politician Anthony Eden wearing a homburg hat by Walpole member Lock & Co. Hatters during the late 1920s).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I got into full twenties revival mode with indecent haste: almost before the last bongs of Big Ben had sounded, I was ushering in the New Twenties with a couple of Sidecars and a Negroni, although after I’d drunk them, I started to fret that neither was sufficiently British in origin and rummaged in the cupboard for the ingredients of the Hanky Panky – invented in London in the early 1920’s by one of The Savoy’s great bar-people, Ada Coleman – only to discover an inexplicable absence of Fernet Branca, its key ingredient. I declaimed a few words of The Waste Land, but fortunately most people mistook it for the third verse of Auld Lang Syne – and once everyone had gone home, I spent 20 minutes on the Belmond website planning my outfits for an imagined future journey on the Orient Express when I should have been replying to messages of New Year good cheer from family and friends. Then I went to bed with a Berocca and a couple of Nurofen and woke up several hours later with much less of a hangover than I deserved.
Luxury is very comfortable mining the glittering seam of the past to create a bewitching present – new stories can be even more alluring to luxury’s customers than new products. And as the year unfolds, I’m sure rich stories from the twenties will abound: I’ve mentioned Belmond’s Orient Express – and ‘The Party’ for 2020 is as chic a twenties revival experience as one could wish – but there’s also the ineffable Deco glamour of the British Pullman or Royal Scotsman (can’t you imagine that arch anglophile, Coco Chanel, travelling on it through the Highlands to Rosehall, the retreat she shared with the Duke of Westminster, all swathed in cashmere and tweeds?), the “closed car at four” in The Waste Land and the luxurious motor that startles Mrs Dalloway when it backfires on Bond Street might well have been a Rolls-Royce Twenty or Silver Ghost, and we can all dab a touch of Floris’ 1927 behind our ears for an instant olfactory hit of the Jazz Age. Oh, and let’s not forget The Savoy and its legendary cocktail book, written by Harry Craddock who began work at the American Bar in 1920. If anyone wants to join me for a Corpse Reviver I will be there as soon as Dry January is done. Do not under any circumstances allow me to have two, or I will wake the next day wishing I was Bertie Wooster with Jeeves on hand to offer his “extremely invigorating after a late evening” hangover cure of Worcestershire sauce, raw egg and red pepper.
I’m getting carried away. There is, of course, much more the 1920s can bring to luxury in the 2020s than inspiration for storytelling: on the back of a very tough decade, 1920 ushered in a new optimism and an ensuing period of economic expansion, of cultural and technological innovation, fresh thinking and experimentation, and a rejection of traditional structures in search of something radically new. There’s something of the spirit of that hopeful age in the air at the beginning of 2020 as we look at what the future might hold for British luxury. We have challenges ahead, of that I’m sure, not least in the implications of any future trading relationship the UK will have with continental Europe after we leave the EU at the end of this month. But business deals better with clarity than with uncertainty, and the sense that we can at last move forward has come as a relief to many, regardless of how one voted at last month’s election. Politics aside, there are indications that British luxury is on the brink of a renaissance of innovation, creative energy and cultural relevance that will move the dial for luxury in the UK not just for the next decade but for many years to come. If British luxury can grow 49% during a period of deep political and economic uncertainty, I’m excited about what the sector can achieve over the next five years.
And perhaps, if we are looking to the past to inform the future, we might remember the famous words of T.S Eliot’s mentor and arch Modernist, Ezra Pound who, nearly 100 years ago, exhorted artists of all disciplines to ‘Make It New’, words which fast became the mantra of modernism. The ‘it’ in ‘Make It New’ is the old: what is valuable in the culture of the past. Luxury excelled at radical novelty in the 1920’s – how will you ‘Make it New’ in the 2020’s?
Have a very Happy New Year,
Helen Brocklebank, CEO of Walpole