“It is hard to flourish in a world beset by speed, scale, stress and uncertainty” writes Julia Hobsbawm in her latest book ‘The Simplicity Principle: Six steps towards clarity in a complex world’. Published just as the pandemic brought an unimaginable layer of complexity to our already complicated lives, The Simplicity Principle offers a prescient blueprint for navigating what’s become known as ‘new normal’.
Of course, these times are anything but normal, but we are slowly adapting to working and living in a continuing context of uncertainty. Walpole members have responded to the tribulations of the crisis in truly remarkable ways, of which more another time, and I have been very touched by the many emails and notes that you’ve sent to me and to the Walpole team to say how much you value the work that Walpole has been doing on your behalf, and the support we’ve given through our Daily Luxury Digest and on our webinars. The incredibly close knit network and collegiate relationships fostered by the Walpole membership continue to flourish, and its encouraging that an organisation built on its convening power can do this even in the face of considerable constraints.
The last six months has been a time of great digital acceleration for luxury as a whole, and we have all discovered new ways of working, and reframed our expectations of what can be achieved online. Yet human beings are social creatures and like to be in each other’s company, and the high-touch, highly personalised business of luxury has an instinctive understanding of the intangible, unforgettable, resonant magic that weaves itself round people when they come together in person. We talk a lot about ‘experiential luxury’ when what we mean is the power of the personal and the human, vested in kindness and generosity and creativity, and in the kind of meaningful, emotional exchanges that it’s impossible to replicate on Zoom, or Teams. It’s for that reason that events have been so much a part of the experience of being a Walpole member - it’s at the special happenings we host in beautiful places like Gleneagles and Claridge’s that you feel what it is to be a Walpole member than simply its functional benefits, valuable as they are.
It has been strange not to be able to gather Walpole members together in the way we were used to. I look back on the six months immediately before the pandemic changed everything, and I have so many wonderful memories of things both big and small - the intimacy of the member socials at The Hari, or the CEO lunches at The Savoy; the glamour of the annual Walpole Awards at The Dorchester, celebrating the exceptional achievements of an exceptional sector and garnering global media coverage; the buzz of Frieze and October’s Culture and Creativity dinner at Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour; the scene-setting CEO and Chairman’s dinner in January, at which Walpole sets out the priorities for the year - I can hardly believe it’s only nine months since we launched the British Luxury Sustainability Manifesto at Ten Trinity Square; the Walpole Future of British Luxury Summit every February, which brought together the great minds and game changers of luxury. Whatever the occasion, I always knew that guests would leave having met someone interesting, having had a conversation which inspired them, and having learned something new. I would often wonder if the most useful thing I could do as Walpole’s CEO was to simply stand back and create enough space for the light to come in, to bring members together and let the ideas creep quietly in around the edges.
We may not be able to do things on a grand scale for the foreseeable future - it will come as no surprise that the 19th Walpole Awards will not take place until November next year, rather than this: If we want to get through the crisis in the best way we can, the priority must be to keep everyone safe and to follow the advice. But when you bring Walpole members together, incredible things happen, and from next week, Walpole will once more bring its members together in person, albeit in a programme of what I’m calling ‘micro-networking’. The programme of Business Support Webinars will continue on a Thursday at 4pm (recordings available for anyone wanting the content on catch-up), as will other digital experiences (we are very encouraged by the success of the Festival of Luxury Marketing), but we will add to those a series of elegant, elevated, thoughtful suppers, breakfasts and cocktails in beautiful places. We may not be able to bring more than six people together at a time, but constraint fosters creativity, and I feel sure these smaller, more intimate moments will be those we will all treasure.
Julia Hobsbawm’s Simplicity Principle posits the idea that less is more, with six as a magic number that replaces complexity and overload with clarity and focus. A theory conceived before the pandemic was anything other than a scary movie plot, it resonates strongly now that the Rule of Six dictates how we are able to be together. As we start to feel our way into living alongside the virus, the intimacy of breaking bread together in small groups, and the scarcity value of being able to meet at all, could well be the most precious thing for us all.
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