The C Word

If you are taking the time to read this, and continue to do so – which I very much hope is the case – then we are already creating something together.

For every writer needs a reader, and in the act of reading a story may take on a life of its own. There’s a lot of talk in the luxury industry nowadays about the power of storytelling to build a brand; and naturally, that’s something I’m pleased to hear. But as I’m sure you already know, storytelling is an integral part of what makes us human, and has been for thousands of years; the sharing of experiences, in order to shape the narrative of our lives, whether through prehistoric cave paintings, or the epic poems of ancient Mesopotamia, carved onto clay tablets.

This might seem embarrassingly obvious, but it sometimes surprises me when bureaucrats ignore our innate creativity, and seek answers in algorithms instead. It’s not that I’m a technophobe about the digital revolution – I am aware of its myriad possibilities and benefits – yet the extraordinary power of the imagination continues to inspire and delight me. I am privileged to work with a brilliant editorial team whose originality shapes Harper’s Bazaar and Town & Country in ever-evolving ways; and it is our conversations with each other, and with our contributors and readers, that are at the heart of what makes these magazines so distinctive. Both titles are possessed of magnificent literary and artistic legacies – Bazaar has published stories by a dazzling array of writers including Virginia Woolf and Nancy Mitford, and commissioned Man Ray, Marc Chagall and Andy Warhol, among others; while Town & Country has an equally distinguished heritage, introducing Evelyn Waugh’s first version of Brideshead Revisited, alongside trailblazing illustrators. We continue in this great tradition today, with new work by brilliant contemporary authors (Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson, Sarah Waters) and covers by world-class artists (from Tracey Emin to Yayoi Kusama).

Could an algorithm unearth an exceptional artist or writer? Possibly, but it was the judges of Bazaar’s short story competition who discovered Daisy Johnson, who then went on to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and our commissioning editors give endless encouragement and support to emerging poets and painters.

In these ways, we have much in common with the most successful luxury brands of today, who understand that creativity has to be at the heart of what they produce. It’s not computer science that has delivered Gucci’s record-breaking growth, but the beguiling, unbridled imagination of Alessandro Michele; while Karl Lagerfeld’s longstanding reign at Chanel has been sustained by his visionary genius, and a refusal to become slowed down by corporate conventions (indeed, he condemns any form of management meeting as a horrendous waste of his time). In turn, an effective CEO will put in place the best structure to support a creative virtuoso, rather than smothering inventiveness with mind-numbing procedural demands. Naturally, it works both ways: every flourishing artist needs a patron, a gallery, a champion; just as a thriving designer requires an efficient supply chain and smooth-running route to market. And as a writer myself, I am forever grateful to my literary agent, and to the publishers that ensure my books reach an international audience. Needless to say, there is nothing more dispiriting than feeling let down when IT systems fail, or creative endeavour is crushed by business mismanagement.

So perhaps this is the eternal question for artists and entrepreneurs alike: how can creativity and commerce combine in the most fruitful way? Or to put it another way, how can a writer reach a reader? We can now choose to self-publish online, just as artists and craftspeople have found a direct path to buyers via Instagram. Herein lie the wonderful possibilities of new technology and digital platforms. Even so, the disruptive power of the tech titans – to move fast and break things, in pursuit of amassing even more profit and global control – is not necessarily conducive to the nurturing of creative talent. And isn’t the fact that the billionaires of Silicon Valley keep their own children well away from smartphones and addictive social media indicative of the dangers of becoming dependent on a virtual world, viewed through the confines of a small screen, rather than embracing the boundless possibilities of real life?

Questions, questions, but still no answers… Fortunately, for me at least, I have come to realise that this uncertainty is integral to continuing a creative journey. If I understood everything, I’d stand still; by remaining intrigued by an unknown outcome, the odyssey continues. Thus the oldest story of all is renewed again, even as a different path emerges; and we move onwards, ever onwards…

Justine Picardie is featured in the 2019 Walpole Book of British Luxury. To view a digital version of the book, please click here. To find out more about featuring in the 2020 edition, please click here or email rosie.mason@thewalpole.co.uk.