“The UK may be home to fewer luxury brands than, say, France, but it’s still a hotbed of crafts, skills and new technologies,” argues Daniel Spring of Spring Design. “Craft has been more celebrated in France and Italy, but that needs to change. And Walpole is part of the process of shining a light on that craft and part of the process of helping designers reach new markets and capitalise on the excitement that’s growing around British luxury craft.”
Spring, who makes highly polished metal furniture-cum-art pieces (most recently his made-to-order Puddle table, made of laser-cut and hand-assembled and polished stainless steel to mimic reflection in water) is just one of a new clutch of British artisans, in interiors, design, food and clothing, to come under the wing of Walpole. That’s a member-funded, independent organisation established by Daks, William Grant and Coutts some 23 years ago to promote various British luxury crafts (with comparable organisations already operating in countries such as France and Italy) and to lobby for its interests.
But while Walpole’s 180 members are well established (each must have a £2 million-plus turnover to qualify), perhaps its more important element is its showcasing of smaller, up-and-coming luxury goods companies: Out of the Dark salvaged furniture, Jessica Poole jewellery, Natasha Daintry porcelain, Billy Lloyd ceramics, Gillies Jones blown glass and Shona Marsh silverware. It does this particularly through its Brands of Tomorrow programme, now in its sixth year, launched to assist new players in the market.
“I always looked to get help and couldn’t afford it,” says John Ayton, who co-created Links of London (selling it in 2006) and is now co-owner of British watch company Bremont and founder of Walpole Brands of Tomorrow. “The luxury industry is very particular in the help and experience it requires of companies trying to get into it, so mentoring is important. Besides, a lot of luxury brands are run by managers — few have inspiring leaders — so in many ways they’re quite dull. Often the most exciting businesses are the new ones, those that come from outside and have no preconceptions, so big companies can learn from the small ones too.”
Some eight brands (whittled down from around 135) are each year assigned a business mentor for a year (this year, Ayton himself is working with Nick Ashley’s Private White VC menswear line; previously he has done so with shoe brand Mr Hare), hooking them up with experts and workshops in branding, distribution, finance and IP issues. Some 42 Brands of Tomorrow have been mentored to date. This year’s clutch includes Paul A Young chocolate, Goat women’s wear, Olivia von Halle nightwear, Rachel Galley jewellery and Olli Ella nursery furniture.
Typically and increasingly, Ashton argues, such brands make a mark less for the quality of their goods, which is taken as a given, as their back-story. He adds: “To be successful, a luxury brand has to sell product and everything about it, everything about the brand, has to be at a very high level, which is costly and difficult when you’re up against very big, established companies. But what young brands have is a personality, not a long-since-dead founder. They have a story. Even a crazy one: the idea of creating a new British watch brand, for example, or a Jamaican guy with dreads and attitude [Marc Hare of Mr Hare] doing these very refined shoes. That point of view is one of the very British traits of these companies.”
Indeed, Brands of Tomorrow is now set for expansion, with plans to open a number of international satellites, the first likely to be in Hong Kong within the coming year. “It’s all very well sitting in an ivory tower in London talking about how great British luxury brands are,” says Ayton, “but we have to be out there in the markets talking about it too.”