“British-ness” is the mystifying flair that guided Walpole and 18 British luxury brand partners to return for its pecond annual “hop across the pond” last week — landing directly in the $85 billion-dollar market which exists for British luxury goods in the U.S.
The U.S. trade delegation mission was in partnership with the New West End Co. and the Great Britain campaign led by Helen Brocklebank, chief executive officer of Walpole, and Michael Ward, chairman of Walpole and managing director of Harrods. Its purpose was two-fold: celebrate a rich heritage of craftsmanship and appreciation of innovation under British luxury, and address opportunity for global audience development.
“The U.S. is our biggest market,” said Mia Jones, brand public relations executive at Belmond Ltd., a hotel and leisure company, to WWD during a brand showcase.
And with almost 80 percent of British luxury being destined for export and with millions of Americans indulging in U.K. visits every year, spending a total of $4.6 billion, or 3.64 billion pounds — according to Visit Britain, a proponent of the U.K. government’s Great Britain campaign — the value in fostering this Anglo-American relationship is clear.
Tour highlights included an honoring of Glenda Bailey, editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar, in her efforts promoting British luxury overseas, as well as opportunities for gathering inside insights on British luxury by way of a guided panel, luxury showcase and specially commissioned report.
Appropriately named “Interpreting Contemporary British Luxury” — night one of the three-day trade delegation tour converged at Spring Place for a conversation with a diverse panel of executive leadership under Walpole, a membership platform constituting over 200 members in British luxury. The session was moderated by WWD editorial director James Fallon.
At a separate media breakfast and showcase on the final day of the tour, key findings were discussed from the British Luxury Report prepared by Brand Finance, an independent consulting firm tasked with contextualizing the value of British-ness, both monetarily and sentimentally.
“It’s the perfect time for British brands,” Mark Johnson, global president of Molton Brown, said during the panel. Johnson’s perspective is drawn from 15 years of experience driving growth for the London-born beauty and bath brand. Overall, the general mood of the night was one of celebration — citing creativity and heritage as quintessential in British brand identity.
As to how social media impacted the agenda, the consensus was that British luxury brands must utilize an individualized approach to cater directly to the Millennial luxury consumer while preserving authenticity and a “crystal clear” identity.
Andreas Neophytou, executive creative director of Spring Studios, echoed this idea and also validated the concept of using social media to “capitalize on this moment of discovery” which is vital for “creating tomorrow’s heritage.”
With one-third of the U.S. market being concentrated in New York, discerning distinctions in British luxury means maintaining the founder’s essence and appreciation for quality while “breaking codes,” as stated by Mark Harvey, managing director of wines and spirits at Chapel Down whose sparkling wines floated throughout the room during the evening event discussion.
And this “founder’s essence” of British brands is what resonates deeply within the American entrepreneurial spirit. Referencing the beginnings of British fashion house Alexander McQueen, McQueen himself began his tailoring education with an apprenticeship at Savile Row — a London street famous for its high-quality bespoke tailoring.
Similar to McQueen’s Savile Row tailoring education, Walpole aims to cultivate tomorrow’s heritage through its mentorship program, “Brands of Tomorrow.”
One featured member of this initiative is Kathryn Sargent. Prior to joining the Brands of Tomorrow program, Sargent had history as the first female head cutter of a Savile Row house, then started her own bespoke tailoring company — seen at the luxury showcase on Thursday.
As reiterated at the Tuesday evening panel, American fascination with British luxury is rooted in its aristocratic heritage and knowledge of craft, but peppered with a culture of eccentric innovation.
“Soft power” and a storied past evolved by James Bond, “Downton Abbey” and “The Crown” — are what Ward said, “is more than a show,” but rather a patchwork of aspiration defining British luxury.
The Walpole Luxury Showcase, beginning with a catered media breakfast Thursday morning at The Glasshouses in Chelsea, provided deeper insight into the allure of the Royal Family and how this creates an opportunity for independent brands seeking market share in the U.S.
Alex Haigh, director of Brand Finance, discussed the monetary impact in the American tendency to “watch the crown,” in a recent report of the state of British luxury. Defining figures like Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, and the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton are helming cultural moments, which increase desirability for independent British brands by more than 50 percent in the case of women’s fashion segments.
The monarchy bolsters British brands with a “golden touch” through royal endorsement or by marking of Royal Warrant, a formal recommendation-only honor to display the Royal Family Coat of Arms as an indication of closely kept ties — an example coming to mind being Meghan Markle wearing British luxury designer Goat to Prince Harry’s birthday party.
According to Brand Finance’s British Luxury Report, pre-royal wedding estimates indicated a valuation of British brands at $67 billion, but upon re-evaluation, the GDP increased by $1 billion — coupling with the efforts of public relations, tourism and retail industries, respectively. Overall, representation at the showcase was diverse — with fashion, accessories, skin care, food and beverage and hotel and leisure being among featured luxury sectors.
Walpole members on showcase included: Aurelia Probiotic Skincare, Belmond, Chapel Down, Cowdray, Ettinger, Farrow & Ball, FoundPop, Glenmorangie, Historic Royal Palaces, JJ Corry, Johnstons of Elgin, Kathryn Sargent, Molton Brown, Rapport London, Richard Brendon, Royal Salute, The Royal Mint, Stephen Einhorn and The Last Drop Distillers.
Mentioning again to WWD the “relentless focus on perfection,” Brocklebank pointed toward the immense opportunity for independent British brands to woo the U.S. consumer.