A perspective on English Luxury
Working in luxury media we’re often canvassed as to the meaning of ‘luxury’ as if in some way its definition subtly shifts from year to year like the trade winds of the Caribbean or the fragile Amazonian eco system. It doesn’t. The origin of the customer may alter as new empires emerge and old decline, but the essence of luxury remains reassuringly the same.
So what are the benchmarks of luxury? Luxury names must be tirelessly consistent and possess an authenticity and sustained conviction. Qualities such as excellence, precision, craftsmanship, taste and innovation ensure that consumers keep coming back.
Ideas, creativity, invention are core to this country’s brand image. Its heritage and tradition have been and continue to be its platform, its anchor, its heart and soul and this magnetic attraction draws admiring visitors from all corners of the globe.
‘Luxury’ in England is so much more than the narrowly defined parameters that international brands stoically adhere to. On these shores are hotels and guesthouses that ooze authenticity. Many have set the standards, rituals and principles for modern hospitality, but where they really have the edge is in their character. Many are simply unique, one-offs, quirky, historic, exciting, charming in equal measure. They are places of discovery, multi-layered and intriguing. They’re everyone’s favourite uncle, bursting with incredible stories of a life well lived. They’ve hosted illustrious and iconic figures from Shakespeare and Lennon to Churchill and the silver screen heroes and heroines of Hollywood. But the real beauty is they never fade. They evolve and refresh, mixing the old and new with contemporary slants on design and cuisine whilst retaining the charm, authenticity and hospitality their reputation is built on.
Traditional boat and wooden yacht builders, Stirling & Son could carve you out a timeless 1880 Gentleman’s Cutter or a charmingly named 1835 Smuggling Lugger and have recently completed commissions for HMS Victory. Chris Clemes Rodmakers produce exquisite fly fishing sets in bamboo and leather and will even engrave the recipient’s name on the stunning presentation case. Draper’s of Glastonbury fashion the most comfortable welcome for your feet with their soft leather slippers lined with lambswool. Liverpool based textile designer Helen Chatterton will fashion scarves from fine quality Harris Tweed, each from different swathes of fabric making every single piece unique.
When you encounter English craftsmanship, it has still retained the generational element of passing down ancient expertise from father to son, mother to daughter. The Galvin Brothers continue the family tradition with hand crafted English Oak furniture from their Beverley workshop in Yorkshire. The charmingly named Taylor’s Eye Witness based in the steel city of Sheffield for centuries, produce exquisite pocket and kitchen knives. Each piece is completely unique and bears the personal signature of its maker. Geoffrey Parker Games produce arguably the world’s finest board games with stunning backgammon sets and roulette games in snakeskin, alligator and specialist high grade woods and precious metals. Everything is painstakingly designed and assembled by hand from their humble village workshop in Essex. Orders come from Royalty, Heads of State and the international jet-set. They, like so many esteemed and largely undiscovered English designers and crafts people, skate the glossy perimeter of luxury, yet remain boutique, exclusive and eschew mass production and international reputation to retain their hallowed position in the world of the bespoke, personal, intimate and truly unique.
High profile names like designer Paul Smith and the peerless luxury of Bentley Motors are the conspicuous standard bearers for UK luxury but there is a whole other strata of artisans, entrepreneurs and creative thinkers who have built a niche market and loyal following at home and abroad. This sort of luxury doesn’t have to live behind a shiny shop front and within an elite postcode. That rather misses the point. It’s a personal thing and is not exclusively price dependent. It communicates a value system where ‘ok’ doesn’t cut it and where skill and creativity win over the pedestrian and the ‘one size fits all’ mantra of the mainstream.
It would be myopic to caricature this country as purely a purveyor of history and tradition. At its very heart is a world class engine room of innovation and new ideas that are informed by this great library of multiple cultures, new technology, music, literature, art, science and entrepreneurship called ‘England’.
The ‘new’ surprises, delights and often shocks as great ideas often do. You may see this in the revolutionary lines of contemporary English architecture, in the science and mastery of the leading edge gastronomers or the technique and design of groundbreaking fashion, boutique crafts or the discreet ingenuity of high-end services.
I could talk of the iconic, cultural brands like Wimbledon, the English Premier League and Glastonbury where modern hospitality and world class entertainment meet but then I’d be unpeeling another layer, another collection of stories with their own fascinating history and exciting future, just like England itself.