Cool Britannia By Hannah Norman
Britain may be firmly on course for Brexit from Europe, and so it seems that now more than ever is the time for this nation to be focussing on its own industries and talents.
It’s the perfect time to reinstate the British luxury craftsmen who have been seemingly disappearing. Andrew Guest, Commercial Director in charge of special projects at Thomas Goode for the past 17 years, is in agreement. “We have some of the finest craftsmen in Britain,” he told us, “but you never really hear about them, because they don’t really sell themselves. There is a lot of skill out there but it’s hidden, even though the industry itself is actually very active.” William Asprey, founder of William & Son, thinks likewise. “I think that there are some extremely skilled craftspeople who perhaps don’t get the recognition they deserve,” he explains. “British quality and design is respected the world over, and we need to make sure that, right now, we encourage others to come into it.” William is also keen to stress that it is the British element of the crafts process that needs special mention. “There is a skill and attention to detail which you don’t necessarily get from other countries, where they are newer at doing this sort of work,” he says.
British craftsmanship is indeed starting to re-establish itself on the global stage and that, surely, is something to celebrate. British fashion designers are showcasing innovation on the catwalk, the British automobile industry is rightfully world-renowned, and even British sparkling wine is holding its own against its more famous fizzy cousin from across the English Channel.
There’s further good news in terms of foreign income to Britain. Figures from Visit Britain show that overseas visitors to the UK spent £4.2 billion during January to March 2017, up 11% on the same period in 2016 and setting a new record for the first three months of the year. In particular, the latest data shows that flight bookings from China to the UK between May to October 2017 are up 49% compared to the same period in 2016. Visitors from China are also three times as likely to buy bags and purses in Britain than the average visitor, and twice as likely to buy personal accessories.
Subsequently, it’s time to stand up for our luxury industry, and time to celebrate British craftsmanship, creativity and ingenuity. The Luxury Channel has subsequently selected a few of our favourite British brands to showcase our point….
Perhaps one of Britain’s most iconic brands, Aston Martin has been at the forefront of automotive excellence for over a century, and continues to be a world leader in offering supreme performance and beautiful craftsmanship in one – extremely – elegant package. “I think it’s important to say that Aston Martins will always be beautiful,” Marek Reichman, the marque’s Design Director, says, “and the technology has to be a part of who we are and what we are as a brand. You combine technology and beauty together.” Perhaps this is why many of the world’s leading brands have aligned themselves with Aston Martin, firstly in terms of collaboration (such as their projects with Zagato and Red Bull Racing) and also in terms of partnerships (such as the launch of their capsule collections with Hackett London). Although Marek is quick to emphasise that, “for an Aston Martin, it’s not about fashion; it’s very much about style, and it’s generating something which continues to be exciting.” He goes on to explain that, “an Aston Martin must have a certain feeling. You have the heritage, the culture, the history – what we call power, beauty and soul – all to think about as well.” All of which makes for not just a dynamic piece of machinery, but a very beautiful vehicle too.
Award-winning sculptor David Harber is perhaps best known for creating exquisite sundials, which the company has been producing for over a quarter of a century. “We make sundials because I’m fascinated by time and by the precision involved with metalwork, and I’ve always been inspired by ancient mathematics,” David reveals. Accordingly, he is now a member of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers – an accolade in itself – and the British Sundial Society recognises the company’s works as the benchmark for good quality. David and his team have created sculptures for English Heritage for the Queen Mother, and for the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, although “recently we’ve started making sculptures that are not sundials – they are objects that have been made simply because they’re beautiful, so we’ve been letting the looser side of our creativity come to the fore. We’re not restricted to 3000-year-old mathematics or the specific of the cosmos – we’re free from the bonds of the heavens.” This diversified approach seems to be serving David well, as the company has continued to go from strength to strength and is currently enjoying its best ever year. “We’ve been constantly growing,” David says. “But in terms of craftsmanship in Britain, there are hundreds of thousands of craftsmen producing extraordinary, world-class work. British craftsmanship is the benchmark of quality and style. Everybody knows us the world over for making beautiful things that people want, and there’s a great deal of pleasure in knowing that what you’ve created is going to be perfect for your client.”
Founded by Gerry Ettinger in 1934, Ettinger has established its reputation in the UK and abroad as one of the finest leather goods manufacturers in Britain. The company is still run by the same family today, after Gerry’s eldest son Robert Ettinger – the company’s current CEO – took over the reins from his father in 1995. “We are very proud to be a luxury British brand, retailing beautiful leather goods globally, with our factory in Walsall, outside Birmingham,” Robert reveals. “Being a British brand is very special – it is who we are; it is our very soul. Entwined with British history, we have our own unique history and heritage.” Indeed, many of the products that Ettinger sells today are based on the classic styles of wallets and bags owned by Robert’s father and grandfather, such as the Bullion range. “Making a leather product is not a science, it is an art,” Robert says. “Craftsmanship is artistry; it is the quality of design and work shown in something made by hand. In our factory, we have a skills base that has been passed down from generation to generation. We have some of the world’s leading experts in manufacturing and 83 years of knowledge in the design and making of leather accessories.” It is this high quality skill and attention to detail, coupled with the company’s identity as a British brand that has made them stand out so prominently both in Britain and abroad. “We are intensely proud of our British craftsmanship and that is what is so appealing to our customers,” Robert acknowledges. “We are a niche brand, but we export globally. I think it is because we are a niche product with a very high level of craftsmanship, history and heritage, together with a Royal Warrant, that has made us so universally appealing. If standards are high, I do think there is an increasing demand for luxury British products globally.”
With performances that take place in the spectacular Opera Pavilion, and set within the rolling landscape of the Chiltern Hills, is the Garsington Opera. A passion for promoting excellence in opera has ensured that Garsington engages the very best performers from around the world. The company also champions talent from within the UK who are just beginning to make their names on the worldwide opera stage. The Garsington Opera Orchestra provides the artistic core of performances, with many of the musicians having played with the company for over twenty years. The centrepiece of every performance at Garsington is, of course, the intricate sets. “It takes weeks – months, even – of careful preparation to create each set piece for the operas,” says Douglas Boyd, Garsington Opera’s Artistic Director, “and a lot of work put in by a team of very dedicated and supremely talented people, all of whom are experts at their craft. The worlds into which you immerse yourself at the opera are all thanks to their talent and craftsmanship.”
The beautiful, family-run Wiston Estate is nestled in the heart of England’s rolling South Downs. Employing time-honoured methods, Wiston produces sparkling wines of exceptional quality. The Estate has been in the hands of the Goring family since 1743. Presided over by Harry and Pip Goring, the Estate is now managed by their son Richard and his Marketing Director wife Kirsty. But it was Pip’s long-held conviction that the estate held the potential to grow high-quality grapes that led to the birth of this family venture, which remains unrelenting in the pursuit of quality. “People’s interest in hundreds of acres of barley and wheat seemed rather limited,” says Harry, “but now we’ve planted a vineyard, they seem to be fascinated.” Wiston’s vintage wines are picked by hand and gently pressed in England’s only traditional Coquard press, one of only four outside France’s Champagne region. “It is the limited nature of our vintage wines, which depend upon the age of the vines, the climate and the viticultural care they receive, which makes them such a luxurious product,” Kirsty tells us. “The particular combination of these different elements each year makes every wine, every vintage, unique. It will often take over five years of maturing to get from grape to drinking. This is a process that is never rushed at Wiston and wines will only be released when we feel they have reached their true potential.” The tiny yields produced are critical to Wiston’s purity and elegance, creating a new benchmark for English sparkling wine – in fact, the company’s wines have been awarded twelve gold medals in top international competitions. These are not the only accolades that Wiston has received – British TV favourite Mary Berry featured the wines in her Absolute Christmas Favourites programme for the BBC, and HM The Queen launched P&O’s largest cruise ship, Britannia, with a Nebuchadnezzar of Wiston Brut NV. If it’s good enough for Royalty….