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Hawthorn joins UK trade mission in the Middle East

Recently, Hawthorn Advisors joined a UK trade mission to Riyadh to mark a flourishing relationship. Among the fin tech, ed tech, med tech, media tech, everything tech, entrepreneurs, were leaders of the great cultural institutions; our museums, opera houses, concert halls.

Political leaders are begging our cultural sector to be “a bit more French” in promoting ourselves. Our architects and designers already know the opportunities in a kingdom unfurling the wonders of its history and cultural identity, too long hidden from the rest of the world. Tourism will follow.

Standing in the sandstone evening sunlight of Diriyah, our delegation mused on how we might be a bit showier about our own cultural excellence. One suggested a national day. We really liked the logo of Great next to the Union flag. One of the guests had masterminded the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, and suggested playfulness was a national quality which was under rated.

Which other country would simulate the Queen sky diving in a James Bond sketch? 

We might also celebrate a tradition of craft, which King Charles champions tirelessly. It was this that Walpole, the official sector body for UK luxury, was cheerleading in Riyadh.

Interviewed on stage was the chair of Walpole, Michael Ward, who is the Managing Director of Harrods. He has described luxury retailing as a state of mind, an aura of uncompromising quality, innovative, lasting. Since Michael has been in the job for 20 years, he seems to have become a luxury item himself.

One of his first acts was to move Harrods away from being defined by its seasonal sales. Flogging a mass of stuff brought in for the purpose, is not luxury.

Helen Brocklebank, CEO of Walpole, welcomes membership on the following criteria: “You should be outstanding in your own particular field and exemplify the highest standards in terms of quality, style, design, craftsmanship, creativity, service, innovation and sustainability.”

Where once luxury might be equated simply with wealth, it is now imbued with values of excellence and sustainability. It is rarer. And the expense is not arbitrary. If a bag is made from natural materials and designed with skill and if the environment and community which produces this bag is valued, it takes time, and you are paying for that. Luxury is patient.

The backlash against fast fashion, which debased creativity and trashed the environment has led to a greater respect for luxury brands. The big challenge for luxury is how far its customers will embrace recycling materials. A friend of mine who designs high end fabrics says she has been initially disheartened by her attempts to entice the American market to accept more sustainable or recycled materials. For some customers, new linen or cashmere is non-negotiable.

Luxury brands have, unsurprisingly, being less hit by the cost of living than other brands, and have a chance to plough profits into innovative, sustainable materials, supply chains and skills.

A resurgence of skills and craftsmanship would be a wonderful thing for the UK and its place in the world.

I have been reading The Radical Potter, by Tristram Hunt, the director of the V and A museum, which was created in order inspire a nation of craft and design.

The full title of the book is The Radical Potter: Josiah Wedgwood and the Transformation of Britain.

It is not an empty claim. When Wedgwood created the famous Frog Service, for Catherine the Great, crowds came to view it.  The happy client, in turn, praised Britain as “that island of wisdom, courage and virtue.”

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