Brexit, Trump Shake Consumers; U.K. Luxury Aims to Steady Unease

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A breakfast was among events that aimed to support the international expansion of British brands — from Molton Brown to Ormonde Jayne.

Describing the U.S.’s luxury market as the world’s largest — and most important — Walpole, an alliance of British luxury brands, celebrated a British luxury inaugural trade delegation to the U.S. in New York last week.

Walpole’s two-day itinerary of events, led in partnership with the GREAT Britain campaign and the U.K.’s Department for International Trade, spanned an exclusive dinner at the British Consul General’s residence to a luxury showcase at Spring Studios. It aimed to highlight the best of British luxury in order to support the global expansion of British brands, deepen critical relationships in the U.S. market and encourage the U.S. to purchase more British luxury goods.

Beginning with a roundtable breakfast at the British Consulate General, Walpole representatives, brands and media came together to discuss the British luxury market at large as well as the role that U.K. luxury items play in the U.S. market. The concept of “Britishness” in fashion was discussed (from royal warrants to a healthy dose of humor and the blend between what is old and new).

After the discussion, Walpole’s chief executive officer, Helen Brocklebank, reiterated that the U.S. market is an absolutely critical one for British brands. “The U.S. market is the single most important market for us,” she affirmed. “Walpole has been focused on what the quality of Britishness is first and foremost, and then how do we use that and make the allure of Britishness grow.”

Among insights illuminated at the breakfast, Brocklebank highlighted the suggestion that Britain must be marketed first and luxury second — particularly due to the current, complex political climate. “Brexit has made Britain look like an inward-looking nation, but we have a very long history of looking out to the rest of the world for incredible ideas to show off our point of view,” she said.

“Between Brexit and Trump, there is a sense of uncertainty in the world,” Brocklebank continued. “And business doesn’t like uncertainty.” But the context of luxury in an otherwise uncertain world, she noted, is especially compelling. “The heritage of Britishness feels very stable — that in a world where we feel less certain is reassuring,” she explained.

Brocklebank pointed out that there is something authentic (note: a key selling point for Millennials) about the timelessness of British luxury and craftsmanship. “The beautiful experience you have in a hotel like Claridge’s, or when you’re in a Bentley, or you’re drinking an English sparkling wine — you can’t reproduce that,” she reflected. “It’s really special, the emotion, the connection to that. The authenticity is something that doesn’t leave you.” Keen storytelling and branding, fittingly, had been described during the roundtable discussion as main points of differentiation that British brands should capitalize on.

Linda Pilkington, founder of Ormonde Jayne, added that an opportunity where executives come together to discuss is of great significance to her. “This type of event brings everything back together, and makes it tighter, so today was very important for me,” she confided. Pilkington noted that the high level of support showcased at the breakfast boosted her confidence moving forward, knowing that British brands have solid ground on with which to forge ahead.

Global president at Molton Brown, Mark Johnson, agreed that the breakfast empowered its participants with an opportunity for the different businesses to learn from one another. “We as a group are looking at retail today as an opportunity as opposed to a challenge,” he summed up. “In the media and in conversations with people, we constantly talk about the challenges — but today’s challenge is tomorrow’s opportunity.”

By Lauren Olsen Courtesy WWD

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