Does anyone understand the British luxury retail market better than Helen Brocklebank? Words by Charlotte Pasha.
Helen Brocklebank is CEO of Walpole, which represents more than 250 British luxury brands.
The organisation promotes and protects British luxury at home and abroad – “supporting London as a destination for affluent visitors”, Brocklebank says.
This can involve visiting New York each year, “where a third of the whole US largest luxury market is – the US is the single biggest market for UK luxury”, she adds.
“London really is the luxury capital of the world.”
Walpole also works closely with Korea and tries to educate luxury retailers about the value of the Middle Eastern visitor.
“London has more Middle Eastern visitors than any other country in the world.
“They have an average transaction value of around £3,000 per person,” she tells me in the apt surroundings of Jean-Georges at The Connaught.
China is also important.
“We are working on an initiative around Chinese visitors. Chinese visitors plan a trip 18 months in advance, so you have to constantly be on WeChat [the Chinese equivalent of What’s App] talking about the allure of London.
“There’s still a big barrier around the visa for Chinese visitors,” she says.
And this point shouldn’t be overlooked: London really is the luxury capital of the world, Brocklebank says.
“There’s a unique mix here of incredible retail, sensational hotels, culture, heritage, modernity, innovation, an incredibly vibrant scene – there’s the perfect mix in London that you don’t get anywhere else in the same way,” she says.
Global millennial customer
Brocklebank knows that luxury is changing.
“The biggest change in the last 10 years has been the rise of mobile and digital,” she says.
“Now, there’s a really exciting dialogue with customers where you can really connect,” she adds.
And today, storytelling is just as important as the product itself.
“The customer is much more interested in getting under the bonnet of the brand: how is a Mulberry handbag put together? What is the craftsmanship?” she says.
This demand is partially due to the rise of the global millennial customer.
“The millennial customer on the whole wants their brands to have a reason for being or a purpose. It can’t just be frivolous and opulent – those things are important but you also need to be doing some good in the world.
“The customer also wants to play with the brand, which British luxury brands are really good at – there’s a wit to British luxury.”
There are also good times ahead, she predicts.
“The West End is heaving. Rolex has had a great year, Jessica McCormack had the best summer ever,” she adds.
And, of course, Christmas is just around the corner, generating enormous footfall in Mayfair and St James’s.
“There are lots of reasons to be very cheerful,” she says.
Main picture: Helen Brocklebank.
Second picture: Rolex.