Interview Spotlight: Bringing British Luxury Forward

Helen Brocklebank, CEO of Walpole

Speaker at TREND: Luxury Fashion Digital Innovators, 28.03.18

Helen Brocklebank

Helen Brocklebank is the CEO of Walpole, the trade body for the British luxury industry. During her ten-year tenure, Helen founded the highly successful, multi-platform brand extension ‘Bazaar At Work’ for Omega and created enduring content partnerships with iconic brands including Bentley’s sponsorship of Bazaar Art and Esquire’s Man at the Top Awards for Glenmorangie.

She brings to Walpole a deep understanding of, and passion for, the business of luxury, an unerring ability to conceive creative and impactful initiatives and an entrepreneurial spirit that drives their successful delivery.

Her mantra: Mens sana in corpore sano. – “I kind of hate admitting it. I’ve spent years trying to perfect a public image of a louche aesthete, better reading Proust on a chaise-longue than deadlifting 50 kg –  but I work out every day before breakfast. As CEO of Walpole, I find the stronger I am physically, the stronger I am in my role.”


Tell us a bit more about yourself, how did you get into luxury?

When I was a teenager, I spent all my pocket money on Harper’s, Vogue and other glossy magazines, reading them from cover to cover, drinking in all the famous Bond Street names, soaking up their stories, imagining a glamorous world a million miles away from my family home in the far north of England. After I graduated, I began work in publishing, and when I worked on legendary titles like Harper’s Bazaar and Esquire it made me realise that the luxury sector was even more exciting than I’d dreamed because behind the glamorous image were brilliant, dynamic businesses and I became fascinated by understanding how those businesses worked.

Walpole’s mission is all about promoting and developing British luxury businesses worldwide. What would you say is the main challenge for British luxury brands today?

The biggest challenge without a doubt is Brexit and the key issues for British luxury are, free movement of people, the potential absence of a customs union, and the lack of clarity over transition. All of these things are immensely disruptive for business, not least because it creates a great deal of uncertainty. In the British luxury sector, 30 to 60% of the workforce are EU nationals and a lack of frictionless access to a wide range of skills could present a real speedbump for businesses that are otherwise flourishing. Whilst the key sales markets for luxury are the US, China and the Middle East, there’s a complicated and well established European supply chain, and so any interruption or delay to free movement of goods can be disastrous for a business. However, British luxury businesses are resilient, creative and entrepreneurial; with any disruption also comes opportunity and we need to set our sights on the far horizon.

We have seen consumers’ behaviour changing from ‘conspicuous consumption’ to ‘mindful consumption’, predominantly in luxury. How do you think the luxury sector is facing these changes in consumers’ behaviour?

The luxury sector is perfectly placed to maximise the opportunities presented by the shift from ‘having’ to ‘being’, from ownership to experience. Luxury has always been an experience –  and the product is a precious, highly-prized souvenir of that experience. That being said, it’s interesting to see how luxury businesses are responding to the trend in ever more imaginative ways – you only have to look at what’s happening in beauty to see how it’s permeated all strata of the sector: at Charlotte Tilbury, for example, a luxury business that experienced rapid growth in the last few years, the promise is all about the power of transformation – you buy into a vision of a more glamorous, beautiful you,  brilliant digital content. How-to videos with Charlotte Tilbury herself for example or makeup artists on counter show you how to achieve the transformation. The emphasis on digital storytelling and incredible customer experience one sees in luxury is the secret to evoking long-term, high-value emotional connection with the luxury customer.

If you could give one piece of advice to an emerging luxury brand to survive in this competitive environment, what would it be?

Never compromise on quality if building your own brand and it’s your name on the door.

As Chief Executive of Walpole, you are surrounded by the most forward-thinking luxury brands in the UK. Who would you say are the pioneers in innovation?

I see so many examples of innovation in the British luxury sector it’s hard to pick just one,  but Farfetch constantly raises the bar and has innovation hardwired into its brand promise.  New mobile features being explored mean customers could be able to share personalised preference information with Farfetch’s bricks and mortar retail partners, and even signal how much assistance they want from boutique staff. Their partnership with Burberry has also taken things to the next level. Burberry has developed technology that’s integrated into the Farfetch API and allows the brand’s entire global inventory to be available through an e-commerce platform for the very first time, giving Burberry a reach in 150 countries. I was also really excited to hear about Show to Door, which meant that for 24 hours immediately after the Burberry show in London Fashion Week, pieces could be bought straight off the runway and delivered to London customers straight away. As Farfetch founder José Neves told Walpole last year, “Take risks – in a world that’s constantly changing, the biggest risk is to stand still and not take risks. You have to keep innovating, changing and looking for what’s next.”

Don’t miss Helen Brocklebank speaking at #TRENDbyVERB discussing Luxury Fashion Digital Innovators on 28th of March at the Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design. Reserve your place here