While most of us in the industry would hate to admit it, left unattended, the British luxury industry is vulnerable. It cannot in the modern retail era of same-day-delivery expectations sit idle and sullen and rely on reputation to see it through. When factories shut down and independent artisans can barely pay the rent on their workshops, you need someone who understands value over cost who can pick up the pieces. When requisite skills are failing to be handed down to the next generations, signalling the death knell for centuries-old expertise and craft tradition, someone has to take the bull by the horns and re-energize things.
One such man is William Asprey, chairman of William & Son, a relatively young but much lauded (and Royal Warranted) brand that is founded on the idea that British luxury is as multitudinous, versatile as well as harmonised enough to be found under one roof. As a brand in itself, it has a reputation for longevity and for respecting the British heritage it represents.
William is a man of considerable pedigree in the industry, as part of the Asprey family and their Bond Street based eponymous brand. This saw him in charge of the silver in the Officer’s Mess when he was in the Royal Green Jackets. He has dedicated time, money and energy to the preservation of the best of British. Since 2010 he has bought three factories that produce leather, tweed and cashmere. This is where William & Son can make their mark on a timely niche in the market.
Over the last 15 years we have seen smaller luxury firms amalgamated under one roof, be it the Richemont Group, LVMH or Kering. By and large, British brands have resisted the supposed safety net of conglomerate ownership. However, many find it hard to believe that their brand’s DNA and produce will not be compromised to help invisible shareholders. William & Son can, however, be trusted as a reliable custodian for small brands that include suppliers, manufacturers and artisans. It is a two-way street too, as William says, ‘buying businesses and factories really just consolidates our position and it consolidates our supply.’ So William & Son can be sure that their leather accessories, apparel, homeware, stationery and all manner of goods in their Bruton Street store are of the highest standard for the customer.
Behind the scenes however, the business’ credo of altruism is paying off in securing a future for British luxury. William says, ‘Historically people have struggled with apprenticeships. For some time manufacturing has been a bit of a dirty word. Many people want to go to the city and make a lot of money –manufacturing is getting your hands dirty, getting creative and in order to encourage people to do that we need to start with early school education and try and engage with the younger generation.’ But there is plenty to feel positive about and William is up for the fight to make it flourish. ‘We’ve always been a very creative country. If you look at Formula One, fantastic designers, jewellery, silver, cars, there is a wealth of ability in this country and we’ve just got to encourage people to follow in their footsteps, whether it is architecture, tweed, cashmere jumpers, it is all here. What we’ve got to do is make people feel proud about British-made. You go abroad and they love British-made, they know it is better quality, it is going to last and they are happy to pay more for it.’
From the William & Son perspective they practise what they preach, ‘We have built new factories and taken on more people and apprentices. For our leather we have doubled the size of the factory and established a new purpose-built factory in Canning Town for that. For the [tweed] company we have doubled the size of what they had and taken on more people; and we are also just starting on building the first new cashmere factory in Hawick for the last 50 years. So we are investing in British businesses.’
We cannot tell what may happen that could trip up the momentum that is helping to drive up the enthusiasm and prospects for all our favourite home-grown brands, but with the knowledge that people like William Asprey have their fingers on the pulse, we can be assured that the future is bright.
William & Son 34-36 Bruton Street, London, W1J 6QX