It’s a scene so replete with Britishness that we expect Sir David Attenborough to pull up a pew. More so if the English sparkling is Nyetimber, the tableware Wedgwood and the courtyard itself Hazlitt’s. But how can a brand earn this national treasure status? Guardians of British luxury, Walpole, assayed an answer with their Pillars of Britishness. By embracing Tomorrow’s History, Functional Creativity, Colourful Characters and being Deliberately Grounded, Walpole avers, brands can engage in a conversation that is recognised around the world as inherently British. We dissect these pillars with the help of our friends, unearthing some delightful stories along the way.
In Walpole’s words, Tomorrow’s History belongs to “those who manage to take their heritage and make it relevant to the modern world”. These are the brands who have strong roots in antiquity, yet are thoroughly modern in practice.
Nyetimber’s history lies in the land. Before Nyetimber the brand there was Nitimbreha the place. The Domesday Book of 1086 tells us so. The land holds an apocryphal and royal heritage, which Nyetimber have looped into their DNA. But it’s a symbiotic relationship as they contribute to the history; spearheading a contemporary epoch in English wine. Their innovation will itself line the history books in years to come. Their spokesperson explains that to root Nyetimber in British history, but to take something new and exciting to the world brings two very strong, appealing elements together that consumers engage with.
Wedgwood is the oldest brand in our trio. In its 260 years of adorning dining tables with immaculate ware, Wedgwood has reached an iconic status. In celebration of this, they have made the V&A the custodians of their past as a designated collection holder, the archives recognised by UNESCO Memory of the World programme. When considering how Wedgwood pioneers tomorrow’s history, their afternoon teas demonstrate their expertise in entwining heritage with twenty first century trend, adapting the British institution into a modern tea experience with a wellness focused menu. But their representative, Maja, also talks about this as a moment of change for Wedgwood: “As a brand we want to leverage this heritage part, but also further connect with modernity.”
The Georgian buildings that Hazlitt’s Hotels (Hazlitt’s, The Rookery and Batty Langley’s) call home have never looked more splendid. Chief Executive, Caroline, reveals that “first and foremost this is about the history of the buildings and their restoration, and that’s tomorrow’s history as much as it is creating legacy.” The heritage of the buildings is balanced by the delightful, contemporary surprises that lie hidden behind antique mirrors and entrenched in thrones. Expect Apple TVs, honesty bars and organic toiletries: From antiquity, new life springs. And whilst the look and feel of the hotels will always stay true to the period of the properties, Caroline explains that “to keep slightly current and attract a new audience, we update the fabrics and colours every few years […]. So we’ve introduced colour pallets that photograph particularly well and that our guests are likely to have in their own homes… or would like to.”
Walpole’s second pillar is Functional Creativity, that is: “Combining functional technicality with bold creativity.” They talk about the marriage of craft with quirky innovation, and these brands play ball.
Trained bio-chemists, Cherie Spriggs and Brad Greatix, are the Nyetimber winemakers who take the established winemaking process and break it down to the finest details, asking “how can we improve this?” In fact, the synergy between their craftsmanship and innovation has been recognised on a global scale, with Cherie winning Sparkling Winemaker of the Year in 2018. This is an accolade that no-one outside Champagne had ever won. Equally, it had never been won but a woman. So, this represents two landmark achievements in the same award. Away from the winemaking process Nyetimber are renowned for their innovative marketing. The distinctive mint green Nyetimber Bus segways across the UK to events like Wilderness where they reach a young, affluent demographic, and Glyndebourne where they meet a more established Champagne drinker. A comparatively young, agile business, they understand the importance of a dexterous marketing strategy.
Wedgwood’s products are functional by nature, and the expertise of their process is something they’ve honed over centuries. So, in a similar ilk to Nyetimber, today Wedgwood channel their creativity into their marketing based around their mantra to “make the everyday moment extraordinary.” Fresh interest in the brand is garnered through collaborations with events like Chelsea Flower Show and brands like Vera Wang. The Wedgwood experience is also something that can now be lived in Harrods, with Maja revealing that “in department stores we have our own staff telling the brand story, so we’re able to show the best of the brand. Our latest Wedgwood store at Harrods has also recently been redesigned, now including a tea experience.” Apt, then, that they enable “the finest tea experience in town” in Schulze’s Excellence Wins: A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise.
Meanwhile, every process which the Hazlitt’s brand engages with is both meticulous and unique by nature. Caroline explains that their guests ‘love history […] but they need history tarted up. […] They want the look and feel, but not necessarily the aches and pains.” An impossible task? No, just a painstaking one. One example of how the brand achieves this is that rather than strewing straw on the wonky floorboards of the Hazlitt’s buildings, Georgian style, they have re-imagined the original experience to create an authentic yet comfortable alternative for today’s guests. “We’ve stripped out the original floorboards, reinforced underneath with a sound-proof underlay and then put the old boards back in. So you still get a little bit of movement to compliment the age of the building, but you are not being woken up at 3am by the guest overhead.” Exacting, yes, but as owner Peter says; “if it was easy then everybody would be doing it.” Meanwhile, Hazlitt’s’ marketing strategy is elegant and subtle, based around the mentality that “when they need us, they will come.” And they do.
Walpole identifies their Colourful Characters pillar as “the uniqueness and multi-dimensionality of the characters behind many British brands that makes them so appealing.”
For Nyetimber there’s not one particular individual that defines its character, perhaps due to the fact that its history is fleeced in so many big names (Henry VIII, Cromwell, Vivienne Westwood). Instead, their character is defined by excellence. They explore this trait particularly through collaborations with sports events and the leading, premium events of the British seasons. For example, their spokesperson explains that they do Badminton Horse Trials, and within that work with William and Alice Fox-Pitt; the Olympian and Television Presenter who are best in field at eventing.
Joyfully, Maja sees Wedgwood’s Wild Strawberry pattern as a visual embodiment of the brand’s personality: “We call it a quintessentially British pattern. It’s retro, but with a lot of character. It’s a very traditional pattern but also represents our core. Very popular in Britain, but also in Japan where it was the most sold patten when I visited in June. It’s colourful and really brings that spirit of Britishness.”
What could be more charming than Hazlitt's' exploration of this brand pillar? Caroline begins by defining the personality of the hotels: “Humour, humour, humour. We definitely don’t take ourselves too seriously. […] We’re saucy and naughty all the way; just on the right side, a wink and a nod (we’re not vulgar).” Their humour and impeccable attention to detail can be seen in full colour through their choice of bedroom names for all three hotels. “We spent a lot of time researching colourful characters in our neighbourhoods. Some of these figures are infamous, particularly in Soho because that was a smart part of town in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds. However, The Rookery and Batty Langley’s weren’t in the smart parts of town. The home of artisans and huguenots, this is where we could have more fun. Then, if there’s a portrait then we’ll find it and match it to the room. If there isn’t then we’ll make it, because the tarts and thieves would be more likely to have a mug shot.”
Walpole’s final pillar is being Deliberately Grounded. They highlight the duality of this phrase “in terms of being rooted in place, but also […] being grounded in mentality and attitude.”
The stigma once attached to English wine is one that Nyetimber has shattered. Nyetimber is now considered as one of the finest sparkling wines in the world, standing shoulder to shoulder with the finest from France. Their spokesperson attests that English sparkling wine is no longer a cottage industry, but a viable career path and recognised for its quality by some of the finest pallets in the world. He conveys their pride in leading the English sparkling wine industry, but equally the responsibility they feel as vanguards and pioneers of this new market. Overseas, they not only reflect the brand, but English sparkling in general.
Further still Nyetimber has to be deliberately grounded, because without the roots of their vines, digging deep down into the ground, they would have nothing. Their earth is paramount. It is rare that a brand’s raw materials can be exposed and vulnerable in a way that a vineyard’s can. Delving deeper, it is suggested that to see where wine comes from is so powerful and so the question for the brand now lies around the question of ‘how much do we open up the vineyard, when it’s a family estate?’ They imagine that tourism is something that they might look at in the future. After all, a Nyetimber restaurant would be terrifyingly good!
Stoke-on-Trent is infamous as a ceramic hub. Whilst the level of manufacturing has declined since the 1920’s, Maja explains that Wedgwood’s Barlaston factory still houses “the people who paint the porcelain and make the artwork, who have often worked there for 20 or even 30 years and are so dedicated to making everything perfect.” For such passion and skill it is important for the team to come from the local area: locals for whom life and craft are interlinked. Wedgwood are already welcoming guests into their home in Barlaston through the tourist attraction World of Wedgwood.
Hazlitt’s, The Rookery and Batty Langleys are Londoners to the core. Their contributions and dedication to the local community stretch back to the seventies when owners Peter and Douglas founded The Spitalfields Trust. Caroline tells us a beguiling tale: “They came together with another group of likeminded individuals and lobbied hard and heavy to protect all these little rows of houses in Spitalfields. They squatted in what is now La Chapelle almost 40 years ago with their families to prevent British Land from knocking it down. The papers christened them Champagne Squatters.” Today, the Hazlitt’s hotels continue to support their local community: “We love little and local. […] We will go to a little family-run outfit to supply our mattresses that are custom made for us, and we deal directly with the owner. The same with our antiques and furniture”.
But the Hazlitt’s hotels are additionally grounded in their personality. Their guests may be rockstars and royalty, but Caroline explains that their Britishness isn’t all “chintz and china; we’re much more fun than that and at ease with ourselves. In terms of Britishness we’d be more likely to be aligned with Monty Python, or possibly the less saucy seaside postcards.”
We owe a thank you to Walpole and their pillars. They have enabled us to unpick some core components of these very British brands, and to encounter some joy inducing moments along the way. We would like to thank Nyetimber, Wedgwood and Hazlitt’s for sharing their stories (and sometimes secrets) with us too. But there’s no rest for the wicked as we’ll be exploring the importance of sustainability, international markets and trend to them in a subsequent piece.