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Timeless luxury

By Kitty Go | China Daily | Updated: 2013-07-21 10:31

Timeless luxury

London-based brand Smythson opens their first free standing Asian boutique at Pacific Place in Hong Kong.

Timeless luxury

Smythson CEO Andy Janowski (left), and Samantha Cameron, creative consultant of the brand. Photos Provided to China Daily


As fashion's moves away from the obvious, Smythson, always a stalwart of subtle style, is standing firm. Kitty Go reports.

It was only a matter of time before the popularity of designer logos had to go out of style - a French exit, if you will - caused by the combination of slowing major economies and the abandonment of all things recognizably branded by the fashionable set. One house that never wavered in pursuing subtle luxury is London - based brand Smythson.

In its 125 years of operation the brand has never done anything wrapped in logos nor does it plan to in the future.

"We know a lot of luxury brands have softened especially in Chinese mainland probably because of the logos," says Smythson CEO Andy Janowski. "We have been seeing, conversely, strong business in Hong Kong and globally for several years. Perhaps because we are more minimal and more of a connoisseur's brand."

Samantha Cameron, who was the brand's creative director during the heyday of big labels, has reduced her role to creative consultant beginning in 2010.

"In retrospect," she says, "(During the craze for logos) We felt that it was our niche and our customers were luxury connoisseurs who were really interested in something more subtle and discreet.

"Smythson was always about craftsmanship, materials and an amazing creative aesthetic done with subtlety and discretion. I think that is what works for us and we have a very British element that is fun, playful, inventive and colorful but with a lot of restraint in the last 20 years the luxury customer has really grown up and matured in education and sophistication. Brands like ours are really having their time by catering to a customer that has matured in luxury experience."

Both believe that Smythson goes beyond just being a niche brand.

"It is very important that we appeal to an international connoisseur who is well-traveled and has an appreciation for only the finest," says Janowski.

"So whether its the craftsmanship, the raw materials, stitching and other details, you can immediately see the quality and functionality of every piece which is just as beautiful inside as it is outside. That's who we are, what we have been and are going to be in the future. That is what our customer expects of us."

Smythson's customers are well-educated, appreciate life and have no geographic or experiential boundaries.

"I hate to say it," says Janowski, "Smythson knows no geography in the sense that is appeals to people worldwide but only to those who appreciate the detail, quality and discretion We see that level of sophistication everywhere, not only in big Western and Asian first-tier cities but everywhere in the world because there is always that level of customer who appreciates our quality and discreet style."

He finds, however, that the Asian customer particularly loves attention to detail and the finest materials. Specifically in Hong Kong, "there is a level of appreciation for the finest things in life that is quite admirable".

This is one of the reasons the company chose to open their first free-standing Asian boutique at Pacific Place in Hong Kong.

"It's been a natural progression for us to open this first free standing shop because that high-level of customer is here and Pacific place is one of the city's most luxurious shopping centers," Janowski says.

Part of Cameron's new position is ensuring the products are highlighted in the right retail and online environments.

The Hong Kong shop, though small, embodies all the iconic design and service features of the Bond and Sloane Street shops including a gold stamp for personalization.

"In a small place we were able to replicate the beautiful gray and white inlaid floors and the multi-colored book wall which is like a piece of art," Cameron says. "I wanted an environment that really brought our products alive. It is not about the store design but about the products and showing them to their very best."

Smythson does not consider itself a fashion brand nor can it identify a direct competitor. Although there are other brands that make similar products and also do personalization, many do not have as long a history and "game changing" items Smythson can boast of such as the "featherweight" writing products created in 1908 and elaborate personalized stationery in the 1920s.

"We are different in the sense that we are a lifestyle brand that is timeless, discreet and for connoisseurs," Cameron says. "We don't compare ourselves to Gucci, Prada or any brands like that (our brand) is based on paper and its heritage is stationery. Today, stationery is a very small portion of our business. However, it is our heritage so we are bound to defend and honor that.

"Can you imagine receiving a handwritten note in the post on one of our stationery inside a hand-lined tissued envelope?" Janowski says. "It is true luxury if you have time to write a note by hand as opposed to a text to thank someone for a dinner party. When people receive a note on bespoke stationery, they just think 'Wow!' This is the true definition of luxury brands. I meet people who do this and it is really beautiful!"

The brand's signature Nile blue shade is used not only in stationery but, since its creation in 1908, has always been the only color its famously lined and airmail light "featherweight" paper comes in.

The color has since been used in leather goods including the flexible and equally iconic "Panama" notebooks.

This fall, design director Rory O'Hanlon's first collection brings this colorful heritage forward with two versions of the Panama tote which combines the relaxed and pebbled Panama leather with contrasting smooth calf accents in eight rich colors including, of course, Nile blue.

Cameron summarizes the effort as being "a discreet way that will enable customers to identify it as a Smythson product".

Janowski adds: "There is also a new men's leather collection (Eliot) that uses a red that we've carried for 15 years. We are excited about all this because it brings our heritage to the next level."

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