Tells us why the future of luxury interiors is dependent on sustainable beauty, global services and the development of design specific superbrands.
The term minimalist luxury seems to be gaining increasing traction within modern media, as post GFC luxury marketers re-focused on heritage, quality and craftsmanship, whilst consumers became more influenced by provenance, design and the concept of true value. The internet has made the market increasingly educated and discerning, elevating the pursuit of opulence well beyond cars, accessories and houses. The truly affluent now chase less-known, truly bespoke ‘experiences’ and services as more unique demonstrations of their wealth.
Whilst these inherent qualities of luxury may not be new to the HNW consumer, the overarching industry return to quality and classicism proved a lucrative opening for Harrods to bring their heritage brand to the homes of the affluent.
“ Luxury for me is very much about sustainable beauty ”
The iconic Knightsbridge retailer has dabbled in interior design services for over 100 years, but it was the development of The Studio brand, alongside interior designer Sara Cosgrove that enabled it to not only survive but to thrive in a grim economic climate.
“We have clients who are happy to shop the floor but we also have other clients who did not have the time to curate a home by themselves and needed a more bespoke service. It’s all about the service at The Studio, when you come in, in each client suite you are served a different kind of tea on a different tea service, we allocate different clients to different rooms so that they feel more comfortable in the environment that they are sitting in."
“We’ve really tried to make it all about the experience, what we’re doing now is actually creating a complete Harrods lifestyle. We’re also one of the few businesses that through probably the worst financial crisis ever, is seeing exponential growth.”
The Embankment London, designed by The Studio
Cosgrove began her design career with an internship with John Rocha, at a time where the designer had just completed work on The Morrison hotel in Dublin. “Whilst there I realised the transience of fashion was not for me, however with interiors you got to be creative but also produce a longer term tangible result.”
A chance phone call led her to KLC School of Design in London, where she eventually worked as an interior designer for Allegra Hicks, Helen Green and Candy & Candy, always at the premium end of the market. “Luxury definitely was a choice for me because I knew I’d be able to do a lot more creatively.”
“I still think you need to have that mid-market exposure, to understand how budgets work and to learn the tricks to make spaces look amazing without the millions, but working in the luxury market gives you so many more opportunities.”
“ there is always going to be money in the luxury end of the market, people are absolutely still spending ”
From Candy & Candy, the customer-focused Cosgrove began talks with Harrods about the rebranding of their interiors business. As a designer whose measure of success is simply “a happy client”, she made a seemingly perfect fit for a global brand with a history steeped in premium customer service.
“I remember I took over a project in South Kensington that had a lot of issues to be resolved, it was challenging. The client was in Barcelona for work and he was flying in that night and I remember having the whole apartment looking amazing, he had a fountain that you could see through his living room window and it had a moonlight function, we had the fridge full and all the trimmings. I remember him calling me in amazement, that made me realise I was on the right track.”
Mayfair Property, London, designed by The Studio
Cosgrove was then able to develop the brand from scratch under the Harrods umbrella, something that “very few people in their lifetimes get to do” where she has found “you’re not actually given a chance to prove yourself, you’re expected to be brilliant already."
Cosgrove’s personal approach to luxury design has also been climatically appropriate, in keeping with the updated consumer value in quality and substance, a design ethos that favours functionality, longevity and quality has quintessentially appealed to the discerning Harrods customer.
“ I think the way people have looked at clothing & cars for the last ten years is the way they are now looking to interiors, as another representation of themselves ”
“As well as look absolutely beautiful, I think it [luxury] really has to work. If you think about the brands that have survived through the last few years and thrived: Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Chanel, it’s because of the materials they use, the craftsmanship, you know they are the highest quality. They might play with colour or detail but you know it works and will continue to work for years to come. Luxury for me is very much about sustainable beauty.”
As The Studio gains momentum, Cosgrove envisages a brand that is global, with localised offices and an in-house range of homewares, a possible “superbrand” for which she feels the industry is somewhat missing. "I think art-meeting-fashion-meeting-interiors is absolutely where it’s at. Louis Vuitton, the launch of their new flagship in London, was a classic example of architecture, fashion, art, everything just kind of fusing together to create this really exciting buzz.”
The Embankment London, designed by The Studio
“Something I am quite excited about is developing a brand for Harrods that is high-end homewares, because I think it is a literally a matter of time. When you look at the most popular homewares brands in Harrods, eg. Fendi and Ralph Lauren, you can completely understand why they are successful. The amount of money those brands use in advertising, whether its sunglasses, fashion or handbags, the minute a client walks into that environment they automatically identify and understand the brand. They might never have seen that Ralph Lauren chair before but they understand what Ralph Lauren means to them. And that’s where I think we have to go as an industry, in terms of luxury home, we’ve all got to starting thinking ‘global brand’ and ‘recognition’.”