The founder of How to Spend It and former CEO of the Walpole Group has just sent her latest Great British Brands publication to the printers when we meet at her Fulham flat, and her phone is ringing off the hook. ‘I can’t talk now – someone is trying to do my lipstick!’ she explains to a determined caller as the patient make-up artist attempts to apply a bright pink hue to her lips.
Make-up complete, and Julia Carrick greets us in a neat pink dress and Jimmy Choo heels in her sitting room. And it’s a room that sums up the UK’s luxury tsar nicely. Three objects draw the eye in particular: Carrick’s OBE, the adjacent and similarly sized family tree, and her desk, each symbolising the important themes of Carrick’s life: country, family and work.
The world of British luxury goods has been transformed since Carrick dipped her toe in the water back in 1986. It has, in her own words, ‘gone from a relatively unrecognised sector to one of the most flourishing and valued industries, in the UK’. And Carrick’s role in this change began during her tenure at the Financial Times (FT).
And publishing is in her blood – she cut her teeth at the FT’s offices, helping her father during the school holidays, up until his untimely death in 1981. Although Carrick began her adult career elsewhere, as a poorly paid production secretary and presenter at the BBC, ‘I had to substitute my daily income by getting up at 5am to give out Girl About Town magazines at Tube stations’, she says, before she eventually headed back to the FT.
Carrick’s awareness of the newspaper’s products helped her to get her foot in the door. ‘I saw the enormous commercial opportunities for this audience so I applied for a job,’ she says of her incentive for returning. But she doesn’t deny her father had some influence: ‘Although my father was no longer there or alive, everybody remembered him and had a story to tell,’ she says.
Once she was in, Carrick set about transforming the softer side of the publication. Shortly after the launch of FT Weekend, she initiated the Collecting, Style and Fashion pages and set up important franchises and advertising sectors such as Interiors and Watches & Jewellery before producing the first Watches & Jewellery report in 1986. And it was all hands to the pump at the start, Carrick explains: ‘To produce the FT Garden Equipment reports I would organise lawn tractor races with Robin Lane Fox,’ she admits, ‘and for the first few Watches & Jewellery reports I would write under my middle names.’ But all the hard work paid off.
The How to Spend It supplement followed the reports in 1994, in all its large, glossy-papered glory. But not everyone was on board with the concept: ‘In some people’s eyes this was "fluffy editorial",’ Carrick explains, ‘but I could see the gap in the market for a luxury lifestyle magazine.’ There was no budget for the new publication and a shortage led paper costs to leap up tenfold around the time of the launch. The mag must have been a hard sell to the management. ‘But not one issue made a loss,’ Carrick affirms. During her tenure, How to Spend It became the only newspaper magazine to win all three major industry awards in one year, and was published 31 times a year when Carrick left the FT. And nowadays, the FT produces 11 luxury/consumer reports: nine on collecting, and two on interiors. The global franchise continues to grow and the sectors are now worth millions of pounds in revenue – all thanks to Julia Carrick’s vision.
It wasn’t all hard work, of course – working in the luxury world does have its perks. Carrick reminisces on cookery lessons at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons; parties on the British Pullman with the world-famous boxer Barry McGuigan; a flight across the Alps in the Breitling Orbiter with the balloonist Brian Jones; and the honour of awarding trophies at the Snow Polo in Klosters, where each player was wearing a How to Spend It polo shirt (and hopefully a jacket).
And How to Spend It was thriving, modern-day Mary Poppins Carrick went in search of a new project. At this point, in 2000, Walpole, the luxury-backing not-for-profit business, was bankrupt – ‘There were no staff or offices, no website or collateral and the membership of around 27 was dwindling,’ she says. So she took on the business and became the champion for the brands she knew, by then, so well.
She reversed the organisation’s fortunes, and by 2005, complete with a rebuilt membership and a rebranding by Carrick, Walpole British Luxury was born. The new Walpole became a powerful institution: a think tank and lobbying group, and also a cross-industry support centre producing working groups and initiatives such as the London Business School Certificate in Luxury. Twelve years on, and Walpole is now the voice of British luxury, representing more than 180 British brands, such as Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Mulberry, Ettinger, Selfridges, Maybourne Hotel Group, The Savoy, the V&A, BAFTA, the London Business School and the Royal Opera House. While still at Walpole, Carrick’s service to the country was rewarded, and in 2014 she was appointed OBE for her contribution to the British luxury sector and services to the luxury sector.
But Carrick wasn’t done yet. And, this time, it was back to her favourite medium: the glossy magazine. She became a publisher at Country & Town House magazine, which suited the self-confessed ‘double-lifer’ Carrick nicely. ‘I have a home both in London and the country,’ she admits, ‘and I am as happy in my Hunters and Barbour as in my Jimmy Choos and Alexander McQueen dresses.’ But the addition of the rural didn’t dilute our luxury champion’s fervour. Great British Brands – a bible of more than 150 of the very best products that Britain has to offer across diverse industry sectors, edited by How to Spend It’s launch editor and luxury behemoth Lucia van der Post – was next on the list.
So with three huge industry-reforming projects under her belt, what does Carrick think sets British luxury goods apart?
‘I have a particular enthusiasm for the Brits’ way of delivering luxury with a uniquely, quintessentially British twist,’ she says. ‘British brands bring with them a sense of heritage and an ability to inspire with their rich history that other countries envy.’ And the Royal Warrant system (the mark of recognition for those who have supplied goods or services to the household of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh or the Prince of Wales for at least five years) is of special importance to Carrick.
Even in the relative financial gloom of the past few months, Great Britain’s position as a creative force for craft, design, technology, engineering, fashion, luxury services and even manufacturing has been shining through the darkness, she explains.
‘Our Britishness has helped catapult brands like Burberry and Jimmy Choo on to the global stage,’ says the luxury queen. ‘Many are invigorating their products,’ she says of the sector, ‘and giving them a sense of depth and authentic heritage by returning to long-forgotten British craft. We’re understanding more than ever that the skills of our nation’s craftsmen and -women underpin our finest brands. These brands are tomorrow’s heirlooms, brands that make Britain great and give us a proud identity and sense of certainty in turbulent times.’
And while our Great British design tradition gives us comfort in tough times, what’s next for British luxury’s biggest enthusiast? ‘I’ve got a few projects up my sleeve,’ she admits, giving nothing away, ‘but if I can help shape the future of the British luxury industry, that’s something worth getting up for in the morning!’
The British luxury sector is now internationally recognised and is worth a whopping £32bn a year,so, she’s already done a pretty good job. But the Ettinger Journal still cant wait to see what’s hidden up that sleeve.