Helen Brocklebank, new Chief Executive of British luxury brands group, Walpole, is my ‘Woman of Substance’ for April. Currently celebrating its 25th year, Walpole is a unique alliance of 180 of Britain’s finest luxury brands, whose mission is to promote, protect and develop the unique qualities of British luxury, giving British luxury a collective voice in an increasingly competitive global market.
Helen has a deep understanding of, and passion for, the business of luxury, an unerring ability to conceive creative and impactful initiatives and an entrepreneurial spirit that drives their successful delivery.
Helen is a specialist in luxury media brands, having worked at Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar, then establishing a content consultancy for luxury brands. Helen lives in West London with her husband and two young children.
She and I met for lunch at George on Mayfair’s Mount Street.
Helen, congratulations on your new role as Chief Executive of Walpole. What an exciting time to join, in the year of its 25th anniversary. Do tell us what plans you have for the membership.
I have lots of ambitious plans, all designed to achieve a single goal of making British luxury the envy of the world. Luxury has been the economic success story of the last decade but Brexit and a host of other geo-political issues create new challenges. My mission is to help Walpole members navigate those challenges and turn them into opportunities.
Another important anniversary for Walpole this year is the 10th anniversary of its Brands of Tomorrow programme. Do please tell us more about this programme and its success stories.
Brands of Tomorrow is a unique mentoring programme which hot-houses fledgling luxury brands and sets them on the path to growth and international success. I’m so proud of its track record; brands like Bremont, Miller Harris, Rococo Chocolates are all graduates of the scheme. We’re not only about protecting and promoting existing British luxury brands – we’re also committed to building the economic success of the sector for the future.
You have a strong personal network of businesswomen - do you have any female-focussed plans for Walpole?
My mentor, Justine Picardie, always says, ‘when you bring women together, incredible things happen’, so when I started at Walpole, I took one look at the many inspiring women working in luxury and thought: what can I do to create a space for those incredible things to happen? The Walpole Women in Luxury programme combines a series of salons where we meet to share ideas and to create meaningful connections with more formal events like the annual Women in Luxury lunch next month where Justine Picardie will talk about how 150 years of Harper’s Bazaar has mirrored the rise of women in luxury.
Your specialist subject is luxury – what is it about the luxury industry that you most enjoy? Are there any luxury developments or trends that you are particularly watching?
Luxury’s innate beauty as well as the way it captures extraordinary creativity and craftsmanship has always fascinated me, but above all, I’m always so excited by the entrepreneurship of the sector. I look at British luxury, and so many internationally famous brands were only founded in the last fifty years – Mulberry was founded in 1971, Alexander McQueen is 25 years old, Bremont set up fifteen years ago, and there are so many more examples – and they’re testament to the vision and drive of incredibly creative, driven individuals.
You have had such an interesting career to date – what has been your defining role and why?
I’ve learned so much from every job I’ve had – each one has been an individual module in a 25 year alternative MBA. But I hope that Walpole will be my defining role; having built my career in luxury, I’m using all the knowledge and skill I’ve acquired to date in pursuit of putting British luxury on the map.
You have been a loyal customer of Winser London since the early days and you mentioned that you invested in a selection specifically for your new role at Walpole. Do share what are your favourite pieces and why?
The Lauren Silk Blouse & Bow has become the cornerstone of my wardrobe – it’s an instant outfit upgrade, whatever the occasion. I wear it in black or navy with the bow tie in a high stock for instant gravitas when meeting luxury sector CEOs, and more casually over a narrow trouser with the tie round my waist kimono style. Its versatility and quality of cut and fabric means it earns its keep a thousand times over. I also adore the Wide Leg Flat Front Trousers – the satin back crepe always looks modern, luxurious and super chic. I have my sights set on the ivory Tweed Jacket and Skirt; I love that the tweed and the suit is made in Britain and wearing it will help me quietly signal my pride in high-end British craftsmanship.