Luxury is a £12 billion business in Britain, with almost every website and publication alert to the opportunity to offer top-quality merchandise to customers with an insatiable appetite for the very best.
But what is the very best? Life has changed since the grandmasters of porcelain, glass and gilded furniture filled the drawing rooms of Europe with their wares. Relaxed meals and kitchen suppers have taken the place of formal dinners and the need to serve the soup with a silver ladle.
The rebirth of contemporary classics
Wedgwood, Waterford and Rosenthal slept through dramatic social and lifestyle changes, and woke up broke. The solution for survival is to keep the DNA of the brand and acknowledge that while this generation might not be in the mood — or have room — for a Meissen figurine, they do adore the extraordinary capabilities of the company's craftsmen.
The combination of ancient skill and a young designer can produce music. Germany's most famous porcelain manufacturer not only made music but moved on to create a global lifestyle brand, including tableware suitable for sushi and pasta.
This refreshing innovation glitters in Villa Meissen, the firm's gloriously renovated Italian mansion in Milan, where it shows hand-crafted contemporary furniture, a new fabric range and fine jewellery all created by selected specialists around Europe. Meissen's new UK managing director Fiona Milne is happy to have Harrods as its key European location.
Lladró, the Spanish equivalent of Royal Crown Derby, has taken artistic licence to a fun and sugary level of delight with its 24-light Belle de Nuit chandelier, with drops of pastel porcelain you feel you could almost pluck and eat. With all this striking innovation to delight us it would be shame not to have a showcase. And Harrods has stepped up to the plate, creating a spacious, sparkling home for these brands — and many more besides.
The Knightsbridge department store is famed for its luxury labels but it reaffirms its place in the homeware market with the recent launch of six impressive new rooms on its second floor to display these classic, innovative brands.
It wants to be taken seriously, not as a emporium for the newly rich to indulge a taste for kitsch £100,000 gold palm trees and £40,000 crystal baths, but as a store to show the world's largest collection of the finest homeware. The aim is to create a display for customers who desire something beautiful, rather than an outrageous show of prodigious luxury.
Partners in quality
New twists and partnerships are encouraged. Thanks to collaborations between Aston Martin and London silversmith Grant Macdonald, British work here holds its own against classic international brands. Aston Martin chose Macdonald because of his commitment to quality and his track record as a designer. Together they have produced a range including cutlery, china and dishes edged with the charcoal pattern of carbon fibre, along with glasses. "I'm so proud of what I've been able to do with Aston Martin," says Macdonald (grantmacdonald.com).
"The champagne bucket, for example, takes 60 hours to make and seven hours to polish. It's lined with the carbon fibre that is used in the cars. I'd like people to think, 'How on earth do they do that?' We've pulled out the stops to create pieces that really stand out."
The reborn Waterford has formed a partnership with Jo Sampson Studios to create three contemporary collections including a desktop bar (prices start at £11,000) part of the crystal giant's London Collection. Designer Sampson has combined classic crystal with other precious materials including marble, wood and leather for a series of limited edition pieces inspired by London's skyline.
Lalique almost lost its way but just in time, in 2008, passionate Swiss business collector Silvio Denz acquired the French crystal maker and hasn't stopped innovating since. He has even encased a sound system in Lalique. See the house's crystal in all its sexy glory at Harrods, along with beautiful pieces from Baccarat and Saint-Louis crystal, Murano glass from Italy, and Hermès homeware from France, as creativity bursts on to a new stage in the luxury game.
Home fragrance has a big space in the store and is rising to such challenges as how to recreate the smell inside a new Maserati — apparently this sensuous aroma is mourned as it fades from the car. Now you can revive your vehicle with a perfume respray. And wonder no longer what the inside of a classic Maybach car smells like — you can try Linbach's specially created perfume, one of dozens of options.
Rather than trying to cram each concession, Harrods is focusing on showing the best of each company's luxury expertise. In some cases the store is the only UK stockist, so many collectors head for Knightsbridge to track down these items.