An eye-catching window display in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket beckons Christmas shoppers into the flagship store of Strathberry of Scotland – hailed as the nation’s Most Stylish Retailer at this year’s Scottish Style Awards.
That’s an impressive accolade for a retailer whose sole store only opened in July, but its rapid development hasn’t stopped there; since then has come the news that its gorgeous products are soon to go on sale in Shanghai and Beijing through Chinese retailer The Estate, and one particularly special item has become available in Edinburgh’s Harvey Nichols outlet.
Late last month, we sat down with co-founder and creative director Clare Robertson to discuss Strathberry’s past and her vision for its future.
Though it’s the use of bespoke tweeds that arguably sets Strathberry’s pieces apart, Clare told us about her “contemporary, fresh, forward-thinking” design philosophy. She said: “It’s not about being too traditional with it; it’s about using Scottish textiles as a platform and celebrating them, but thinking about how we can use them in a fresh and contemporary way.”
She added: “We pay homage to our roots but we aren’t slaves to them. We like to think that we’re pushing boundaries.”
Over the past year, the design process at Strathberry has also been characterised by a need to build from scratch the brand’s “whole image, the identity – which I think is quite a personal thing in some respect”.
In various corners of the store are vintage pieces on display – accessories that inspired parts of Strathberry’s range.
“Setting this up was very much a vision,” Clare explained. “I wanted to do men’s and ladies’, and I’ve worked so much with tweed that I understood the nature of the fabric. I very much wanted to create statement pieces within our collection; the K bag is one of our statement ladies’ pieces and I would like to see that become recognisably Strathberry, and the same with the luggage in the men’s.”
As well as co-founder Guy Hundleby’s “real interest in the international market”, that vision was shaped by Clare’s previous work in the Scottish fashion industry, through which she spent a lot of time in the far East. “I’ve obviously seen manufacturing first-hand in this country and in China, where a lot of products are made. I really wanted to do something that was a bit more authentic and high-end. It’s always been a long-term goal.”
She told me: “There’s a lot of chat at the moment about Scotland and Scottish products and what we can be doing here and taking to the rest of the world.”
Strathberry delivers authenticity by sourcing bespoke tweed and quality leather from within Scotland, and through Clare’s close co-operation with the mill and Strathberry’s “master craftsman” in southern Europe – “he hand-finishes everything, and we sit and meticulously go through every product. The hand-finishing process is very important”.
Working closely with the mill is key to developing fabrics and colours that are appropriate for use, Clare tells me. The leather is “inspired by the equestrian markets – and perceived to be the best on the market”. According to Clare, “people always comment on the smell of the leather when they come in”.
Twelve hours of work goes into each bag, she tells me – but among Strathberry’s more exclusive products is a limited edition golf bag, retailing now for £4,350, which demands an even more impressive twenty hours. That bag, of which Hollywood actor Andy Garcia is one proud owner, has been “phenomenally successful”, and Strathberry is already “looking at doing a continuation of that range”.
And though Clare has some specific ideas – like “working with a celebrity name to develop a clutch for the red carpet” – the future of Strathberry seems set to be defined by its “global ambitions” and a drive to expand into London, North America, and further into China.
Clare’s love of the ‘globetrotter’ – a traveller who visits Edinburgh, comes through the door and “takes their product back to Tokyo, China, wherever” – contributes to this. She pays close attention to what kind of products customers are drawn to; “Americans very much go for the reds, the British customers very much more inclined to go for the tans and the harebells”.
International customers will most appreciate the British coin slipped into every bag before it is sold, just one small indication of the enormous attention to detail paid by Strathberry in the preparation of its products.
Clare is convinced that “there’s really no other Scottish luxury accessories brand at this sort of level”, and Strathberry certainly stands out against its peers. Words do Strathberry’s flagship store little justice; it’s warmly welcoming, and thoroughly exudes the same luxurious feel as its products.
For the distinguishing shopper, I expect No 81 The Grassmarket will soon become a familiar address.