A letter from London on the temperature of the UK’s post-Brexit creative industries. Plus: news reports and Q&As from Hong Kong to the US.
Airlines are navigating the worst downturn in the sector’s history – a tailspin that has no clear end date. Latest figures show that carriers lost more than €300bn globally in 2020. It might, then, seem like the worst possible time to start an airline. But judging by the number of new carriers launching or about to launch, the opposite could be true. And those rethinking the notion of hubs and routes look set to benefit. We check in with three new companies that have caught our eye.
Having applied to serve more than 100 routes out of Hong Kong, Greater Bay is looking to snatch up slots relinquished by Cathay Pacific’s recently defunct regional arm Cathay Dragon (having brought in its former ceo Algernon Yau Ying-wah in the top spot). Its route map, heavy on China and other spots in Asia, aims to take advantage of a return to boom times in Asia. Founded by Hong Kong property magnate Bill Wong, the firm will launch with three aircraft but plans to have a fleet of 30 by 2025.
Launching in the coming months, Flyr aims to capitalise on the hole left by drastic downsizing at Norwegian Air – from where much of Flyr’s senior leadership has arrived. Founder and chairman Erik Braathen and ceo Tonje Wikstrøm Frislid (pictured) are out to scoop up some of Norwegian’s market share but in a more measured and careful way – identifying markets in need of air services both domestically and around Europe but eschewing the kind of frantic expansion Norwegian favoured. The airline is also keen to emphasise that it is truly Norwegian – no Irish shell companies to skirt Norwegian labour laws here.
Serial airline founder David Neeleman plans to roll out his latest carrier, Breeze, at some point before the end of the year. Details are still closely guarded but secondary cities in the southeastern US look to be an initial focal point. The airline will reportedly feature a premium cabin on its a220s – smaller planes with long-range capabilities to allow the airline eventually to expand into unserved routes, which could include South America and elsewhere. Breeze is emblematic of most of these start-ups: they are targeting under-represented cities and focusing on improving domestic and regional connections for the most part. They are betting that hubs are out and previously ignored but emerging markets – served direct – are in.
Radice, 64, has had a successful career revamping the retail operations of department stores across Europe. From 1996 to 2003 he was ceo at Selfridges in London, where he engineered a revival of the brand’s prospects. In 2005, he took over at Rinascente in Italy to overhaul the department store group. Today, he continues to manage Rinascente, plus a collection of retailers including Globus in Switzerland and KaDeWe in Germany for Thailand’s Central Group.
How can department stores stay relevant?
It’s hard to have long-term plans in the current climate. In Italy, with Rinascente, our focus is on city-centre locations near historic sites – in Milan, we are next to the Duomo – and getting out of shopping malls. That’s what locals expect from us. Each store is different. In Florence we’ve focused on having small leather goods as something that customers come into contact with first, as opposed to the perfume counter; it’s what people expect from Tuscany and its tradition of leather craftsmanship. For some cities, we developed shopping bags with distinct logos. We have to work with the city and be in symbiosis.
What specific measures can retailers implement?
Think about the residents. In big cities, you’ll always have tourists but you can’t forget your regular clients who are in every month or weekend to shop, whether they are buying lipstick or a suit. It starts with window displays. These shouldn’t be static but inventive. We’ve shown off motorcycles in store windows in Milan during an industry trade fair. Temporary and pop-up stores also help to keep the mix fresh. It’s not just about offering the right trainer brand or contemporary clothing label. You need good regional products; if your store is in Turin, be sure to have first-rate wines from Piedmont, or great homewares if you are in a place like Milan, the design capital. You want the city’s inhabitants to have an association with your retail address. It needs to have something unexpected.
What cultural challenges do you face?
In Germany and Switzerland, the department store is a place to restock your wardrobe or items for the home. It’s less of a destination. People tend not to mill around at a food-hall café sipping espresso. Another problem we have is restrictive shopping hours. For Globus in Switzerland, being closed on Sundays is a drag on sales. That needs to change.
How are the UK’s creative industries faring post-Brexit? It’s all degrees of annoyance and complexity. We canvassed some leading lights of architecture, publishing and adland to find out more.
If you think about the literal connotations of a “brain drain” for too long the mind conjures some chilling Stephen King-ish imagery: post-lobotomy grey matter being sluiced away by a firm rubber glove; the anxiety-dream shudder of house keys being swallowed by a storm-drain – only it’s your sentience and skills that are rushing to join “It” in the sewers. Wurgh, the horror!
According to one study, an estimated 1.3 million people born overseas left the UK between the third quarter of 2019 and the same period a year later. So what’s the reality of post-Brexit life in the creative world?
For Jay Osgerby, of industrial design studio Barber Osgerby, alarm bells sounded right after the Brexit vote, with some of his European staff looking to relocate. “People didn’t feel welcome,” he says. “That trend hasn’t continued but the barriers to recruitment are greater than we imagined.” A designer’s stock-in-trade, says Osgerby, is “being trained to be a problem solver”. Oh, well that’s lucky. “Exactly – we feel that because that’s one of our skills, the government’s just gone, ‘Here you go – catch this,’ and thrown us the ball without telling us the rules of the game.”
At a notionally adjacent drawing board sits David Kohn, whose eponymous architecture firm began winning larger European work three years ago, some of which is in the public sector. “British architects are lucky because Europe’s commissioning culture has been very generous,” he says. “But not necessarily vice-versa.” Kohn says that UK architects are admired in Europe for their pragmatism and strategic thinking but he adds: “I have heard from peers in the UK that big projects have been cancelled because of Brexit.” Kohn, a self-described “rabid Europhile” is sanguine, saying that, “culturally, our European clients see through Brexit – in the end, they’re still calling and we’re still going.”
Has the Zoom-crazed, screen-dazed past year made even more mischief than Brexit itself?
The world of advertising has to be as nimble as the finger of fate is fickle, so how have two storied UK names fared on the stormy Channel crossing? Daniel Fisher, global executive creative director of Ogilvy, was also a creative adviser for the People’s Vote – the group formed to lobby for a second EU referendum – so surely he has an eagle eye on the situation? “I see a shift to a decentralised model if firms can get over the tax questions of staff working across borders,” he says. “The urge to work together is strong and creatively absolutely essential.” Has the Zoom-crazed, screen-dazed past year made more mischief than Brexit? “Everything is obscured by the pandemic,” he says. “But London will continue to be a city where creative people come and make their name – despite some people’s best efforts.”
Stephen Ledger-Lomas is a partner at another top ad firm, bbh, and echoes those thoughts. “People are sitting on their hands but we’ll soon see what Brexit’s really serving up,” he says. “We’re good at keeping talent but creative work thrives on human connection so anything that puts up a barrier is a problem.”
Sharmaine Lovegrove, a Brit in Berlin who runs Hachette imprint Dialogue Books, is refreshingly undiplomatic about Brexit. “The dream of being part of a great creative Europe no longer exists,” she says. “Across Hachette everything is more complicated. What does a 90-day stay mean for residencies and book tours? What do tariffs mean for English language bookshops in Europe?” More expensive books? “Sure – and English itself is diminished if it’s too costly to read; the pandemic has offered Brexit a smokescreen but when it clears we’ll see everything as smaller and meaner.”
We’ll finish with our wellies on, in the Black Mountains of Wales where Fiona Stewart founded and runs the Green Man music festival, dependent on supply chains of talent, tour buses and crew. “Staging is more expensive,” she says. “It was a rite of passage for eastern European crews to come here and rig; our circus tents are put up by families who tour Europe every year. That might not happen now. These skills just go.” And on stage? “Music is the great cultural bridge and the UK’s music scene won’t fall apart. But it feels like a couple squabbling over their record collection after a divorce.” Not quite the horror that sets Stephen King’s pen a-flourish, then, but not fun and games for an industry worth £100bn (€116bn) to the UK economy.
The government negotiated for its hardline back bench of jumped up used-car dealers, not for inspiring, cultural or creative reasons to live here or visit from abroad. It is, as Jay Osgerby says, up to the creative industries to do what they do best: find an elegant solution to an ugly problem.
David Wilkinson, executive director at Oslo’s Steen & Strøm, is convinced that department stores such as his will continue to play a role in cities, creating energy and footfall. “But we have to reinvent the format,” he says. In his case that means giving Steen & Strøm, founded in 1797, a refresh as part of a masterplan that will be completed by 2023. The first stage will finish in April with a new entrance from Oslo’s main shopping street, Karl Johans Gate, to take customers into an atrium within the store. There are also plans to promote up-and-coming Norwegian brands, the addition of a bookshop and the launch of an e-commerce site for the first time.
If you want to make it in the world of electric mobility these days you have to corner a segment of the market, from e-bikes to e-trucks. But the e-vehicle that is proving the hottest property right now is US brand Rivian. Founded by an mit graduate in 2009, it has started to specialise in off-roader 4x4s. The company – which has backing from Amazon and Ford among others and closed its latest round of funding last June with of $2.5bn (€2bn) – has recently been road testing its five-seater r1t Explore in Arizona. It will be launched in January next year alongside a seven-seater r1s. The brand is attracting plenty of investor excitement with plans to take the company public towards the end of this year and expansion in Europe earmarked. Rivian is currently scouting factory space in several European locations.
As wealthy mainland Chinese consumers are no longer coming to Hong Kong in large numbers, owners of luxury shopping malls are having to rethink the traditional retail model. Tom Andrews is in charge of new retail projects at HK Land, one of the city’s oldest and largest commercial and retail landlords in the central business district. The 36-year-old has been working underground during the last 12 months, turning two of the company’s basement areas into Hong Kong’s tastiest food hall and freshest retail concept. Expansion is on the cards, both at home and abroad.
What is HK Land doing differently?
We’ve almost gone and become a retailer. We’ve created two concepts in Hong Kong, Basehall and Belowground. Basehall is fundamentally a food hall that’s fully fitted out by us and we take a turnover rent, that’s it. By offering very short-term leases, we can rotate operators and incubate new concepts. Removing all of the barriers to entry means that we get a lot more diversity and variety in the shopping environment.
We took back five shops in the basement of Landmark and created a home for brands that traditionally wouldn’t want to be within a marble floor environment. They come in for a short period, try out something new and are gone. It rotates from a one-week pop-up to a three-to-six-month residency.
What’s unique about that?
We get brands to do global exclusives and [lines] you can’t buy on the internet. So Sacai came in with 12 different collaborations; the art gallery Perrotin also had a shop with us; and we did an exclusive drop with [artist] Takashi Murakami. Nearly 47,000 people applied to buy one of his 300 limited-edition vinyl figurines, so there’s clearly demand for these things.
Can it revive the surrounding neighbourhood that includes Hong Kong’s flagship high street?
It can. Queen’s Road Central has been hit hard and you can see a lot of closures, especially the independent shops. On the other hand, it’s a great opportunity to try out new things. What we’re doing will fundamentally change how Central has been perceived for quite a long time. We’re putting a lot of investment in, so we’ll get the focus back on Central as an incredible destination.
Images: Nicolas Tourrenc, Unfold, Ben Moon, Courtesy of Rivian. Illustrator: Cecile Gariepy