When King Charles III was coronated in Westminster Abbey on Saturday, May 6, it reignited ongoing questions about the value of the monarchy. Many watched all the pomp and circumstance of the event and the three-day holiday weekend surrounding it and measure it in money wasted.
The coronation alone is estimated to cost between $63 to $126 million, even as Charles is said to have slimmed down the invite list. Unlike royal weddings, the British taxpayers foot the bill as part of their Sovereign Grant, an annual taxpayer allotment that allows the royals to live the lifestyle of luxury they’ve grown accustomed to. It totaled $122 million in 2022, amounting to about $2 per U.K. citizen, less than the cost of a tall Starbucks, but painful for many who’ve had to cross a Starbucks’ indulgence off their list in a time of high inflation.
On the other hand, the royals give as good as they get. Brand Finance reported that the monarchy contributed $2.2 billion to the U.K. economy in 2017. And it estimated that William and Kate’s wedding alone brought in well over $1 billion. Any way you look at it that is a pretty good return on investment.
The British luxury sector is banking on the coronation to work its magic for the 250+ members of its trade association Walpole, plus the 800+ Royal Warrant holders that supply goods and services to the royal family. Companies that have been granted a royal warrant can get as much as a 10% boost in revenues.
The royals are effectively British luxury’s unpaid influencers-in-chief and a lot is riding on their continued patronage and support.
“We must never underestimate the soft power influence of the Royals and their role as ambassadors for this country,” said Walpole CEO Helen Brocklebank in a statement. “Britain’s finest brands are ready to make this uniquely British but globally important event a truly unforgettable moment that the many visitors to the U.K. will treasure their whole lives.”
Coin Of The Realm
In 2017, the U.K. luxury industry contributed $60 billion to the economy, roughly 2.4% of the country’s GDP, and employed some 160,000 people. Walpole is currently updating its report on the economic contribution of U.K. luxury, but if it has grown as fast as the luxury industry overall, it now represents a $70 billion industry.
“British luxury brands enjoy a halo effect of the allure of royalty,” said Charlotte Keesing, Walpole’s director of corporate affairs and international. “There is an enduring fascination with the British monarchy, even in the U.S. And London is a global luxury goods capital, alongside Paris, Milan and New York.”
But as steeped in history and heritage as British luxury brands are, they refuse to be defined by the past. “These businesses don’t rest on their laurels and rely on their heritage. They are masters of reinvention, always thinking about what the modern luxury customer wants,” she said as she pointed to Fortnum & Mason, the 300-year-old department store, that has opened an experiential Food & Drinks Studio on its third floor to host chef demonstrations, supper clubs and masterclasses.
British luxury is grounded in the past and keenly focused on the present to propel it into the future.
British Luxury On Display
While the British military are trooping the colours for the coronation, luxury brands have been working behind the scenes to commemorate the event with special edition products and experiences.
For example, Manolo Blahnik is launching a limited-edition collection of men’s shoes worthy of a king, accented with gold embroidery, crystal buckles and English-milled silk.
Wedgwood is following tradition after creating a collectible coronation mug for Queen Elizabeth II’s 1953 coronation with a “God Save the King” fine-bone china standard edition mug, plus another 100 hand-numbered limited edition featuring 22-carat hand-raised details.
At the accessible luxury level, Smythson is providing stationery for guests to write letters of congratulations to King Charles at its New Bond Street store. Hackett London has designed an affordable pocket square in his honor. And Claridge’s windows will display a collection from its archives of royal memorabilia focused on the coronations throughout its 200-year run.
And for those with greater reach, Gordon & MacPhail is releasing a single malt whisky that’s been distilling since 1948, the year of King Charles’ birth, priced at $31,000 for one of the 281 bottles that will be available. And the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London Hotel offers guests a Royal Retreat fit for a king and queen.
Bringing British Luxury To The World
Just as King Charles will be redefining the monarchy for the future, with his special interest in the environment and sustainability, Walpole is helping its members reimagine what British luxury can mean to the world.
Part of that effort is in-person trade missions, like the one hosted in New York City this past March. Some 25 established and new luxury brands, under Walpole’s Brands of Tomorrow moniker, visited the city. They toured two enclaves of luxury retail, including Saks Fifth Avenue uptown and Showfields downtown, “to see two very different kinds of retail experiences,” Kessing said.
The group also met with the press and hosted an Art of British Luxury Hospitality Summit at the British Consult General’s home in support of VisitBritain.
“It was amazing to see the number of collaborations that took place while we were in New York,” she shared. “They could have happened in London, but there’s a huge benefit from the brands spending time together and getting to know each other personally away from the office.”
Looking to the future and all the economic uncertainty swirling today, she believes British luxury has legs to carry it through. “In times of crisis, there’s the flight to quality. People perhaps will buy less, but they will buy better. And they’ll bind to heritage brands that they’ve known and trusted,” she concluded.