Piper hosts its 11th networking lunch, on luxury

On 15 May 2014, Piper brought together guests from leading luxury brands to discuss a range of contemporary issues facing their fast-growing sector.

The speaker was James McArthur, CEO of Anya Hindmarch, the luxury handbags and accessories company.

Having started in banking, McArthur has gone on to become one of the luxury industry’s most influential figures. Among previous roles he has been CEO of Balenciaga and Harrods, executive vice president of Gucci Group and a board director at Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and Bottega Veneta.

McArthur described how his career path could be traced back to a photo of him at the age of four. ‘I’m in brown sandals with a pudding bowl hair cut, mixing concrete. It expresses my interest in the hands-on side of life – the red thread that runs through everything I’ve done since.’

He shared a number of lessons picked up from the luxury business. One is the ability to stay focused.

‘Luxury businesses can take a long time to get right,’ said McArthur. ‘Even with great names – like Dior, Chanel or Valentino – there can be a lengthy period of pain and investment. You might have the most beautiful corner site in Mayfair – that’s fine if you’re happy with a bungalow. But if you want to build a hotel, you’ll need to reinforce the foundations first – and that’s expensive.’

Of course, luck and timing can play an essential role – if deployed well. McArthur told of the recent lift altercation between singer Solange Knowles and Jay-Z, involving a £995 Anya Hindmarch Crisp Packet Clutch. The company quickly responded by releasing an advert describing the bag as ‘worth fighting for’, which created huge waves on social media.

Despite every luxury brand’s desire to be noticed in an increasingly crowded field, McArthur said an enduring mantra was ‘try to be elegant in everything you do. Not only because your juniors often become your bosses but also because it breeds loyalty and respect.’

He described this being exemplified by former Gucci Group CEO Domenico De Sole. One morning, De Sole summoned McArthur to join him on an immediate trip to Florence.

‘I didn’t know what it was about until we got there,’ recalled McArthur. ‘We arrived at a restaurant to a sea of white hair. Everyone had come to celebrate the guy who’d just marked 50 years as the keeper of the Gucci car park. Domenico wanted to be there too. Gestures like that have a profound effect on any company, regardless of size.’