Asprey reinvents itself as home of high living

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The Independent Online

Asprey & Garrard, the quintessential British jeweller, announced plans yesterday to transform itself into a luxury lifestyle house to rival the French bastion, Hermes.

Prior to its de-merger from Garrard early next year, Asprey has singled out British fashion's avant-garde master, Hussein Chalayan, to set up and direct the new ready-to-wear line. Jade Jagger, daughter of the rock star, Mick Jagger, has been appointed creative director of Garrard – having already designed a successful range of jewellery for the house during the past six months.

The plan was orchestrated by Rosa Monckton, wife of Sunday Telegraph editor, Dominic Lawson. She was recently appointed chief executive officer of Asprey & Garrard.

The company, which is owned by Lawrence Stroll and Silas Chou, who also run Tommy Hilfiger, plans to spend more than £100m on its reinvention. This will include the renovation, by Lord Foster and designer David Mlinaric, of Asprey's Bond Street store and the launch of product lines such as ready-to-wear for men and women, footwear, watches, glasses, and fragrance.

During the next five years, Asprey plans to open 20 stores. Garrard, with a five-year plan including 10 new stores, will become a high-fashion jewellery house. Its creative team will include Francesca Amfitheatrof – known for her plastic ID tag bracelets – and the fashion designer Koji Tatsuno, who will create a range of "precious" fashion accessories.

But it is the marriage of the conceptualist designer Hussein Chalayan to the classic jeweller Asprey that is the most intriguing change.

Chalayan is the avant-garde "wizard" whose art/fashion performances have long been one of the most awaited highlights of London Fashion Week. This is the designer who, in past collections, turned a wooden coffee table into a skirt, and hi-tech plastic dresses into aerodynamic contraptions complete with automated wings and tail fins unfurling at the flick of a switch. His extraordinary one-off creations have appeared in as many museum and art exhibitions as fashion shows. The 31-year-old Turkish Cypriot, has been twice voted British designer of the year.

The decision to hire Chalayan will have a big impact on the fashion industry.

Surprisingly, it is the first time a British luxury goods house has taken on a high-profile British designer for its key design post. His appointment could help stem the talent drain of British designers, such as Alexander McQueen Stella McCartney, Julien Macdonald and John Galliano going off to work for the French and Italian fashion houses.

The move will also bring Asprey head-to-head with those conglomerates – Möet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, and the Gucci Group – whose stable of high-fashion brands have always used prestigious designers to raise profiles and sales.

The news could not have come at a better time for Chalayan who, until recently, typified the precarious position of being an important British talent without secure financial backing. Earlier this year, he was forced to put his company into voluntary liquidation and missed a season showing on the catwalk.

He has since secured a partnership with the Italian manufacturer Gibo that will enable him to go forward with his own label which he is intending to show in October at the Paris collections.

Gianluca Brozzett, Asprey's group chief executive, said he hoped to tap into Chalayan's "infinite imagination" as well as his talent for creating high-quality, understated, and supremely wearable, clothes. Asprey's ready-to-wear line will launch in 2003 in conjunction with the opening of its refurbished store.