IN a world in which global luxury giants like LMVH-owned Louis Vuitton have to close shop an hour early to preserve stock – so great is demand – it’s hard to imagine how a single family-owned shop in Mayfair can keep its head above water.
And yet, thanks to the intuition and hard work of its founder, William Asprey, William & Son has shown how it is done. Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, the Mount Street stalwart – composed of a gun shop and a luxury goods store that sells the finest jewelery, silver, glass and leather – is the go-to for the King of Bahrain, Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece and almost any oligarch you care to think of.
William & Son’s secret lies – in part – in the DNA of Asprey himself. Before it was sold to Prince Jefri, brother of the Sultan of Brunei, in 1995 (and then sold onwards), Asprey was heir to the Asprey jewellery dynasty, and worked with his father at Asprey and Garrard’s palatial Bond Street shop. (He left because he was “bored and unhappy” after it stopped being a family business). So not only is he the would-be inheritor of a long line of true British luxury (217 years of it to be precise), his family has been successfully selling the British dream for centuries – a knack that not everybody possesses, or has the credentials to do.
Asprey’s Britishness oozes from his clipped syllables and understated way with words, his measured sentiments; but more importantly, it’s there in his dedication to homegrown craftwork, his sense of personal duty to keeping British manufacturing alive. “In this country it’s hard to find manufacturers full stop – good, bad or indifferent,” says Asprey, with his trademark frankness. “Over the past few years, the ones that remain have been pushed into making goods to a lower price. But when someone comes in and says: ‘I want things heavier, better quality’, they’re taken aback. But they usually rise to the occasion, especially with our help.” Does it feel like a one-man battle to keep British manufacturing alive? “Well, we have to make sure we keep the ones we need; to encourage them to take on apprenticeships. It is a struggle, though.”
It’s certainly not a struggle Asprey, nearly 45, is prepared to stint on. “We’re virtually the last British-owned luxury goods company and we’re very proud of it. The quality of British craftsmanship is just better and this stands for a lot overseas.”
Having reached the 10-year mark – turning a profit each year – what does Asprey feel? Jubilation Pride Surprise No: rather it’s that measured pragmatism again, that patriotic reserve. “Hopefully it’s the first of many. It’s all gone by in a bit of a blur. But basically it’s business as usual.”
As for what that business is, Asprey repeats again and again that the constant challenge he faces is finding the best of everything. “We’re continually finding new products and new ideas but it’s a battle. You really have to keep your eye on the ball, keep an eye out.”
What about growth? At the moment, William & Son occupies a handsome double frontage on Mount Street – Mayfair’s most sought after address. It’s currently ravaged by roadworks, but is home to Carolina Hererra, Christian Louboutin and the A-list’s favourite restaurant, Scott’s. Despite its prime Mayfair spot, one rather expects Asprey to capitalise on the Chinese and Indian emergence and head east, opening shops all over the world. Again, no. In order to honour the company’s USP – intensely high quality and hand-made goods – it would be impossible to stock numerous locations. “The problem with what we do is that it’s small quantities and high quality. It’s hard to stock lots of places. But the world has become much smaller place – people travel and come to us; and we go to them too. We spend a lot of time visiting potential clients.” London’s emergence as a centre of finance has “been very influential in bringing in people from abroad.” William & Son’s clientele are united by a love of British quality on one hand, and diverse backgrounds on the other – some are English to the core, many are not. “Our clients range from an Algerian dishwasher [who came in to celebrate his British naturalisation by buying a passport holder] to heads of state.”
But again, that nagging issue of globalisation. What is the future of real British luxury – is there even one? “I think there are huge opportunities,” says Asprey. “People like British goods. At the end of the day, people like quality. Great quality, British made – what’s not to like?” Indeed. Here’s to another ten years. William & Son, 10 Mount St, W1K 2TY. Tel: 020 7493 8385, www.williamandson.com.
KING OF LUXURY GOODS | WILLIAM ASPREY’S CV
Born into the Asprey family in 1965. Attended Monkton Combe, a Christian independent school for boys in Bath. On leaving with the ambition to work in hospitality, applied to the famous Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne only to find a nine-year waiting list. Took up a four year commission in the Army, serving with the Royal Green Jackets. Joined the family firm, Asprey & Garrard, but left in 1999 after tiring of the new management and vision. Started trading under the name William R Asprey Esq in 2000 but was taken to court by Asprey & Garrard’s new owners for copyright infringement. Lost, but on the upside, William & Son was born and counts numerous members of Arab royalty among its most devoted clients.