Editor’s letter: creativity will not be vanquished by a virus

What does a luxury magazine have to contribute during a pandemic, asks Jo Ellison

How To Spend It editor Jo Ellison
How To Spend It editor Jo Ellison | Image: Marili Andre

I’m writing this 17 days before the magazine will come out in print. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t matter. Ordinarily, weeks meld – one into the next – with seemingly little to distinguish them. That doesn’t apply now. In the UK, we’re in week two of lockdown. Our priorities shift with every day. And, of course, there are bigger questions to grapple with. What does a luxury magazine have to contribute to the world during a pandemic? To put it bluntly – who cares about expensive chairs?

Yet there are other things to consider also. The luxury sector supports millions of workers and drives a vast economy. The global luxury-travel market was valued at $891bn in 2018. The fashion business alone is valued at some $406bn. The global wine market was worth $354.7bn in 2018. Luxury disciplines – which include design, food, watches and jewellery, motoring, fashion, beauty and entertainment – account for millions of jobs. Moreover, truly authentic businesses of the kind we like to feature still place a value (and their reputations) on knowhow and savoir-faire. These are businesses built on the skills of people – combining centuries of knowledge and the art of the hand. Luxury is still essentially a very human industry. It nurtures craftsmanship and expertise. Many companies are still multi-generational family outfits. And many desperately need our support.

It’s easy to divide the world into good and bad, especially at a time like this, but recent weeks have seen individuals and businesses making huge efforts to help alleviate the crisis. Bernard Arnault of the LVMH group has galvanised production facilities and distribution networks to produce much-needed medical supplies; Prada, Armani, Burberry, Pernod Ricard, Absolut Vodka and Ralph Lauren have all made large philanthropic gestures, and a wealth of smaller brands have come up with strategies to help – from turning their efforts to making protective masks to providing meals-on-wheels for vulnerable communities to staging virtual workshops to help preserve our mental health. We’ll be discussing more of that in future issues, and using the magazine to promote new ways on how to give it now. 

Cartier jewellery photographed for How To Spend It
Cartier jewellery photographed for How To Spend It | Image: Benjamin Bouchet

And then there is the fact that around 80 per cent of this week’s magazine was produced by freelance creatives, from the regular writers and contributors with whom you have been long acquainted, such as Nick Foulkes and Christina Ohly Evans, to the photographers, stylists, make-up artists and hairstylists who worked on this issue’s shoots. A great many of these people have now found themselves redundant because they simply cannot work. Likewise, the magazine itself is printed and distributed via a network of loyal contacts and clients who rely on us for business. How To Spend It is built on a big ecosystem of talent. Many of our contributors are vulnerable. Many are worried about their livelihoods and incomes. By continuing to publish, we are supporting them too.

Plus, we need distraction. Well, I know I do, at least. We sit adjacent to the news agenda deliberately because we want to offer some relief. We still want to celebrate craftsmanship and talk about innovation. We want to offer you stories that inspire. And take you somewhere else. Creativity will not be vanquished by a virus. 

This design special unites a dozen different voices: the disruptive vision of Virgil Abloh, who has applied his brand of Duchamp-inspired humour to everything from bags to bedroom mats; the brassy British design darling Tom Dixon; Giorgio Armani, the forever advocate of greige homogeny who this year marks the 20th anniversary of his Armani Casa line; and the forensically obsessive Marc Newson. Each offers a unique standpoint on modern living now – albeit in circumstances none could quite predict.

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And then there is beauty. Even in the most appalling of circumstances, we can still appreciate lovely things. Perhaps one of the emerging features of this crisis is that we have learnt to take more pleasure from nature. “The Exotic Review” pairs some of the season’s most vibrant gemstones with sculptural flowers and tropical blooms. It was shot weeks before we were locked down by the crisis, but Benjamin Bouchet’s pictures, with their delicate serenity and stillness, seem especially poignant now. Regardless of whether you can buy the bijou, the blooms look very beautiful. I hope you enjoy it.

@jellison22 

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