Along with “disruptor”, “collaboration” looms large in the executive handbook of modern marketing clichés. All too frequently the term seems to connote a legacy brand’s play to lower the average age and temperature of its clients by allowing Supreme, Palace or A Bathing Ape to leave their mark on its products. Adolescents queue outside the aforementioned legacy brand; desirability among sought-after millennials is demonstrated; products sell out in the sort of infinitesimal time in which automated trading systems decide to buy or sell. Not long after, said products find their way onto internet marketplace sites at a 300 per cent mark-up. Everyone makes out like bandits.
However, there are some collaborations that take a little longer to mature – such as that being launched next week between Goodwood and Connolly. The former is sprawling South Downs ducal estate that is home to the goliath of global motoring events; the latter, a tiny jewel of a shop on Clifford Street in Mayfair; each in its way is besotted with the culture of the motor car and led by a detail-obsessed, design-focused, charismatic creator: Charles March, now 11th Duke of Richmond and owner of Goodwood, and Isabel Ettedgui – widow of fashion retail legend Joseph who relaunched Connolly. I have known both since the early 1990s, when each began to develop their passions into brands.
The inaugural Goodwood Festival of Speed took place in 1993. At that time it was a sort of automotive Glyndebourne – or rather more a large garden party with some cars charging up the hill. I remember bringing a picnic and sitting by the track. Just try to do that now, at what has evolved into a globally famous event that is more Glastonbury than country-house opera.
Two years later, in April 1995, Connolly, tanner and currier by appointment to HM the Queen and to the world’s finest car brands, was persuaded by Ettedgui to open a luxury goods shop in a Belgravia mews building redesigned by Andrée Putman. It became an era-defining oasis of chic. “I used to go there quite a bit,” recalls the Duke, “and buy all the driving shoes they had. Back then I think it was the only place in London you could get them. I loved it.” When Connolly reopened in Clifford Street a couple of years ago, he was one of the first customers to return. “I love the stuff, and my boys wear it now too.”
Ettedgui’s memories of the Duke are even older, long predating Connolly and the Festival of Speed, reaching back to the 1980s when he was Charles, Lord Settrington, a dashing photographer-about-town, and she a junior staffer on The World of Interiors admiring his work.
Floppy-haired good looks and glamour aside, what really impressed her about him was his attention to detail. “He had worked for Kubrick and nothing escaped him,” she says. “He has a very good eye and I think it’s amazing what he has done with Goodwood. It’s really remarkable that a huge event with a global audience can have such high aesthetic standards.”
His other chief qualification? “He’s a customer, a good customer. He’s recently bought a coat for his son; and he buys scarves, knitwear… classic pieces.”
The collaboration certainly wasn’t an act of premeditated marketing. “Neither of us had done a collaboration like this before,” Ettedgui says cheerfully. “We met in the shop and began talking. It started as ‘wouldn’t it be great to do something’, and we’ve done it.”
This “something” is a capsule collection of items inspired by the Duke’s greatest automotive hero, his grandfather Freddie Settrington, later the 9th Duke, who, after Eton and Oxford, became an apprentice at Bentley Motors before pursuing a career as a racing driver.
“I was very close to him, and he was very important to me,” the current Duke recalls. “He was a good engineer and a good driver. He was really into design – he loved small, clever cars. His cars were always very light; he’d take on big Bentleys and the like at Brooklands in his little MG and beat them.
“And he was a very good painter and photographer – in fact, when I was about 10, he bought me my first enlarger, and I have still got his darkroom equipment.”
Settrington was as meticulous about photography as he was about preparing his race-winning cars: “He wrote down the spec of every picture he printed – exactly what aperture he enlarged it at and to what degree.”
As well as keeping scrupulous technical records of his photography, the 9th Duke recorded his wider life in a series of scrapbooks, which were consulted when preparing the Connolly for Goodwood Collection. “We went through all Charles’s grandfather’s scrapbooks and archives,” says Ettedgui. “The T-shirt we have done reproduces the hand-painted pit signals of his grandfather. And we’ve done racing socks and a whistle, so the idea is you can buy into the collection from quite a reasonable price point.”
She explains how she was inspired by the way Settrington used to knot his silk racing scarf. “We have been buying vintage car scarves [£395] for about the past year and a half, and they are part of the collection. The drivers were quite dandy, you know, so it’s a fantastic combination of utilitarian practicality and great flair – just like the cars they drove, just like the men and the women they were.”
Garments such as the flying jacket (Settrington built and flew his own planes, and today Goodwood has an airfield), and the motorbike mac (£1,100) – based on one worn by Settrington in a picture of him roaring around London on two wheels – further set the tone of the collection.
But both collaborators are keen to stress that this is not just an exercise in nostalgia. “My grandfather never looked back; he was very modern. He couldn’t see any point in going back and reliving the past.
“What’s interesting about this collaboration is that it’s taking the best of the heritage of Goodwood and the pioneering of motor racing and putting it into a modern context and style. It is not necessarily specific to long-distance driving or motor racing, but it has a sort of Goodwood touch to it.” “It’s not an archive collection as such,” confirms Ettedgui, “it’s trying to push it forward.”
Citing the rubber buttons on the overalls (£390) that do not scratch paintwork, she insists, “It’s utilitarian in the way that workwear is.” But au fond this is workwear for those who don’t have to do much work. “It’s very elegant and beautifully made: knits are done in Scotland, silks in Como, flying jackets, cottons and overalls in Italy. We have used our best factories.” These are overalls to wear for a saunter in the paddock before a race rather than the sort of thing you will see at Kwik Fit. Similarly, the flying jacket is made of supple, cashmere-soft deerskin rather than stiff, creaking sheepskin.
As well as being luxurious in terms of design, make and materials, the collection is a luxury for Goodwood; inasmuch as the estate sees hundreds of thousands of paying visitors each year and has some of the biggest sponsors there are (Rolex, Mastercard and IWC among them), plus the manufacturing HQ of Rolls-Royce on site, the potential financial upside of the Connolly collaboration for the estate is negligible. But the Duke is very relaxed.
“This is a little capsule collection,” he says. “The plan is to do more.” But as far as he is concerned the roots of the partnership are in its spontaneity. “We just thought it would be a perfect collaboration, and it’s a great fit. Obviously, we get on very well, and I think it’s a very nice combination of brands and families.”
His sentiments are echoed by Ettedgui. “It’s a limited edition that we just drop, and we then gauge the reaction. If it works, then maybe it is something we would like to continue. We’ll see what happens. It’s a great project.”
But if Ettedgui is vague about the marketing outcomes and objectives, she has absolute clarity about what underpins the partnership: “He’s got very good taste.” She pauses, and her smiling features take on a serious cast. “I couldn’t do a collaboration with someone who didn’t,” she says, and then shudders slightly at such an uncongenial thought.