Luc Goidadin’s seventysomething mother was visiting from Burgundy. The two are very close, he claims, and yet here he was, socializing in the vacuous, dripping-with-gilt tearoom at the Corinthia, while she hung at his home in central London. “Oh, Mum’s doing just fine,” said Goidadin, flashing an amused grin that accompanies many of his remarks. It was raining, after all, and a perfectly good day for anyone to putter around the grand old Victorian that he shares with his partner, the literary agent Nick Quinn.
And besides, we were here to talk about the most thrilling development in Goidadin’s professional life: he’s now running the show, creatively speaking, at Smythson of Bond Street. “Positive vibes from the beginning,” he said of the brand, which dates back to 1887, when Frank Smythson opened a small storefront at 133 New Bond Street. As Smythson described it then, the store specialized in “stationery and fancy articles of a high-class character.”
“Chutzpah and Personality”
As it turns out, the man who popularized the personal datebook was unusual for his time. “He was clearly a vibrant personality, a great entrepreneur, and creative, a supporter of the women’s vote at an age when that wasn’t necessarily a given,” said Goidadin, who was dressed in a neat sweater and slacks as tidy and deliberately chosen as his language. “When I started looking into it, it really broke with the idea of a white, middle-class vision of the brand. [Smythson] started with huge chutzpah and personality, and we needed to rekindle the cabinet of curiosities that Frank Smythson dreamed of.”
As if on cue, a champagne bottle popped as cheers broke out in a far-flung corner of the salon. “Good tea cakes,” he deadpanned. It’s this sensibility, along with his 16-year career at Burberry, that makes the Smythson job such kismet.
Whimsy and Creativity
Goidadin was born in Geneva to a French father and British mother, and even as a child, he says, he possessed a disproportionate amount of whimsy and creativity. Although he was chronically drawing and designing, he characterizes himself as “quite bookish, neither shy nor particularly gregarious,” and while he was interested in fashion, it never occurred to him to make a career out of it. “My parents didn’t know anyone who worked in that milieu, so law seemed like much more of an obvious thing,” he said, ordering a pot of fresh mint tea. But before pursuing it at university, he wisely decided to indulge his creative side with a foundation course at Wimbledon School of Art. That whole law thing? Discarded almost immediately.
Soon, Goidadin enrolled at Central Saint Martins, where he studied both design and the business that inevitably becomes attached to it. After earning a bachelor’s degree, he moved to Paris to intern for Thierry Mugler, which was newly flush thanks to an investment from Clarins. “It was the last hurrah of that old-school French fashion house, where you’d have crates of champagne delivered to the studio before the show, and work until two or three in the morning while everyone was smoking at their desk,” he recalled. “It was terrifying and good fun at the same time.”
Next up: a master’s degree at the Royal College of Art, and then a move to Reggio Emilia, Italy, for a job at Max Mara. “That was a big culture shift from crazy London, but Max Mara was an amazing school of learning in how merchandising and manufacturing work, and how a commercial enterprise functions,” he said. “What I also learned was that I needed to be back in a larger city.”
“You’d have crates of champagne delivered to the studio before the show, and work until two or three in the morning while everyone was smoking at their desk.”
When a headhunter rang about a job with Burberry, which was then a tired purveyor of trench coats, Goidadin agreed to meet with its new creative director, an unknown Gucci vet named Christopher Bailey. “I had always thought of Burberry as something my grandmother would wear,” Goidadin said. “When I met Christopher, I thought, This is going to be amazing.” As raw material, Burberry was disjointed and confused; Japanese licensees were manufacturing branded tissue and whiskey, while the European market struggled to move luxury ready-to-wear. “We had the authenticity and legitimacy of the brand, and it was such a mine to delve into, but at the same time it was a young team, and we were all getting into this thing together,” he said.
Goidadin started as a women’s runway collection designer, and by the end of his tenure he was Burberry’s chief design officer, self-identifying as “Luc from Burberry” and overseeing a team of 80 employees. In addition to working directly alongside Bailey, Goidadin also learned from the successes of two star C.E.O.’s—Rose Marie Bravo, who doubled Burberry’s sales in the U.S., and then Angela Ahrendts, who took the brand’s value from $2.58 billion to more than $9 billion. In 2014, Ahrendts left to join Apple, and a few years later, Goidadin recalled, “I woke up one day and said, I need to make a move. I’m completely knackered.” In 2017, he resigned, and a few months later Bailey did as well. The cycle, as it were, had ended.
No Looking Mournfully Toward the Past
After a few months of self-imposed rest and relaxation, Goidadin couldn’t help taking a meeting about the creative-director position at Smythson, which had been vacant since the 2017 departure of creative adviser Samantha Cameron. “[Smythson] was exactly the sort of niche brand that you can build up in a quiet way,” he said. The brand currently has 10 boutiques and is stocked in department stores around the world. “It’s not one of those big, hyped companies that everyone’s either dissing or loving, that has that franticness to it.” In a culture obsessed with novelty and innovation, the trend among heritage brands has been to look mournfully toward the past, reissuing this and restoring that. But Goidadin set out to “redefine the brand as born of its legacy and heritage, but not trapped by it. Something that’s relevant to not just people in the U.K. and U.S., but hopefully to people in the streets of Shanghai and Tokyo, too.”
Smythson’s fall ’19 collection, the first to reflect Goidadin’s vision, has recently arrived in stores, and style setters who have long been toting around Smythson’s personalized notebooks are now likely to find themselves wandering out with a handbag or scarf as well. He has greatly expanded the leather-goods offerings, adding a wide range of stylish pocketbooks to the more staid assortment of briefcases and wallets. Prints and patterns, an integral part of early Smythson, have returned in all kinds of appealing iterations. The cashmere category, for starters: in the early days of automobiles, Smythson sold blankets to wrap oneself in, and so, in homage, Goidadin enlisted a Scottish mill that dates back to the late 18th century to produce throws and oversize scarves. The kilims used in a smart group of travel bags nod to the patterns once found on the miniature carpets Smythson designed to absorb some of the rattling from those big, Bakelite telephones.
But the blue-papered notebooks—whose color was derived from a factory accident in which a worker dropped some blue ink into a vat of paper pulp—are at the heart of it all. “Through the world of paper, we’ve got the world of the mind,” Goidadin said. “Winston Churchill, Vivien Leigh, Sigmund Freud—our pages have been a repository for amazing thoughts and ideas, but it’s not an over-intellectualized brand. Particularly in this day and age, if we’re going to have a luxury experience, it may as well be a fun one, rather than too downbeat and serious.”
For holidays, Goidadin trotted out a cheerful array of zippered currency cases, triangular trinket trays, bike bags, pen pots, and luggage tags that would make Frank Smythson, who produced his own “Book of Gifts” in 1902, rather proud. “In the U.K., Smythson as a gift destination has been super-key,” said Goidadin, whose first gift from Christopher Bailey was, serendipitously, a personalized Smythson passport case. “There are only a few brands where the parcel triggers a level of excitement, and the blue boxes are like that. Whatever I get from there has a frisson of excitement.”
A cheerful array of zippered currency cases, triangular trinket trays, bike bags, pen pots, and luggage tags that would make Frank Smythson proud.
Goidadin suffers from an affliction that’s endemic to so many successful creative directors—he not so secretly cares deeply about the numbers. “Design has to know,” he insists, confessing that he anguishes over the daily sales reports. “Being in an ivory tower can be dangerous.” For now, the market is responding with enthusiasm, but the truth will really reveal itself in early 2020, when the holiday-season sales are tallied.
For the moment, Goidadin’s most egregious delinquency is personal in nature: he hasn’t yet finished scrawling out a few hundred holiday cards. “I’m getting writer’s callouses, like the Victorian clerks,” he admitted, taking the last swig of mint tea and flashing a conspiratorial smile. “It’s something out of Dickens. Occupational hazard!”
Ashley Baker is the Style Editor for AIR MAIL