Jet Tale

成功有道

Jet Asia Pacific - - Contents - Text by Joyce Yip

In a day and age where luxury across all sectors is struggling to survive around the world, British furniture designer Timothy Oulton recently cut the ribbon to his new Dehli gallery (he refuses to call them “shops”); soon, a restaurant in one of the most expensive neighbourhoods in Hong Kong; and by Q3, a 20,000sqft member’s club in Singapore designed to house restaurants, spas, co-working space, cocktail bar, a yoga and pilates studio, event spaces, outdoor terrace and a cocktail bar.

Yet, this success strays far from the conventional model of pushing business online, which, for Oulton, includes a lone website designed to feature his work rather than hit sales numbers. Understandable, given that one of his many edges is a bespoke service that tailors everything from shape to the type of leather stitching – experiences that customers definitely need to see to believe.

So if forward isn’t the way to go, Oulton heads sideways, by adapting his furniture into different environments to showcase its verstaility in the experiences they can offer, from, commonly, a F&B setting, to something as extravagent as his 2014 invention, the Dome Home – an energy-saving living space that can be picked up and relocated anywhere in the world.

“It’s never just about great-looking pieces. A beautiful sofa is great, but it feels alone. If you pair it up with the right coffee table, however, it changes how you look at the sofa,” said Timothy Oulton in his petite Hong Kong Gallery on Gough Street, which was deliberately designed to look like an apartment to show that his bulky pieces work even in the city’s notoriously small homes. And prominently featured in the shop are his 2017 collections: the more glamourous Hosted Living and its casual and rugged brother, Ultralounge, which sees signature pieces like the Alto sofa refitted with a cupholder and an extra flap for remote controls.

“Furniture is for relaxing and entertaining, and though the brand has always been about comfortable designs, we’ve added simple details that completely change an experience and how it’s used. So rather than Alto just being a sofa, it can now perform throughout the whole weekend; people can lounge on it without having to move one finger and they’d have everything just next to them,” he said.

Ironically, this forward-thinking was born during his time spent working in his father’s antique shop. Not long after university, he and his brother eventually took over the family business; but his real breakthrough wasn’t until a decade later, when his textiles made a catastrophic impression in the 2004 China Import and Export Fair, or what’s commonly known as The Canton Fair.

“Back then we brought fake business cards cuz we didn’t know whether our business was going to go anywhere. We arrived at the show that week, and by Monday we were getting orders. By Wednesday we had a fax machine set up,

an apartment that we were working out of, a registry and even employees,” said Oulton. As one of the few foreigners at the Guangzhou-based show then, his portfolio eventually expanded to include vintage cigars, trunks and today, furniture.

One trend Oulton does follow is migrating his business to China, in a city called Gaoming in the South, but not for reasons of cost-saving; vice versa, for quality and efficiency.

“I can probably make my furniture cheaper anywhere else, but there’s no one place in the world that can make all my pieces. My team in China gets things done, they’re not afraid, and they understand quality.” Aside from a fully staffed workshop, Oulton’s China-based home away from home also serves as a showroom for up-and-coming projects as well as a training base for all of the brand’s staff from around the world.

For a business that relies so heavily on the touch and feel of its products, Oulton knows mass production isn’t the way to go (though he admits he’s currently eyeing for potential partnership in Japan); so the current challenge drills down to how far they should extend the brand without jeopardising its essence.

“Our consumer message is very obvious. So the question becomes how we can align the brand with these experiences on a broader scale. Is it just F&B? Or are we venturing into co-living, co-working, even? Nobody knows.”

在全球各行业的高端品牌都在苦寻生存之道的时代,英国家具设计师Timothy Oulton最近为其全新的新德里艺廊(他拒绝称之为“商店”)揭幕;一家新餐厅快将在香港租金最昂贵的地区开业;一家设有餐厅、水疗中心、合作空间、鸡尾酒吧、瑜伽和普拉提工作室、展览活动空间和户外露台,占地二万平方英尺的会员俱乐部也会于第三季度在新加坡开幕。

然而,其成功却并非遵循一般将业务推往线上的模式。对Oulton来说,线上业务包括设立一个展示其作品的单独网站,但不是为了实现销售目标。这不难理解,提供定制服务是他的众多优势之一,从形状到皮革制品种类等都可以量身定制,这些体验绝对需要顾客亲眼看到才会相信。

因此,如果大路走不通的话,Oulton会选择另辟溪径,因应环境改变他的家具,以展现出其家具可以提供多面的体验,从一般的餐饮格局到极致奢华的布置,正如其2014年的大作Dome Home,一个可以应用至世界任何地方的节能生活空间。

Timothy Oulton在其小巧的香港艺廊接受访问时表示:“这绝对不仅仅是讲究美观。美丽的沙发很棒,但显得有点单调。如果配对合适的咖啡桌,就会改变你对这张沙发的观感。”其香港艺廊位于香港中环歌赋街,故意设计成公寓的格式,以突显其大型家具甚至可以融入香港局促的蜗居之中。店内的特色之处是他的2017家具系列:较奢华典雅的Hosted Living,以及其休闲而粗犷的兄弟系列Ultralounge,当中一些著名家具,如alto沙发经过重新设计,安装了一个杯架和用来放置遥控器的额外托架。

他说:“家具是用来放松和娱乐,虽然品牌一直以舒适为设计的大前提,但我们添加了一些简单的细节,彻底改变了用家的体验和家具的使用方式。因此,Alto不再只是一张沙发,现在更可以在整个周末大派用场。用家无需动一根指头,可以安坐在沙发上休息,所有物品就放在他们的旁边。”

讽刺的是,这种具前瞻性的思维是他在父亲的古董店工作期间萌生的。大学毕业后不久,他和他的兄弟最终接手了家族的生意,但直到十年后他才真正作出突破,全因他的纺织工艺品在2004年的中国进出口商品交易会(广交会)上得到空前回响。

Oulton说:“我们当时是带着假名片的,因为不知道反应会是怎样。我们周末到达展会,周一就收到订单。到了周三,我们已经有一台传真机、一间用来工作的公寓、一份登记册、甚至员工。”作为当时参与广州交易会的少数外国人之一,他的作品范围最终扩大至包括怀旧雪茄、大皮箱、以及今天的家具。

Oulton唯一顺应的趋势是将他的业务迁移到中国,选址南部的高明市,原因不是为了节省成本,相反是为了提升质量和效率。

“我可以在别的地方以更便宜的成本制作我的家具,但世界上没有一个地方可以完成我的所有作品。我在中国的团队成功完成交付,他们不畏惧,并了解质量。”除了作为全体员工的工作场所外,Oulton的中国工作室也作为其新兴项目的展示厅,以及来自世界各地的所有品牌员工的培训基地。

对于一个非常依赖产品触感和感觉的业务来说,Oulton明白批量生产并非可行的途径(尽管他承认他目前正在日本寻找潜在的合作伙伴),因此,其目前的挑战就在于如何拓展品牌之余,不会牺牲了品牌的本质。

“我们的消费者信息非常明显,问题在于我们如何让品牌在更大层面上与这些体验联系起来。只是餐饮吗?还是甚至考虑踏足共享生活、共享工作?没有人知道。”

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