The Harlequin Effect
Interview with Luke Birchall UK Retail sales Manager for Harlequin
The Harlequin Group (a brief history)
Originally founded as a wallpaper company, Harlequin has embraced its heritage by producing breathtaking designer wallpapers in an all-encompassing selection of designs and textures. A master of the flamboyant statement wallpaper, Harlequin also specialises in imaginative finishes, visionary techniques and mouth-watering colours guaranteed to make your walls a work of art in their own right!
The Harlequin Group has a rich past full of wonderful designs, designers and mergers.
Founded in 1899, the company originally known as C&W Walker Holdings Ltd was engineering company which manufactured gas containers.
In 1986, the merger with Greenbank Group PLC, another engineering firm, established the current entity Walker Greenbank PLC a public limited company listed on the London Stock Exchange.
In 1987 the Anstey Wallpapers was acquired which thrust the company forward to become the group we know and love today, creating the marketing brands named Harlequin and Zoffany.
In the late 80’s the decision was made to concentrate on the wallpaper and home furnishings market, and the various engineering companies that had comprised the group were sold in 1990.
During the early 1990’s the group became one of Europe’s largest commercial wall-covering manufacturers and distributors and one of the UK’s leading domestic wallpaper and fabric companies , thanks in part to its intelligent and innovative acquisition of several companies.
In the late 90’s decisions surrounding the consolidation of the wallpaper companies and their manufacturing bases to one unit helped streamline the manufacturing side of the company. The purchase of Standfast Dyers and Printers and Barracks Fabric Printing Company was also achieved at the turn of the century thus creating a complete in-house of manufacturing.
In August 2003 the group acquired the trade and certain assets of Arthur Sanderson & Sons, which included the prestigious Morris & Co brand.
Many more changes within the group occurred and they have grown to be not only a leader in the financial world but also one of the most prestigious and trend driving company in the world of interior design and soft furnishings.
I have been very lucky indeed to know and work with Harlequin fabrics and wallpapers since 1995.
It has been and still is one of my most favourite products / brands. Their designs are an absolute joy to work with not only for artistic reasons but also for reasons of quality. It is such a pleasure when my clients have been overjoyed with them just as much as I, time and time again.
I first met Luke Birchall when he became a representative for Harlequin. He was an instant hit with me and all the other retailers.
His friendly and easy-going manner was a pleasure to work with, as well as his organised, enthusiastic professionalism showing his obvious love for the product and brand he represents. That coupled with the amazing designs and price point that Harlequin always has, created a winning combination that was just always impossible to resist.
So you can imagine how excited I was when Luke and The Harlequin Group agreed to this interview.
Thank you and I hope you enjoy reading it as I have writing it.
Harlequin Looking Back
E.Wolfe :- I have delved into the past of the Harlequin company to its infancy in 1973 with Anstey as just a wallpaper company and the takeover with Walker Greenbank. How do you feel this has contributed to Harlequin’s growth in the past not only economically but also with its designs?
Luke Birchall: – The acquisition of the company by Walker Greenbank was certainly a turning point for the Harlequin brand but it was years later in the 1980’s that the company now known as Harlequin would bear any resemblance to the brand people know today. It was in the 80’s that we started designing and producing coordinated ranges for which we are so well known today and are the foundations on which the business has been built from. Over the past 10 years or so the company has experienced huge levels of growth both in the UK and internationally largely because of an expanded product portfolio and a greater breadth of designs which in turn appeals to a greater number of consumers. With the success we’ve achieved over the years we have been able to successfully create new stand-alone brands such as Scion and Anthology which have helped reach new customers and will hopefully continue our success into the future.
E.Wolfe:- Have in house designers always been the way for Harlequin?
Luke Birchall: – Unlike many of our competitors, we are proud to always have had our own design team, and this has been expanded upon and developed over the years. With the Harlequin Group now having three completely different brands in Harlequin, Scion & Anthology, it is essential to have a diverse spread of designers so that each brand maintains its own identity. Each brand has been developed specifically to have its own handwriting and whilst there is a huge amount of cross over between the designers we have also developed design specialists who live and breathe their brand. This has worked extremely well for us in the past and we envisage the same strategy for the immediate future.
E.Wolfe:- Harlequin always seems to walk alongside the Fashion world with their designs has this always been the aim?
Luke Birchall:- The Harlequin Group brands are increasingly driven by the fashion world, but the same can be said for any contemporary brand. The interiors world has always been inspired by the fashion industry in terms of trend colours and textures. In the past trend colours featured in fashion would come through the following season for interiors but now the two go hand in hand and what is hot in fashion is mirrored during the same season in interiors. As our brands have evolved and become more fashion oriented we must make sure that we have the right style of products for our increasingly fashion conscious customer base.
E.Wolfe:- What was the most defining moment in Harlequin’s past as far as design direction was concerned?
Luke Birchall:- The most defining moment in terms of design was the appointment of our current Design Director, Claire Vallis. Claire’s background was at our sister company Anstey Wallpapers, and she joined the business with a clear vision of how she wanted the brand to evolve. Her different design direction, coupled with substantially increased investment in marketing, showrooms and exhibitions, has directly formed the brand you see today and will continue to do so in the future.
E.Wolfe:- What is your favourite past design and Harlequin’s best seller since its birth?
Luke Birchall: – There’s so many to choose from! My personal favourite design is a true Harlequin modern classic, the digitally printed Paradise, and features in our spring 2015 Amazilia collection.
This is the 1st of a 3 part interview.
Come back next week and check out Harlequin in the Present??!!