FT Weekend at 30: Lucia van der Post on the early days
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It had been the particular insight of my predecessor, Sheila Black, to realise that even the most august members of the FT readership were also (usually) family men (for they were mostly men in those not so far-off days), who had homes and wives and children, who needed to eat and be clothed, who had hobbies, who read books, went to the theatre and generally had another life. Which is how, in 1967, a page called How To Spend It came about.
The page was never that rather old-fashioned entity, a “woman’s section”, which was rather prevalent at the time. It always aimed to inform and please whoever was interested in innovation, in creativity, things of beauty, in the burgeoning world of what today is known as the luxury goods industry. It looked, too, at things that were practical and helpful, at the small and the simple as well as the gorgeous and glamorous. And, of course, over time it has charted and borne witness to the vast changes in consumer goods. In the years that I was there I saw Hermès, for instance, grow from a small Parisian saddler and handbag maker to a company that straddles the world and whose profits are declared in billions. I well remember interviewing Bernard Arnault, today one of the world’s richest men, when he had just bought the textile company Boussac, which — critically — owned Dior, and from which he launched his now vast empire LVMH.
There were great homegrown stories too. One day a sweet young girl came to see me and told me she loved white bed linen but she found there wasn’t a great deal of choice to be had. She’d had some pretty versions made in Portugal and what did I think of them? Perfectly lovely, I said, and wrote about them. Today Chrissie Rucker bestrides The White Company, making sales of some £125m a year. Natalie Massenet also came to tell me she had this idea for selling high fashion over the internet — today Net-a-Porter is a worldwide phenomenon. And then there’s Burberry, once a fusty little maker of raincoats . . . I could go on.
The new Weekend FT section was launched in 1985, and looking back at early editions, I see that I was busy exploring one of my favourite obsessions — the addiction of the British to outdoor activities in weather not noticeably attuned to them — and the critical matter of how to dress without ending up in A&E. But of course the How To Spend It pages were one part of the whole Weekend FT package and it was the package that was so distinctive. Whether it was clothes or wine, art exhibitions or travel, only the finest were good enough. It was a great privilege to be part of it.
Lucia van der Post is associate editor of How To Spend It magazine