In Conversation with James Ogilvy

sector - luxury
20th anniversary
type - in conversation
In Conversation
In the final episode of The Future Laboratory’s 20th anniversary celebrations, co-founder Martin Raymond meets with old friend and founder of Luxury Briefing, James Ogilvy

I first met James Ogilvy back in the glib and glamorous noughties. He was handsome (still is, by the way) talented, cycled everywhere – and just to completely annoy me – founded Luxury Briefing, a newsletter, awards night and discreet business network where those who knew luxury and those who wanted to know it met in equally glamorous places for mutually inclusive conversations. To say the least, James left me breathless – his pedal prowess and erudite good looks notwithstanding!

He also left me with a very different view of luxury, as our digital fireside Zoom chat reveals. Then, luxury was all about excess – we’re talking about the hedonistic noughties after all – and the more excessive that excess could be, the more successful the brand was.

But James wasn’t fooled, and like The Future Laboratory, was happy to use words such as ‘sustainability’, ‘purpose’ and ‘environment’ all in the same sentence, and all within striking distance of the L word itself.

As he tells it, this is what superlative luxury was and is about – ‘a timeless sensibility, where the story is important, and the provenance is important, and the design is important’. But so too, he believes, is the spiritual, poetic and restorative effect that beautiful things have on the mind and the way we emotionally engage with the world.

Indeed, we identified as much in the five stages of our now famous Luxury Index, which at the time of its conception, was still deemed too challenging for the majority of mainstream luxury brands to embrace, especially stage five, which imagined luxury in terms of those words James uses to describe it, along with notions of sublimity, wellbeing and a proposition that can elevate us to a higher, more emotionally engaged sphere.

Published by:

28 May 2021

Author: Martin Raymond

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Luxury sometimes does this, James concedes, along with good brands where there’s a ‘desire not to do damage, to be long-lasting, authentic, and above all, to do good and work with good people’. But on the whole brands still have a long way to go to achieve these ends. In contrast, James himself has already got there, or at least has long embarked on a journey of personal change and challenge where these concepts and principles matter.

And why not? He’s married, after all, to author and Harvard divinity graduate Julia Ogilvy, so debate, reflection and the need to consider things on a much deeper, more spiritual and poetic level are daily occurrences at the breakfast table, not to mention talk of art – James studied the history of art at St Andrews, while Flora his daughter, can out-talk even an Irishman like myself on any or all things contemporary or art related.

So, no surprises, then, when James told me in our interview that since his Luxury Briefing days, he has become a landscape designer, and that this in turn led him into the world of landscape photography where those words learned from his luxury years – the authentic, the spiritual, the artistic, the purposeful, the beautiful and the poetic took on an entirely new and vital resonance.

Indeed, to paraphrase Luis Barragán, the Mexican architect-artist whose houses and gardens James and myself would happily run away with, he doesn’t really distinguish between architecture, landscape, gardening or photography, but prefers to mix and merge each, so that one discipline melts mystically and tranquilly into the other.

His latest work, on show at the Lumitrix Gallery aptly reflects these values. The title, Thin Places, refers to those real or notional points in geography or time that Scottish and Irish Celts like James and myself understand and respond to as sacred places in the landscape – holy wells, pilgrim islands, mist-ridden valleys, stretches of coastline – where the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds are so thin and so brittle that we can pass easily and swiftly from one to the other.

In some ways James sees this as a metaphor for his career, but also as a pathway we can all follow, when the moment is right, when those veils in the many thin places he has photographed over the years, or designed into being in his new life as a landscape designer, are lifted, and a new kind of light and understanding is allowed to come flooding through.

To hear James’ thoughts on the future of luxury and purpose, please watch the full Zoomcast below.