Professor Joanne Roberts of Luxury South Shares her New Book

Nov 15, 2019

Professor Joanne Roberts tells us about her involvement with Luxury South and her new book
Professor Joanne Roberts, Director of the Winchester Luxury Research Group at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton, tells us why she is involved in the Luxury South Action Group and a Business South Champion


Tell us about your company/organisation and its history

Founded in 1870, today Winchester School of Art is one of the UK’s leading art and design institutions. Committed to providing a high-quality teaching environment with research-informed teaching, Winchester School of Art has a well-resourced and specialist campus situated in the beautiful setting of England’s ancient capital. An international centre for research in global art, design, and media, and, as part of the University of Southampton – a Russell Group, research-intensive university – Winchester School of Art enjoys a growing reputation as a leader in luxury research.

How is Winchester School of Art involved in Luxury? 

Winchester School of Art has offered a Masters of Arts in Luxury Brand Management degree programme for almost a decade. In fact, it is one of the earliest courses of this type in the UK. Through this academic programme staff and students engage and collaborate with luxury companies through the hosting of guest lectures, student visits, and student consultancy projects. Recent collaborators include the luxury brands Mulberry, Jo Malone London, Gieves & Hawkes, Bremont, Lock & Co., Floris and The Ritz.  

In addition, the Winchester Luxury Research Group (WLRG) was launched in 2014 to undertake leading edge investigations into the social, cultural and economic impact of luxury. The members of WLRG engage in research that recognises the artistic and cultural aspects of luxury in the contemporary globalised world. The research projects currently being pursued by members of WLRG include luxury’s connections to the city, art, photography, cinema, TV, social media, fashion, children, fur, and the airport. Such research is published in academic journals and books and the WLRG disseminates its findings through teaching, guest lectures, speaking engagements, conferences and workshops. The WLRG also works with cultural institutions, including the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). For example, the WLRG played a key role in shaping the V&A’s critically acclaimed What is Luxury? exhibition in 2015. In addition, WLRG is home to the academic journal Luxury: History, Culture and Consumption, which is edited by my colleague Professor Jonathan Faiers.

Most recently the WLRG has seen the publication of The Third Realm of Luxury: Connecting Real Places with Imaginary Spaces, which I co-edited with my colleague Professor John Armitage. This book seeks to uncover how luxury can be both real and imaginary through examinations of Rolls-Royce cars, domestic and hotel interior design, real-estate in New York and Boston, and the storage of luxury assets in free ports.

 Why is Winchester School of Art a Champion of Business South and involved in the Luxury South Action Group?

As a Champion of Business South, Winchester School of Art has the opportunity to engage with an established network of organisations in the South of England. It is vitally important that the higher education that the School offers is current and prepares our students for life beyond university. Business South gives the School access to information and connections that ensure that it is providing students with the knowledge and skills that will enable them to succeed in their future careers. Moreover, from a research perspective, the School is keen to gain knowledge from members to enhance its understanding and also to share the findings of investigations with Business South to promote the impact of the School’s research. Moreover, engagement with members of the Luxury South Action Group is highly valued by WLRG.

Furthermore, I am keen to share the research findings of the WLRG and to promote the benefits that can be gained from developing the UK luxury sector. According to a recent Walpole report, in 2017 the UK luxury sector achieved sales of £48 billion and experienced 9.6% growth. The size of the UK luxury sector is expanding and it is likely to have an increasing impact on businesses in the South of England. Developing the luxury sector creates quality jobs, improves the built environment and supports the cultural life of the region, thereby retaining highly skilled workers, and attracting UK and overseas tourists. The potential for luxury to enhance the economic development of the region has yet to be fully exploited. Working with the Luxury South Action Group, I am keen to support the development of the luxury sector in the South of England.

Luxury means different things to different people, but how do you define luxury?

Luxury may be a super yacht for some but for others it is quality time with loved ones. Luxury varies according to economic, geographical, social and cultural contexts as well as over time. A mobile telephone today is a necessity but 100 years ago access to a telephone would have been a luxury. Turning off one’s mobile phone might be considered a luxury today. For me, luxury is high quality. I think of luxury goods as investments in that they last and improve with time. For example, a high quality leather bag can be repaired and its appearance improves over time. In this sense, luxury contributes to a sustainable economy. In terms of service, I believe that the ability to provide a high quality service is undervalued. Being able to set a customer at ease and consistently deliver an excellent service is not easy.  It depends on high quality staff and continuous training, none of which are cheap to produce. A luxury service for me is a high quality restaurant or hotel that is able to achieve unfailing service excellence.

Why is the South a great place to have a luxury business?

The South is one of the most prosperous regions of the UK. It is also an attractive tourist location with its beautiful countryside and coast, its historic cities and unmatched cultural heritage. Tourists and the local population provide a strong market for luxury goods and services. Moreover, the region is well connected to London and the rest of the world – an important consideration for a luxury business wishing to operate in the global market.

Before moving to Winchester, I lived in the North East of England for many years, and one great advantage of the South is the better weather. The combination of  good weather and prosperity gives rise to a strong ‘can do’ culture, which is beneficial for all businesses. But the strong aspirations of individuals and businesses in the South make it a particularly good place to build and develop a luxury business.  

For more information about The Third Realm of Luxury: Connecting Real Places and Imaginary Spaces please visit the publisher’s webpage at:

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