AMEInfo’s sister publication Aficionado speaks with Hutch Hutchison, global head of design at Vertu, about its new smartphone, Signature Touch.
What is the design philosophy behind Vertu smartphones?
There is a philosophy; it’s about honesty and authenticity. We have got a look and that is something I am very keen to protect.
The big straight vertical lines (on the phone) are actually there because the scratch-proof sapphire screen – only diamonds are harder than that in the world (you can only grind it with diamonds) – does not like to be bent and it is also the question of how you mount it onto the product, so these titanium fibres (grade-five titanium) are coming over the sapphire.
The phone kind of designs itself; you want to give someone a sapphire screen and you want to make it completely rigid and you don’t want it to weigh too much and you need to look after the edges of the sapphire, so it becomes about the fact that it’s an honest construction and, equally speaking, the fact that you can see the screws. I like the honesty of it, I look at buildings a lot and there are buildings that don’t make sense; of course, there are some that do, such as the Burj Khalifa, because it doesn’t challenge everything that you, as a human being, know, about being thicker at the bottom and working your way up. But when I see skyscrapers that are leaning over and have great big holes in them, I think they are really clever, but they upset me, because they are challenging my mind. I like to build things, for which the design aesthetic is influenced by not only the way it’s going to be used or how honest it’s trying to be, but also about your mind knowing what everything is and why it’s there.
Where does the luxury mobile phone market stand and who are your competitors?
Well, it’s funny actually, because I was one of the five people that started this in the late ’90s and we did not set out to build a luxury phone. We set out to build the best phone in the world and it did not matter how much it cost, so it was a different approach. So that again goes back to authenticity; it was about time to make something that was better. The fact that we went to the symphony orchestra and heard every sound, the fact that we have built that out of not just titanium, but grade-five titanium, and then we have put another layer on top of that, these are really tiny details, but they are better, and that is what makes Vertu a true luxury product. We are not luxury because we have put bling on it, but because we have made something that is better, just like the BMW engine in its M Series that is better than a standard one. It’s not just that it’s a luxury thing, it [should also be] a practical luxury product. It is about making a better product. The luxury mobile phone market has come of age; there was a time, five to ten years ago, when I could be sitting having a conversation about ‘does luxury exist?’ but … it exists, we’re still here, we’re still making money.
The evolution of telecom technology has been challenging for brands to keep up with, what does it mean for yours?
If you do not change Android and if you make an effort in making a widget or a service, then Google does something and your phone gets better. The great news for us is that, when the first smartphone came out, it was difficult for us, because that is a purchase you might want to hold on to for a while. But when other smartphones came out, every year there was a new jump in technology, but it’s sort of slowing down now.
Ten years ago, when you bought a computer, you would add on every month with the growth of technology. The first few years of smartphones were really difficult for us, because this was a real problem. You begin to wonder what you would change in these phones. We design phones in detail and now that we are planning phones in advance, we have no clue about what the future will bring.
What are the challenges that Vertu faces in the region?
The biggest challenge that we faced, as a company, which we did not expect, was distribution. And this is what everyone underestimates when they come into this market. We know a lot about customers, materials and so on, but the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of rich people that want phones and there are people prepared to make them, you cannot sell them in a normal phone shop. And if you put your phone in a soft goods environment, like Dior tried to, it will fail. So the biggest challenge that Vertu had was building a distribution network, comprising shops and partners, such as Rivoli here in Dubai, which is what everybody does wrong when trying to enter this market.
Can you give us a profile of Vertu buyers?
Obviously, you can talk only in terms of stereotypes, but we know who we design for and this phone (Signature Touch) is specifically designed for males in their late 30s, who are very demanding and probably do not have a sports car, but a high-performing car (a Mercedes V12, not just a V8) and are self made (probably owns his own business) and entrepreneurial.
(First published on AMEInfo‘s sister publication Aficionado)