Do you have £12,000 to spend on a mobile phone? No, I don’t either – and I don’t expect I ever will. But if I did, I’d probably skip straight to Vertu, the only British manufacturer of luxury mobile phones. The idea, I suppose, is that if you can spend over £50,000 on a watch by Audemars Piguet or £75,000 on a one-off fragrance by perfumer Roja Dove, then £12,000 on a phone doesn’t seem so much, especially when it’ll spend most of its life glued to your face.
Earlier this month, the brand launched its latest model, the good-looking Aster. Handmade like all Vertu phones in Hampshire, the Aster offers a host of features (titanium case, sapphire screen, Android 4.4 – KitKat – operating system, Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 2.3GHz Quad-core processor) as well as the brand’s famous 24/7 concierge service. Current examples of this service? Exclusive pre-orders from the Anya Hindmarch collection, exclusive access to the limited edition
@patekphillipe 5131-G collection. I met creative director Ignacio Germade, a man who makes the process of creating a mobile phone sound, well, almost erotic ….
Bel: Aster is a launch which takes Vertu in a new direction …
Ignacio: Yes, the old products took cues from our heritage; they were very masculine with hard lines. The Aster is more understated, simpler, more sophisticated, but more related to luxury fashion and lifestyle products. What we’ve done is retain the DNA of the company – which is our passion for materials and craftsmanship – but offer a different interpretation. It’s not as graphic, for example, to allow the materials to tell their story. When you hold the product, you can understand how it was built, how the craftsman put the leather around the body, how the different parts attach. The idea of craftsmanship is so important to the brand that we want to celebrate it.
Bel: Craftsmanship is not a word we hear much when we think about mobile technology.
Ignacio: In the high tech industry, the connection between who the product is for and who makes the product is completely lost. For us, that connection is super important. It’s like a triangle. You have the customer you design for. You have the designers, designing from a perspective of craft. Then, you have the single craftsman who builds a product for a single customer.
Bel: You have the signature of that maker in each phone …
Ignacio: If you slide open the back plate, you have the words ‘handmade in England’ and the signature. There’s a sense of pride and ownership when someone makes a product from beginning to end and gets to put their signature on the back of the product. On one hand, it ensures quality because it becomes personal. On the other, it creates a connection with the customer. Customers love the idea that someone made their phone. Some of our customers request that the phone they buy is made by the same craftsman who made their previous phone. It starts to become a relationship.
Bel: Between individuals …
Ignacio: Exactly. The passion that goes into designing and making the phone is what the customer appreciates. That’s why they fall in love with the product – because they feel the person created the product with love. In fashion, a designer understands that you design clothes because you want to effect the way someone feels. It’s not just aesthetic. This is what I want to achieve with the product. If you use this product this product, it makes you feel better, it makes you feel different.
Bel: I imagine it works at quite a subconscious level.
Ignacio: Yes, it might be self-confidence, security, a little bit of pride. It depends on the person and the model. Some of them can be more extroverted; some can be more introverted – but you know you have a high quality product. That makes you feel good. A phone is the most personal thing we own. It’s the first thing you grab in the morning, the last thing you put down at night. So it’s a pity it’s becoming a mass-produced thing that doesn’t have its own personality. Trying to bring back the emotional connection is important to me.
Bel: The materials are very tactile.
Ignacio: It’s the whole object. The moment you grab it, you have the weight, the density. It feels strong like a product that’s going to stay with you for a long time. The contrast between textures – the skins and the polished parts, all these things coming together is what makes the design. What we’re trying to create is a fantastic sensory experience.
Bel: You’ve teamed up with Hasselblad …
Ignacio: Hasselblad had never worked with a mobile phone company before but somehow we’re very similar companies. Very similar in size and in focus. They have a deep understanding of technology. I’ve admired their products forever. The thing is in any partnership is what they can give you and what you can give them. What Hasselblad gave us was not so much a camera module but their expertise in how to take beautiful pictures. We work with them on how to tune the images. In this industry, every picture is over saturated with lots of contrast. It’s as if Instagram is the new reality. You take an amazing picture and then make it look like everybody else’s. The idea of creating a camera that will take beautiful pictures that are as true to the real image as possible is as important.
Bel: Vertu has sponsored high profile fashion events such as BFC/GQ Designer Menswear Fund. How does Vertu and fashion work together?
Ignacio: People talk about luxury watches a lot. There’s a lot we share with these guys in terms of craftsmanship and quality. Rather than sponsoring hard goods, we sponsor things that are connected to soft goods, to lifestyle. It makes more sense for us. Plus, I have much more interest in fashion than I have in hard goods.
Ignacio: Yes, why are you surprised? In the world of technology, fashion can be dismissed. For me, it’s such an important part of life. if you’re passionate about design, you have to be passionate about fashion. From a style perspective, Hedi Slimane is the guy I’d like to be.
Bel: Anything about designing a phone that would take people by surprise?
Ignacio: It’s one of the most complicated things you can design because you mix together so many different things. There’s the emotional component to designing such a personal product and the connection to lifestyle which is, by itself, complicated. You’re working with amazing materials, combining lizard with titanium with sapphire. But then, you have to make it work. You have to get deep into the technology, from antennae performance to battery performance to wireless charging. And, somehow, you have to make it look easy and natural. You start with an idea that you want to make something simple and contemporary, then it takes a year and half before you bring it to market. It’s a lot of work with a really large group of people. Just in design, we have material scientists, colour experts, industrial designers. Then you have deal with user interface design, with software. From every single angle, there are complexities. To hide all that complexity, that is the problem.
Bel [hopefully]: Would Vertu ever consider bringing out a cheaper phone?
Ignacio: The price is the result of what we’re doing. When you try to make products in the way we make them, it has an implication on the price point. We are always going to be looking at options of what people want but we’re a luxury brand. We’re not into gadgets. Mobile phone technology is fairly mature. We want to take something and make it better by bringing in better services and qualities. Technology trends are not the driver.
The Aster is available in six colours across seven product executions: Onyx Calf, Blush Calf, Lagoon Calf, Caviar Karung, Tangerine Karung, Cognac Ostrick and Raspberry Ostrich.