Sir Terence Conran, who celebrated his 80th birthday with a dinner in London last night, was a true retail visionary
There can’t be many people who have made a more profound contribution to design, retail and restaurants in the UK and beyond than Sir Terence Conran, and none who have done it over such a long period.
He was opening restaurants in London not just before I was born, but before even my parents were born, one of the many things I learnt last night at a dinner to celebrate his 80th birthday at his eponymous store in the Fulham Road.
Terence has always been a big supporter of Retail Week - he was the first ever interviewee in the magazine when it launched in 1988, and was a member of the magazine’s Advisory Board in its early days - and it was a privilege to be there along with many members of the Conran family such as fashion designer Jasper, other journalists and people who work for the Conran Shop to celebrate his birthday.
It’s easy to forget just how influential a figure he has been in UK retail over more than four decades, and there was a fun quiz between courses which was a reminder of just how much he’s done.
From setting up Habitat in 1964 to building up the sprawling Storehouse empire - which totalled 11 brands - he has remained committed to promoting the case for design in retail, and even now as he enters his ninth decade, he is working with M&S to grow its credibility in the home furnishings market, something Terence told me last night he is finding hugely satisfying.
Like a lot of visionaries, Conran is clearly not the easiest man to work for - Conran Shop MD Nick Moore gave an affectionate speech last night explaining how challenging yet satisfying it is working for Terence, and his particular dislkie of staff taking holidays - yet clearly those close to him hold him in enormous regard. Not everything he created in retail has stood the test of time, but his greatest achievement is that his mission to make good design affordable to everyone, which was the principle on which Habitat was founded nearly 50 years ago, is now part of mainstream retail thinking.