Robb Reader: Macallan Creative Director Ken Grier

As creative director of luxury whisky brand Macallan, Dumfries-born Ken Grier oversaw a hike in sales from 1.8 million bottles in his first year on the brand to 12 million in 2017. He also masterminded the building of the brand’s new £140m distillery, holds two Guinness World Records for the price of a bottle of whisky ($460k for the Lalique Cire Perdue decanter in 2011 and $628k for an M Imperiale decanter in 2016), and has won a BAFTA for The Famous Grouse Experience visitor attraction (defeating the BBC’s World Cup Coverage).

His Masters of Photography project, meanwhile, has seen him work with the likes of Rankin, Albert Watson, Annie Leibovitz, Elliott Erwitt, Mario Testino and Steven Klein. We catch up with Grier, as he moves from Macallan to seek new pastures – watch this space…

Has your definition of luxury changed over the years?

Yes – contemporary luxury is more design led. It’s about great experiences with great people and also making sacrifices in some areas of your life to really maximise the luxury experiences around the things that matter to you. It’s a nose-to-tail experience from an amazing brand home to perfect brand realisation.

Was there a catalyst moment in your career narrative?

That would be the moment, in 2000, that I realised that The Macallan was not just a fantastic Scotch but the best single malt in the world. The success that saw us become the No.1 in the world flowed from this and all the actions we took – from Guinness World Records collaborations with Lalique, Leica and Bentley, appearing in the Bond movie Skyfall, the new distillery by Rogers StIrk Harbour + Partners – all came from this Damascus Road moment.

Who has been a major influence on you creatively and why?

My dear friend Valerie Wickes from View Creative in London, Fabien Baron, Neil Ferrier of Discommon, Marc Larminaux (who is Creative Director of Lalique), Marc Newson – who has worked on a secret project for me. I’ve also been inspired by stimulus resulting from collaborations with great photographers such as Rankin, Elliott Erwitt, Annie Leibovitz and Steven Klein.

Ken Grier 

Your motto is “dedication, hard work, delivery and virtue”. How have these values come to the fore when, say, masterminding a new distillery, or getting The Macallan into Skyfall?

I believe in creative statement behaviours, in building a sustainable and distinctive brand persona, ahead of traditional marketing approaches. The Skyfall collaboration saw our brand being integrated into the Bond world, giving us not only half a billion dollars’ worth of PR exposure but also unparalleled global reach and association with the ultimate luxury franchise.

How important are collaborations with other luxury brands – such as that with Lalique?

Our relationship with Lalique has created incredible objects d’arts that now see us accounting for 30 per cent of all whisky sales at auction and establishing the brand as the only real investment-grade Scotch. This takes research, creative thinking, a real love of building long-term personal relationships with proven benefit for both collaborators and a degree of honesty and luxury feel that takes a long time to develop.

What makes an innovator?

It’s a combination of natural curiosity and the on-going stimulus that comes with living the luxury world.

What is it about street photography that appeals?

It takes nerve, spur-of-the-moment quickness and a good eye to capture a decisive moment. It transcends language and culture and takes a moment of serendipity. It’s not for the faint hearted!

In what scenario do you get your best creative ideas?

When interacting with others in stimulating environments with a glass in each of our hands.