On International Women’s Day, 8th March 2022, we’re reflecting on the inspirational women who have been and continue to be integral in our journey as a brand. In fact, without one woman in particular, that journey would not have begun at all.
Susan Benjamin was born in Romford, North-East London in 1921 and, from the age of six, she performed songs on stage at the London Palladium and the Hippodrome under the name Baby Soso. After moving briefly into acting, she exited stage left into the world of fashion where she became a director of London’s Miss America boutique in 1938. During the war Susan drove ambulances for the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce where she was promoted to Sergeant.
It was with this colourful, distinguished past already in her wake that Susan, alongside her business partner Gerda Bram, set up Halcyon Days in 1950. Initially, the business took the form of an antiques shop in Mayfair that specialised in 18th and 19th century Objets d’Art. It was laid out like a sitting room, and it found success in providing opulence and escape to customers somewhat deprived of those things in postwar London. In 1970 the company revived the ancient, and long since dormant, art of enamelling that had inspired our founder to set up her shop in the first place.
Susan established links with a team of craftspeople in Bilston who were able to produce enamel boxes, many of which she had designed herself. However, the beginning of the revival was far from plain sailing with the eventual overcoming of production issues followed by a disastrous introductory showing at a Blackpool trading fair which left our founder feeling “embarrassment and humiliation… beyond description. I had led everyone astray”. However, this adversity only strengthened Susan’s resolve and, by the 1980s, Halcyon Days enamels were being sold worldwide with the company, almost uniquely, holding all four Royal Warrants in existence at the time.
Susan published three books on enamelling and, after selling the business in 2001, she continued to assist with the creation of new box designs. She is remembered by those who knew her as a steely businesswoman, a cherished employer, and a kind friend. She passed away in 2010.
Today, another inspiring woman is at the helm of Halcyon Days. Pamela Harper became Chairman & CEO in 2011 having been an avid supporter of the British luxury sector throughout her illustrious career. Previously, she has worked at companies including Dunhill, Burberry, and Hermes. Pamela too has a passion for the art of enamelling and, under her guidance, the company has extended its expertise into the areas of jewelry and fine bone china. In 2015, the business acquired as a sister company fellow Royal Warrant holding brand The Caverswall English China Company. This expansion crucially gave Halcyon Days a vision for the future; allowing it to thrive and grow, enjoying a new, contemporary guise while staying true to the core values of developing and preserving the best of English craftsmanship established by Susan Benjamin all those years ago.
Pamela’s influence reaches far beyond our business too as she holds the esteemed position of President of the Royal Warrant Holders Association. In her work there, and for organisations including The Prince’s Trust, she has passionately promoted opportunities for young people in the manufacturing industry and has been crucial in safeguarding the future of numerous ancient artisan techniques.
Talented women have a fundamental presence at all levels of our business. In our London office, they expand the Halcyon Days reach to homes and retailers all around the world. Meanwhile, our teams of designers, artists, and craftspeople are largely made up of skilful, creative women who continue to ensure that everything we create has the capacity to provide an unforgettable gifting experience.
One of our artists at work on The Coronation Theatre by Ralph Heimans limited edition enamel
Our product offering too, reflects the work and the influence of a plethora of extraordinary women. We have recently collaborated with Nina Campbell while Halcyon Days enamels down the years have depicted subjects including Queen Victoria, Princess Diana, Princess Margaret, The Queen Mother, Anna Pavlova, Gladys Deacon, Florence Nightingale, and many more. And, who could forget, in this Platinum Jubilee year, our extensive list of pieces produced in honor of perhaps this country’s most inspirational woman of them all: Her Majesty The Queen.
Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton, 1953. This portrait adorns one of our newest limited edition enamels.
So, a Happy International Women’s Day to all of our customers, and to all of the extraordinary women who have so brilliantly built up and inspired our brand since that little shop in Mayfair opened its doors over 70 years ago.