At the age of 15, Alfred Dunhill was apprenticed to his family’s modest harness-making business in London in 1887. By the time of his death, aged 87 in 1959, he had made the family name one of the world’s best-known, a byword for excellence, innovation and luxury.
December 18 / 2015
Alfred Dunhill - the man
A rare combination of curiosity, creativity and ambition fueled the rise of dunhill. Alfred built his first fortune by retooling the family concern into a manufacturer of accessories for a new-fangled device - dismissed by some as a passing fad - called the motor car. “I quickly discovered that there were scores of things wanted for the new mode of travel,” he wrote: “leather coats, knee aprons, caps with special flaps to afford extra protection…by these means I attracted practically the whole motoring public.” From headlights to horns to highly protective outerwear, Dunhill Motorities would make it. Its Alfred-penned motto; “Everything but the motor”.
In 1907 Alfred Dunhill founded a store opposite Fortnum & Mason on Duke Street. Alfred’s pipe shop rapidly became a mecca for dashing blades and men of means: guardsmen, Maharajas and even The Prince of Wales (who granted dunhill its first Royal Warrant) were regulars. After World War 1, dunhill expanded into New York and Paris and pioneered the production of peerless masculine luxury goods that remains the mainstay of the business today. By 1939, when Alfred withdrew from business to retire in the company of his yacht, Poppy, and his second wife, he was rightly renowned as an entrepreneur and leader: a man of his time.
He was also blessed with a family that shared his verve, acumen and passion for the enterprise he founded. Ten years previously, in 1929, he had passed the chairmanship of the company to his son, Alfred Henry - who proved instrumental in driving dunhill’s further expansion and diversification. Another key carrier of the dunhill torch was Mary, the founder’s daughter, who joined the board in 1944 then succeeded her brother as chairman in 1961 before becoming president of the company in 1975.