If you pay attention to adverts then you will know that the DIY chain Homebase no longer just sells you locks for your bathroom door but 5 minutes of sanctuary from your children, high street banks don’t just store your money but enable you to go on sun-drenched holidays, supermarkets don’t provide food but help us host unforgettable dinner parties, and we all know cars are for creating epic cliff-top memories with.
From foods to fashion, consuming today is about enhancing our own hedonistic lifestyles and creating memorable experiences along the way. It’s the sales lie we have all come to expect from our buying habits, that objects and services must now humbly earn their place in our cluttered and hectic lives by offering more than just basic service.
Although the rest of the advertising world is already ‘experience’ crazy, it feels like the antiques industry as a whole has been much slower to evolve in this direction. In many ways this is an anachronism as antiques tend to be natural yarn-spinners and lifestyle definers. Yet wander through an antique centre or online portal and more often than not you will still be faced with very understated service-led descriptions such as ‘18th Century Silver brush’ or ‘Victorian pine table’ against a safe white background. Granted trading standards will never come calling for misrepresentation, but neither does it set your pulse racing in the way that it should.
A change of focus
Beyond just a bolder use of adjectives, the wider issue is that many of our antiques today are still being sold and marketed based solely on their own merit and not those of the potential buyer. It seems a strange and subtle shift of perspective, particularly to the object worshipers out there, but sadly a pertinent one. In our own marketplace, many of the items that sell the best today are perhaps those that have made this transition and indeed offer the buyer a sense of more than just service. Iconic and very rare objects in all fields have seen a steady rise because they gregariously provide social kudos to the new owner, decorative-interior led items successfully pander to the persona of the buyer’s home, designer vintage watches give you a momentary hit of the James Bond lifestyle and classic vehicles allow for afternoons of nostalgic escapism away from our stressful modern lives.
The shifting tide
Within the antiques industry there are those who are at last pointing in the right direction. During the last year I’ve noticed both the luxury online portal 1stdibs and the auction house Christies each offer their own online lifestyle-oriented magazine. The near daily offerings of each feels a bit much for my timid inbox, but the fusion of themed items and interesting associated stories is thoroughly modern and refreshing. Many auction houses across the country (including Bonhams most publically) are currently in the process of realigning a portion of their sales towards more interior themed offerings, and most have now realised the merit of promoting a whole buying experience (with decent cafes, educational talks and enticing social media) rather than just selling an few objects.
For their part the best dealers around are taking on the consumer-led world by fostering a sense of theatre and drama in what they do. Captivating us with a mix of carefully curated objects and edgy photographs or displays, each creates their own enticing microcosm to explore and be entertained in. This same sense of drama and escapism runs true for quality Fairs as well. While some like Olympia still aim to awe us with their grandeur, others like Battersea choose instead to engulf us for a few short hours in their own fantasy wonderland where we get to leave our own turmoils at the door. And lets not forgot the IACF fairs at Ardingly and Newark . Although the experience is less curated and more melting pot, the sheer scale, energy and chaos can still linger in you for days to come making you crave the next one. And that’s really the trick the antiques industry is finally learning and adapting to- that today’s consumer perhaps craves memories and sensations more than stuff and now expects to be sufficiently entertained before parting with their hard earned money.
If you too are intending to heading out to auctions, fairs or antique centres this summer, then take a moment to reflect on and soak up the experience at hand that has most likely been carefully created for you. But just as importantly, when you do find that object that takes your fancy, even if the ticket only tells you its a 19th Century soup spoon, think about all the laughter-filled family dinners you will be able to serve up with it!