Thursday, January 21, 2010
Economic Restraints Ensure Beauty
Hannah Betts looks at how the recession has had aesthetic impact...
Unemployment, a plunging housing market, unflattering hemlines - without doubt, the bad times hurt. But in one sense, a curb on our more extreme excesses might be welcome. As consumers, we have come to expect instant gratification, immediate satiation of our every whim.
Want something? Click on it. Like something? Get several. Over something? Toss it away.
Something has been forgotten in all this: taste. Taste, let's not forget, is a muscle, and it requires exercise, exercise that is as much about what one excludes as what one desires.
In this sense, a degree of austerity may prove fruitful, a refining experience in which wheat will be sorted from chaff. Design guru Stephen Bayley, author of a treatise on taste, certainly endorses this theory.
"Recession could be healthy, interesting," he says. "Austerity is a good thing - an inspiration, not an impediment to genius. It forces more expressiveness and more interesting choices. The tighter the discipline, the more creativity flourishes.
"I adore Norman Lewis's observation on encountering some Spanish village in the Alpujarras that beauty is best maintained under a reign of poverty. Now the same village would have an EU grant and they'd all have 4x4s and satellite dishes. Restraints - economic, philosophical or religious - tend to ensure beauty. When anything goes, nothing does."
If Bayley had his way, we would dine at our own kitchen tables, not in Gordon Ramsay restaurants. "Design," he says, "should mean ordinary things done extraordinarily well."
In this new world, the giddy rush of cheap credit would be supplanted by the steady complacency of savings; the cash blown on some lavish foreign jaunt rerouted to the garden; the decision made to take up a more satisfying, less lucrative career.
The must-have items and fleeting celebrities would fall by the wayside, replaced by objects, experiences and individuals of lasting value. There are signs that this new climate is already making itself felt. Although the market for luxuries steams on, buyers are going for goods that will last the course.
Selfridges reports a 55 per cent annual increase in the average male spending on watches in its Wonder Room, up from £900 to £1,400 per purchase: there is a seven-year waiting list for the Rolex Daytona, which sells for up to £52,000. Oriental rugs, where appreciation is realised over a generation - slow investment proving as palatable as slow food.
And as consumption for consumption's sake becomes the preserve solely of Russian oligarchs, true connoisseurship will demand a concern for provenance. In the more-money-than-sense 1980s, the designer John Rocha found himself ostracised for his love of craftsmanship. Today, with a new Dover Street emporium, he is a major player in the return to artisanship.
"Accessible fashion is here to stay," he says. "But then there's also handicraft, where people know that they're buying something that has care and love going into it."
Others in London profiting from the trend include Eliza Poklewski Koziell, who runs Felt, a gorgeously cornucopian jewellery boutique on Chelsea Green; Linda Bee, at Gray's Antiques Market; and Victoria Bullis, who reworks antique handbags for Harvey Nichols.
The scope to flex one's taste muscle could also prove character-building. Patience, the marshalling of desire, the self-knowledge demanded by individual style - these are all qualities we have become unaccustomed to cultivating.
Now, however, we will have to choose our indulgences: Sylvie Guillem rather than Simon Russell Beale; Edith Wharton rather than chick lit; a single signature scent rather than duty-free kleptomania.
Taste can also steer us towards an appreciation of what is truly great. In attending an art exhibition, I indulge in the parlour game of which portrait I would have in my home: Titian's Ranuccio Farnese? The Siena Portrait of Elizabeth I? Kahlo's The Suicide of Dorothy Hale?
Many's the woman who pressed her nose to the glass at the V&A's recent couture exhibition, knowing she would never possess anything so haute, but grateful to have such artistry in the world. I may not have the resources for Frette sheets, but they are the Platonic form against which lesser substitutes may be measured.
And as taste makes us better people, it will also ensure that we are better parents. For if we adults have lost control over our infantile desires, how can we expect our offspring to resist them? The power of under-stimulating children is not to be underestimated. Leave them be a while, or even allow them to become bored, and you furnish them with the opportunity to develop their own nascent taste: be it reading, scaling trees, or ripping the wings off things. In doing so, we will be setting them up for life - credit crunch or no.
Original article found here.