For those of us in the trade, the London season formerly meant the overlapping June extravaganzas that were the Olympia and Grosvenor House fairs. Alas, Grosvenor is no more, and Olympia is much diminished. The Haughtons’ Art Antiques London, also just concluded, and Masterpiece London, to begin the end of next week, are both redoubtable fairs, and it is hoped that their longevity will testify to their success. But for now, all this has to be in the future.
David Moss had reported that a particularly well-known media personality had this month shopped both Olympia and Art Antiques London, along with her interior designer. It was noted that this particular person was a buyer known for her shopping sprees. Not noted, however, was whether or not she had indulged in one on these recent visits. Frankly, this person is also known to Chappell & McCullar and I must say, she knows the value of a dollar. Presumably earlier shopping sprees had left her, by the time we began to trade with her, much wiser than she had been. Moreover, stories of vast sales to a cadre of moneyed buyers are, for Keith McCullar and me, the stuff of legend. In the 9 years we’ve been in business, it’s never happened to us, and, frankly, it’s never happened at any fair we’ve ever participated in.
One swallow does not a summer make, nor one uber-celebrity an antiques fair successful. What seems lost now in the mists of time is that the London fairs were originally timed to coincide with a larger social season that culminated in early July, where after the beau monde carried on to estates in Scotland, or seaside holidays in Brittany, Biarritz, or the villas of the Cote D’Azur. The fairs capitalized on the masses of moneyed folk watering in London, and certainly with Grosvenor’s royal patronage, it traditionally attracted the right people. Like any other fairs, these developed their own momentum, even while the seasonal progresses of ‘society’ became somewhat amorphous. Still, Grosvenor and Olympia- Grosvenor because of its quality, and Olympia because of its huge number of dealers- represented an unparalleled buying opportunity.
Clearly something changed. The hordes that trooped through Olympia and Grosvenor began to dissipate even before the economic debacle of the last several years. Of course, the waning numbers of dealers who are the backbone of any show are unable to make the (substantial) financial commitment to participate- but probably would do so if their experience had, heretofore, been profitable.
What to do, what to do- possibly a blood offering to the god of economic cycles- we would happily volunteer one or two people. But even if propitiated, will that necessarily bring back those thousands who once traversed the fairs of the London season, or will they continue to find their time, and money, better spent elsewhere?