One of the local lifestyle publications arrived today and, per usual, I can’t prevent myself from looking at the society pages to see who was where doing what with whom. San Francisco is a small town, albeit with a cachet that allows it culturally to punch above its weight, but we nevertheless enjoy seeing the 100 or so of the beau monde that feature habitually doing whatever it is they’ve done in the past month. Keith has remarked that these 100 must inordinately enjoy one another’s company, as these self same are always month in and month out pictured together.
Cattiness aside, browsing the pages of the magazine and glancing at the features and articles, a disconnect frequently presents itself, with those front of the book consumables and features that are prominent always at a culturally significant variance from the back of the book grandees that form the core of the society news. That is, nothing really looks like it would be purchased by the great and the good. But the fact is, since there are not that many grandees nor events they patronize, the column inches they take up are limited, and other stuff must necessarily flesh out the magazine. The overall look of our local publication is what I believe passes for kicky, with items for sale or promoted in features that, perhaps the editor assumes, would appeal to a younger reader. Younger, that is, than those established citizens in the society pics at the back. One feature that stands out in the most recent issue displays a panoply of newly made items with at least one of its major components natural wood- a torchere that looks like a middle school wood shop project, a similarly designed vase, a stool with wooden seat surmounting a Bertoia-esque metal base- you get the idea. And all in the $200-$500 price category.
Presumably someone did their market research to determine that, for erstwhile design, this is what younger people will buy and the price point they will pay. No surprise here, as our experience with fine 20th century design, as with fine quality earlier period pieces, at price points many multiples in excess of $500, is that it is the same age demographic that purchases both. For us, in the 11 years we’ve been in business, our typical buyer has stayed basically the same, in the 48 to 68 year old age bracket. Not any older, and not any younger, and rarely, dare I say it? still in the bloom of youth. What we’ve found is that the buyer for fine quality decorative or fine arts is someone who basically has made their money. Makes sense, of course, as what we’re selling no one really has to have to live, and while most of our buyers have moved toward a level of connoisseurship that informs their buying, the nexus of their purchase decision remains one that is financially enabled. Money to spend and connoisseurship- an essential confluence that rarely appears before the fifth decade of life.
With so much local attention given to younger people in the tech world with, ostensibly, money to burn, the misapprehension remains abroad in the land that this forms a significant buyer pool for those of us in the trade. It is apparently the presumption of the print media, too, consequently the disconnect- society folk mixed with features aimed at a hoped-for youth market. However, with the print media generally regarded as on the ropes and with the well-known youth penchant for electronic networking, those of us of shall we say mature years who actually still purchase and remember how to read a magazine make the mistake of assuming that the publication we are reading necessarily has the ability to define a youth market. Doubtful, wouldn’t you say? Consequently, what we might, through the glass of print media, perceive as the constituents of a youth market are at best specious if not downright illusory.
What seems more apparent that, save for the first things anyone newly moneyed purchases- a flash car and a house, sans furniture- the younger consumer doesn’t spend any more now with the trade than they used to. While it might be, as some in the media would have us believe, the retro chic Heywood Wakefield maple coffee table of my parents’ generation, or the pseudo- Italian modernism made in Asia and delivered in a flat pack, what’s common to so much material prominently featured is that it is simple, cheap, made in multiples, available online, and crap. For myself, I have no intention of making any alteration to my stock in trade, and will continue to lie in a prone position and try and resume normal breathing when overcome with anxiety about being left behind and left out of a market that probably doesn’t now, and probably never did, exist.