Monday, 27 July 2020


Drivers of taste… 

What is it that creates a craze? When I was in the toy trade I watched the overwhelming impact of licensed merchandise with agents selling the rights for Bond and Marvel and so on. Ordinary toys went to the back of the toy cupboard. 

In the late-1950s Connie Francis was no.1 pop singer with “Stupid Cupid” but by the mid-60s, a turmoil of change, the demise of Tory government and a sense of  rebirth, regionally- accented groups strutted the stage; the advent of pirate radio stations promoted rebellious music further. 

Old Pop was demolished as smart middle-men marketed new groups and  UK music became entrepreneurial and global, defining the booming spirit of the times. We still talk about this golden era. 

Live performance needs stages. Thus as wealth grew and tastes refined opera thrived as Garsington, the Grange, Glyndebourne plus a myriad of outdoor venues emerged. And then theatre in pubs, in gardens, in hotels. Actors and singers were busy. We thought that trend could never end. How wrong. How ironic.

Cars had their day too with E-types and Minis exciting people  with unique style. For a while cars became stars. Remember the “Italian Job.” How cars looked said a lot about their owners.  But as some petrol-head gloomily said “now all cars are being designed by a computer and look alike.”

In the turmoil-ridden 1970s (strikes, 3 day weeks, 27% inflation) the staid US advertising agencies that dominated the post-war years were usurped by bands of brothers (like the Saatchis) and a cluster of bright young creative minds fleeing to London from the unemployed provinces. Smooth public-school ad men were usurped by school failures who suddenly came to life and wrote funny ads. that people loved. 

What’s in common here is the collective exuberance that inventors, salesmen and rebels, discovered , developed and produced and sold a lot of, all trying to outdo each other.  

And why? In virtually every case three things coincided –  social upheaval,  shifts in technology and groups of middle-men who were great salesman. Dealers, agents, fixers. Almost nothing happens without these “wily” agents. People like Ray Croc who took the McDonald brothers’ product and concept and created a worldwide phenomenon. Would the Beatles have been as big without their manager Brian Epstein? Would Saatchi have been successful without Tim Bell – wheeler-dealer supreme? All of them could smell money in creating new excitement and selling unusual ways of looking at things.

And, it seems, it was ever thus.

I’ve been reading  “The Taste Makers” which describes the scale and the genesis of the craze for Louis X1V furniture in the late 18th and early 19th century. The French Revolution  followed by the tumultuous rise and fall of Napoleon created turmoil, uncertainty and change. Times like those when dealers and entrepreneurs saw opportunities to define taste to their advantage resemble times like ours when normality has been overturned. 

Uncharted territory. Turmoil. Technological innovation. Young talent. Desire for change. A rebel spirit. Salesmanship.

Game on.


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