The business of art and fashion


Bayode Oduwole of Soho outfitters and tailors Pokit contemplates the relationships between art, fashion and money at the recent Masterpiece art fair in London

Bayode Oduwole of Pokit, London

Bayode Oduwole of Pokit, London

I was invited to the opening of the Masterpiece art, antiques and design fair recently. I went solo, or, as we say in London, “on my jacks”. Seeing so many beautiful – and often bizarre – objects and works of art together makes one consider many things (looting being one of the less attractive but nonetheless prominent thoughts), and it made me think about materialism and the business of owning priceless things.

Two glasses of Ruinart put paid to any particularly profound conclusion ­– ­instead, I became preoccupied with infantile puns about the champagne’s sponsorship of one of London’s finest art fairs: “Ruinart… Ruin-Art…” Was somebody in marketing having a laugh?

Champagne has an ameliorating effect on bad art and is a great lubricant for selling great art, judging by the large grins on dealers’ faces and their firm handshakes with the oligarchs and Chinese industrialists.

And where were the English in all this? Selling, perhaps?

There were some effortlessly cool, stern-looking septuagenarian twin-set ladies, blue-rinsed and accompanied by silver-haired Dukeish Prince Philip lookalikes, flitting from dealer to dealer. It’s amazing how English tailored clothing always looks better when worn in, and by the elderly. I couldn’t see them buying much – with little time left to enjoy an expensive purchase, they didn’t strike me as the sort to let the taxman have it, or their daughters inherit. I imagined they were looking to offload their collections, turning the whole kaboodle into a sort of a posh Antiques Roadshow, albeit without the dreadful Fiona and the presence of the great unwashed. But then, of course, that’s how business is done: if there are buyers, there must be sellers.

I have ceaseless admiration for British pragmatism and the lack of sentiment – or rather the right amount of sentiment – in being willing to sell the family silver but never the crown jewels.

I don’t think that I would have ever ventured into any of the galleries represented at the Masterpiece art fair – even a second mortgage couldn’t bring me close enough to affording what I liked. Or indeed what I didn’t. And of course some places will always retain the power to intimidate, not from any deliberate effort on the part of their proprietors, but just because they sell genuinely beautiful things.

Considering this, I began to think about my own Soho store, Pokit. I am told often that the shop has an intimidating air. But, as the very charming Mr Finer of antique armour dealers Peter Finer told me, “Today’s browser is tomorrow’s buyer.” Wise words indeed, and that’s pretty much what I say to those who haven’t braved crossing the Pokit threshold: “Everybody is welcome.”

I wore my double-breasted faded brown cotton panama suit, with matching brown stetson and two tones of very threadbare gingham to the Masterpiece art fair. I must have been feeling defiant or perhaps indifferent that day. I sure didn’t look like anyone else there, and money isn’t everything – especially when it comes to style. Behold the Cool Net Worth Individual.

Authenticity – in fashion as in the art world – remains key. One particular “designer” has, it seems, built his business around being “inspired” by Pokit. But even after he’s tracked down our fabrics and suppliers, it’s still not Pokit. Go figure. By the time our humble cotton workwear suit is finished, having been fitted, styled and balanced, you can see from 50 paces the difference between what’s genuine and what is “homagination”. C


Bayode Oduwole is the co-founder and  creative director of Soho outfitters and tailors Pokit