LAPADA chief executive Sarah Percy-Davies has made significant inroads into the Russian domestic market on behalf of British dealers as part of an official British trade delegation.
The March visit has also paved the way for another delegation of up to 25 LAPADA members to build business links with Moscow in October next year.
The week-long mission included a range of activities, from an organised retail tour to give delegates an idea of the growing consumer market to a showcase for British trade at which LAPADA took a stand.
It also gave Mrs Percy-Davies a useful insight into how the Russians do business, allowing her to pass on useful tips on cross-cultural exchange to LAPADA members, and she established very supportive links with the UK Embassy. She also took part in a major press conference, giving numerous interviews with the Russian antiques and interiors press to spread the message about LAPADA and the British antiques scene.
It looks as though business may already have been generated as a result of the mission, and it provided an opportunity to see at first hand the scope and diversity of both the art and antiques industry in Moscow, as well as the nature of the retail sector in general.
“In general terms, I was reassured by the fact that there is a mainstream taste for antiques, particularly French and Italian objects, with Empire currently being the preferred period,” Mrs Percy-Davies told members in a report drawn up about the trip.
“As we all know, objects with intricate decorative detail generally appeal, however tastes are also maturing with interest being shown for more restrained British art and antiques.”
She was interested to discover that the retail sector is being developed on the American model, as in Dubai, with large malls being built on the city outskirts.
Clearly evident was what she described as “the Russians’ obsession with brand names”.
“All the major fashion and interior brands are represented and most of the interiors shops are modern, extremely expensive and not sophisticated in terms of taste, stocking modern interpretations of the French and Italian Empire styles.“
Most usefully, the mission brought new contacts, including one company that specialise in designing period-style property for Russian oligarchs “and can construct anything from a mock 18th century French chateaux to a Bavarian hunting lodge”.
Needless to say, there is a serious demand for art and antiques to help fit out these properties.
Another useful source of contacts was a visit to Moscow’s two main art and antiques centres, The House of Artists, a centre for picture dealers and Artefact, a centre covering all disciplines.
Here, at least two galleries proved to be buyers at auction across Europe already and were looking to make ties with UK galleries with a view to further business.
“Generally from what I saw of the domestic Russian market, it was not as developed as I had anticipated, my perception has probably been coloured by the high-profile sales of Russian art in the UK,” reported Mrs Percy-Davies.
“As one would expect most dealers were dealing in Russian objects, French or Italian. I did not see much evidence of dealers working at our equivalent of the upper/ middle market.”
Following the Moscow trip, LAPADA member Iain Henderson-Russell went with the mission to St Petersburg, where he established another set of new contacts for members, again yielding Russian interior designers and furnishers among others.
“Moscow is a very up and coming market with a lot of new money – the oligarchs – and still has quite unsophisticated taste,” he told ATG. “There was lots of Italian furniture and glitzy repro, with brand names and bling.
“St Petersburg is a more traditional market and a much more European city. It is more sophisticated, but there is not as much money. However, a lot of the very rich Muscovites are buying old palaces in St Petersburg and doing them up, and some of the decorators and designers from the UK are doing very big projects over there now.”
Mrs Percy-Davies is hoping that next year’s mission will coincide with the Russian Antique Salon, with LAPADA possibly hosting a reception at the Ambassador’s residence.
“Russian consumers are eager to buy British goods and the retail arena has become increasingly sophisticated,” she concluded.
By Ivan Macquisten
Antiques Trade Gazette is the weekly bible of the fine art and antiques industry. Read articles like this every week in the Antiques Trade Gazette or ATG app. Click here to subscribe today.