Making a Statement
Most recent news stories about Mayfair focus on how it’s changing. Mount Street, once a commercial backwater, now hosts Britain’s chief fleet of fashion flagships and international designer powerhouses. Waves of overseas money are buying up former English aristocrats’ homes on Rex Place and Balfour Mews. “In the last 10 years the number of antique shops and galleries in Mayfair has fallen,” observes Jamie Sinai. “Nevertheless London as a whole remains a strong centre for antiques.” Indeed sometimes it’s hard to keep track of what fair is when. Bada, Battersea, Lapada, Olympia and best of all, Masterpiece. There are still a few art and antique galleries on Mayfair’s South Audley Street including Mayfair Gallery and Sinai and Sons. The former was started by Jamie’s Iranian born father; the latter, his uncle.
“My dad set up Mayfair Gallery over 40 years ago,” explains Jamie. “Prior to that he gained a wealth of experience in the hustle and bustle of Jaffa. That’s where he first traded in collectibles and antiques before moving to London. Dad put his entrepreneurial spirit and international experience to good use by establishing Mayfair Gallery.” Jamie sees the core business as adding to the extensive inventory, providing professional art and design advice, maintaining a good shop front and attracting serious customers. It’s successful. “My dad has a great eye for new pieces. He looks for unique well made pieces showing quality artistry and craft.” Jamie oversees the day to day running of the Gallery alongside his younger brother. His English born mother also works in the family business. “We all muck in!” Stock is mainly 19th century with some earlier, some later pieces.
The internationalisation of world cities has affected business. “We do still have some UK buyers,” he says, “but the main interest is from overseas. We’re starting to see more Chinese and Indian customers. The US was strong at one point, in the Eighties and Nineties, but less so now. The Middle East continues to do well.” So far, so good. Jamie’s role at the Gallery, though, is to take it forward into the next decades of the 21st century, to move into new areas. Holding regular exhibitions – the most recent was on the Impressionists – is one innovation. Gallery as shop as gallery. The website features a 360 degree tour of the interior which is linked to the Google Street View of South Audley Street. Virtual shopping at its integrated best. “One of my challenges is to communicate to people yes we’re high end but we also sell smaller pieces at a medium price point.”
“It’s a slow changing industry compared to others,” Jamie reckons. “That’s not always a bad thing but it takes time to implement change. The auction houses have embraced change better.” His wider mission is to alter the way people view antiques, to make them more relevant, more appealing to the younger generation. “I like placing really fine antiques into very contemporary settings. Overly traditional interiors can be cluttered and overwhelming. On the other hand, minimalist rooms are often cold and lacking. Bringing the best of the two together you get a very nice harmony. I want to try and promote that style and look, to celebrate the vibrancy of antiques in a new context.”
Jamie started working life as an auditor for PriceWaterhouseCoopers. It sounds a world away from art and antiques but he believes it equipped him with an outsider’s insight into the industry. “Clients ranged from small retailers right up to FTSE 100 companies. It was a real eye opener into how businesses are run.” He believes it will take time to change the public’s perception of antiques. “Taste is definitely cyclical. It’s driven by the media. Right now, everyone is being swept along by the big craze for technology. Look at the queues outside stores when a new smartphone is released! There’s not much individuality but that will come back.” He reckons people will get bored of spending money purely on functional items and will start looking for belongings with character. “For me, it is very exciting to continue to explore new ways of promoting antiques.” Jamie Sinai is a breath of fresh air in an industry in danger of becoming stale. It’s time to say goodbye to safe greige interiors and hello to statement antiques.