Magazine article The Spectator

Happy Kitschmas Everyone

Magazine article The Spectator

Happy Kitschmas Everyone

Article excerpt

London is the creative capital of the planet. The city's abundant talent - in design and media, in commercials and special effects, food, leisure, architecture, publishing, retailing and telly - will drive the economy from today's precipice of the dark abyss to tomorrow's sunkissed higher ground of recovery. Birds will sing and soft zephyrs will blow. So long dismissed as the visually illiterate of Europe, we are now known for our point and style. We are smart.

And my own office is in the sturdy left ventricle of this powerfully pumping urban heart. Immediately, I am surrounded by the designers who work with me. Some of the world's best restaurants are minutes from my door. There are even more film producers than baristas hereabouts. Our neighbour is one of the most successful ad agencies.

Ever. Its turnover is probably billions and it is sourced in a rare variety of genius. I often bump into its affable tartan-trewed chairman and we natter on the street, feeling ourselves fortunate in being connected to such vitality. This is Soho, where the streets are paved with Baftas and Emmys.

And what can I see from my window overlooking Carnaby Street? I can see a giant, pneumatic, puce-coloured reindeer with white spots suspended from tensioned wires in space. It looks as though Rudolph is wearing badly fitting orthopaedic boots, drawn by a backward child. It is a cheerless, artless, patronising inflatable Bambi of cynical, witless dross. Next to it is a vast inflated disc bearing the harrowing legend 'Hope' in a typographic style that would bring a psychotropically inclined down-on-her-luck Haitian witch doctor into disrepute. A charitable American visitor asked if it was ironic. I said I didn't think so.

I spend my life persuading people about the energising effects of good design. I am an advocate of applied intelligence plus clean lines and what, when combined, they can do for wellbeing. And now someone has put, as if in reprimand, an ugly decoration outside my window. It is, as I sometimes think in winter, clear that the world is against me. Of course, similar horrors are duplicated everywhere during this seasonal national malaise, the psychogenic calamity, the artistic atrocity and the fatiguing fugue of bad art and false sentiment that is Christmas. But here?

In Soho? This is how we advertise our creative capital? Goodness me, foreign investors must be impressed. A puffy pink deer!

However did they think of that? This is how we demonstrate the ascendency of our new brain-led economy? With urgent crap?

Just what is it that makes the heirs to Wren, Hawksmoor, Ruskin and Conran voluntarily wallow - even submerge themselves - in such pathetic, lowering rubbish at this time of year? There is a great tradition of architecture and design - handsome, commanding and practical - which gets dumped as soon as the 50 shopping days countdown begins.

We have history to blame: the unhappy sight outside my window is a direct result of the industrialisation of sentiment that began in the first half of the 19th century. Most so-called 'traditions' (including druids and Welsh national costume) date from this same period of frantic innovation in the production of kitsch.

It was Henry Cole, Prince Albert's very busy man-of-business, who created the Christmas card. Cole had worked under Rowland Hill to introduce the Penny Post and when his first card was launched in 1843 (a lithograph by John C. …

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