Issue No.20 — Historical Renaissance

01 of 06
June 2024

Issue 20: As society evolves, brands delve into the past, drawing inspiration from bygone eras to navigate present concepts with depth and insight

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INSIGHT

As consumers question the influence that emerging AI technology will have on our offline and online worlds, there is a renewed interest in seeking ideas and lessons from the past to provide a balancing counterpoint.

According to recent research, being nostalgic can make people feel more optimistic, less lonely and more connected in a world where people feel increasingly disconnected. The concept of ‘anticipated nostalgia’ – looking forward to looking back – is linked to savouring present experiences more.

However, this trend isn’t driven purely by nostalgia, but a renewed appreciation for the rarity past experiences and artefacts offer.

With AI’s ability to potentially generate endless new images, consumers may soon actively seek out ‘the shock of the old’, according to Artnet’s predictions for 2024. This has benefitted recent Old Masters shows, gallery re-openings, as well as art sales, with Old Masters reportedly finding more favour with younger buyers again.

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Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum was its most successful show to date, with 650,000 visitors – courtesy of Rijksmuseum/Henk Wildschut

STRATEGY

Jewellery brands are well-placed to explore their relationship with time and history: for the 2024 Venice Biennale, Buccellati – known for taking inspiration from Italy’s architecture, Renaissance art and craftsmanship – is revisiting its 100-year history with a retrospective exhibition that facilitates the “pleasure of rediscovery”. Meanwhile, Van Cleef & Arpels’ ‘Time, Nature, Love’ exhibition currently in Seoul, brings the brand’s relationship with the 20th century to life through a wealth of heritage objects and archival materials.

On the other hand, Prada’s AW24 women’s collection was ‘shaped by history’ but Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons are clear it isn’t about nostalgia but rather “about remembering our past, using this knowledge to move forwards.”

These examples highlight the different approaches brands are taking when exploring and paying homage to bygone eras: some are revisiting and reviving the past in a faithful way, driven by in-depth research and a desire to reiterate their commitment to traditional processes and crafts, while others are taking lessons from the past to further our understanding of our current culture and point in time, creating something distinct in a world where realities have become blurred by technology.

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AW24 - courtesy of Prada


Outside of the realms of luxury fashion and jewellery, the more recent past is stimulating the restoration of culinary and cultural experiences.

We have seen bartenders reinvent martinis, the resurgence of listening bars from Japan to London and New York, and the faithful restoration of a 1987 amusement park designed by some of the most celebrated artists of the time - now poised to expand with designs by contemporary artists.

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Sixty-Forty martini & Manhattan – courtesy of Hugo Yu, New York Magazine

DESIGN

Designers have long been adept at delving into the past to bring historical and mythical elements into new collections and spaces.

Dior Maison’s Lotus homeware collection references Egyptian blue lotus flowers and the founder’s fascination with ancient Egypt following a visit in 1956, while previous collections looked to Greek mythology.

In the hospitality space, Studio Paolo Ferrari’s interior design for Toronto restaurant Daphne references past cinema styles and filmmakers in each of the venue’s rooms.

Meanwhile, W Hotels is continuing its repositioning with the opening of Drechsler Palace, a neo-Renaissance UNESCO World Heritage site where the designers studied and reimagined historical details, while also referencing Hungarian historical figures.

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Daphne – courtesy of Studio Paola Ferrari


In wellness settings, mystical antiquity is being infused into the experience. The spa and Roman baths at Six Senses Rome showcase the brand’s modern interpretation of ancient rituals and its contemporary design references the Roman retelling of Apollo and Daphne mythology.

In Bruges, the design of Bath & Barley’s beer spa draws from “age-old knowledge” to create a modern concept referencing ancient building techniques, Monastic beer brewing environments and beer folklore.

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Monastic spa – courtesy of Bath & Barley