High culture, the fine arts and haute horology are meant to be classy
During the time I spent working deeply in the classical music, modern classical music and associated non-profit realms several years ago, an interesting movement emerged focused on making that type of music more accessible to contemporary audiences. There were a few reasons for this.
First and foremost were issues of preservation and sustainability. Patrons of the fine arts tend to be older and of a generation that was taught to appreciate, respect and revere art forms that take a lifetime of dedication to produce at a professional level.
So there was a very real “oh, shit” moment felt amongst high level leaders at established institutions that they’d better start cultivating the next generation of fine arts patrons – a generation of individuals who are more used to getting everything on demand and who very likely lack the attention spans required to consume this type of art.
Who listens to classical music anymore? Who listens to modern classical music? Or better yet, who even cares about either? These were the important questions being asked then and that are still being asked now.
But perhaps the biggest issue was one of cultural perception. Classical music is seen as elitist and pretentious. It is the domain of the learned man. It is a club. And if you don’t understand such forms of high art, well, then you’re not getting in because your kind isn’t allowed.
And I have to tell you, as someone who has spent my life in the fine arts, this is a very real thing. There are definitely people who feel like this and perpetuate the stereotype. But you can see the problem that attitude creates when it comes to the survival of something that exists in its own largely inaccessible niche.
There were a couple reactionary measures enacted. There was the educational trajectory – if we teach people to understand this stuff, they’ll learn to love it – and the accessibility trajectory. Of the two, the latter became the guiding principle for many an organization.
Programs because more “user-friendly”. Obscure and esoteric works were excluded, despite how important or phenomenal they actually were, in favor of old warhorses with melodies that were instantly recognizable. Many organizations put a lot of their eggs in the movie music basket. Anything that would connect with a broader public was (and generally still is) top priority.
Another simultaneous development on the accessibility front was a sartorial one. Typical concert dress for orchestras is a tuxedo with tails. And the thinking, as it went, was well, if we dress more like the people who come to our concerts – or, more to the point, the people who we want to come to our concerts – we’ll be more approachable and more relatable. And thus was ushered in the forgettable era of classical musicians dressing in jeans and t-shirts.
Personally, I think this confused audiences more than it comforted them. And a lot of people started to ask, “What should I wear to a classical music concert, anyhow?” For those who railed against the more palatable and agreeable music selection, this was just more evidence of the dumbing down of high culture in an effort to pander to, and hopefully win over, the uncouth masses.
The thing is, classical music, the symphony, the opera, they have a certain image. It’s an image of high culture, of refinement, of elegance, of something that is perhaps, for most people, more aspirational that it is attainable.
Is that such a bad thing? Aside from the fact that organizations do need to be making efforts to reach a younger demographic, I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all.
Because of its luxurious image, that’s what people expect when they attend an orchestra concert. An “event”. A certain kind of elevated experience. For the guy looking to impress his date with a dose of high culture, it’s what he paid for. Anything else might be something of a let down so why not embrace that image and not be ashamed of it?
Indeed, that was a long exposition as a way to say that classical music would do well to look at the watchmaking world for some guidance. Let’s consider the tourbillon.
Invented in 1795, the tourbillon was a complication meant to improve the accuracy of pocket watches. It was interesting, but fairly obscure until it made a comeback in the 1980s.
With the infusion of quartz watches into the marketplace, wristwatches became more accessible due to lower prices. And this put a lot of pressure on the mechanical watch industry. So instead of dumbing down their superior product, some highly intelligent people decided to double down on the luxury aspect of mechanical watches.
Yes, complications can be extremely useful and they are certainly a mark of quality craftsmanship and engineering, but as it came to be, complications are also a way of advertising status as they often command extremely high prices.
The tourbillon is a great example of this. While it was initially introduced as the most accurate timekeeping movement, mechanical watch movements have advanced to such a degree of precision that there is zero evidence that a tourbillon does a better job nowadays. However, it is abundantly appealing visually and is simply mesmerizing to watch. And on the front of the dial – it just looks plain rich.
I bring all of this up because in our introduction to the new IWC Portugieser Tourbillon Hand-Wound Edition “D. H. Craig USA” last week, I mentioned that one of my favorite features of this watch is its versatility. It works with tweed and chambray. It works with a business casual double-breasted blazer and gingham shirt sans tie.
But, honestly, on the wrist this watch really shines when paired with like-minded clothing. Its natural habitat, if you will. A perfectly tailored navy suit. A white contrast collar shirt complete with collar bar. A polished pair of black oxfords. If you’re going to wear luxury on your wrist, it would be a shame for your clothing not to complement it.
Much like when revered classical music organizations program “approachable” music it seems like in some sense they are sort of apologizing for the fact that they are truly experts and masters of their craft, sometimes I feel like when we’re dressing down, we’re also apologizing for something.
Maybe in a world where so many people don’t care about their appearance, we don’t want to upset them because we do care. Maybe it’s because we don’t want to offend people by being too fancy in an increasingly casual era.
What do I say to this? Don’t be ashamed. Wear what you love. Wear with dignity what you feel represents you. And when you’re wearing a watch on your wrist that has a tourbillon, dress appropriately.
Thanks for reading.
He Spoke Style