In the 18th century, porcelain plates were not just functional objects from which to eat food, but also a display of wealth, style and innovation.
Now precious antiques, the works of French porcelain houses like Limoges and Sèvres are among the many treasures displayed at The Frick Collection — a museum dedicated to 18th- and early 19th-century painting, sculpture and decorative art.
It was there on Wednesday night that attendees of the Frick’s annual spring garden party mulled fine porcelain’s relevance in this disposable era of fast fashion, take-out food and paper plates.
These observations are timely. Recently, Millennials have expressed a growing interest in buying housewares, sometimes instead of clothes. Mismatched vintage porcelain sets are also making noted appearances at voguish New York restaurants like ABCv and La Mercerie.
According to a study by Furniture Today, 63 percent of Millennials prefer purchasing vintage furniture over new pieces. They are also more likely than past generations to consider sustainability in their home decor purchases.
Antique and formal dishware is beginning to find deeper resonance. “I wish there was more of it, actually; there is this level of class that’s missing and the antiquities are fading out because people want things easy to clean. I’m old school and prefer the formal things,” said New York City Ballet dancer Harrison Ball at the event, also noting that he enjoys porcelain’s sustainability.
Delia Folk, a young jewelry buyer for Barneys New York, said of the trend toward buying home objects: “I think that when you are home, people want to be very comfortable and kind of escape from the craziness of the world. Eating dinner on special plates at the end of a crazy workday is something you get to look forward to.”
According to Charlotte Vignon, the Frick’s curator of decorative arts, Folk’s comments are indicative of a larger collective consciousness. “In periods of instability — politically, economically — there is a feeling of wanting to build a nest and a home. Clothes come and go, but what’s great with these objects is that they withstand time,” she said.
Vignon added that items like a Sèvres plate, “have a story and a history — they are telling you more than just a dish. If you have a paper dish, it’s a functional object and then you throw it away.”
Such rings true for Thelma Golden, curator and director of The Studio Museum in Harlem: “I feel privileged to have many place settings I grew up with in the home, and they live with me today as a tangible reminder of my mother and grandmother. It links to me a generation of women in my family who saw the home as the center of life. I think we all find meaning in the objects that have residence for us — they relate to ourselves, our lives, our homes our families, our history.”