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AT 99 years old, BADA (the British Antiques Dealers’ Association) is on a quest for transformation.

It’s no small task for an antiques trade body facing its centenary to overturn an image as deeply traditional and even entrenched, but under new leadership this has been the mission for the past couple of years. Now, it faces a crucial test of its success with the newly rebranded event BADA 2017.

This fair is itself celebrating an anniversary this year – the 25th – and retains its usual spot in the spring calendar (March 15-21) and location in Chelsea’s Duke of York Square.

It also unites many returning dealers and most people involved, from attendees to exhibitors, are likely to keep referring to it as “the BADA fair”.

But thanks to a new logo and font, revamped website and an unprecedented advertising campaign for BADA, it has signalled clearly the face it wants to present: that of a modern base for dealers offering topquality objects of all ages.

“It’s all about highlighting that the fair is an environment where people can buy, ” says event director Madeleine Williams. “These are objects that people can take home and treasure.”

The idea of emphasising that the fair exhibits pieces to own and love gave rise to a much-discussed marketing campaign, which featured models draped around or clutching various antiques against a blue background. The ads certainly present a more modern look, and although it has been criticised in some quarters, many exhibitors have rallied around the campaign.

“The rebranding is already having a positive effect through main media outlets, especially the original concept of showing an object interacting with people, ” says returning exhibitor Laura Bordignon.

Contemporary art specialist and member of the fair committee Jonathan Cooper agrees, emphasising his belief that the campaign will appeal to a younger audience.

And Williams reports that ticket downloads from the website are higher than ever before, suggesting the campaign has caught the eye of potential attendees.

The blue of the adverts will be incorporated throughout the fair, giving it a touch of colour. The restaurant and pantry have been given altered designs, and the entrance hall will feature a large statement piece, a contemporary sculpture contributed by Peter Petrou (see interview on p44-45).

For now, Williams says, it’s more about “refreshing” the fair than completely renovating it. With the 100th anniversary around the corner, there is reason to think a fuller transformation could be on the cards for 2018.

Maintaining traditions

BADA 2017 seeks to play to its existing strengths as well as its innovations.

Williams estimates that 85% of exhibitors are returning this year and she adds that the team is keen “not to alienate the audience anywhere”.

Loyal followers will find plenty to recognise. As well as new exhibitors such as Mallett, Isherwood Fine Art and Anthony Outred, there are 10 dealers who have stood at the fair for at least 20 of those 25 events. And three of these, JH Bourdon Smith, Mark J West and Witney Antiques, have exhibited at every event.

For returning contemporary exhibitor Cooper, the fair is already a good site for his market. “It’s a fantastic location for us in Chelsea.

Even though it’s close to our gallery it allows us to reach a new audience.

“As a contemporary dealer representing artists working in traditional techniques we have had a very positive response from the BADA fair audience.”

This year, other dealers have been particularly encouraged to bring modern and contemporary pieces and many have responded, including Beaux Arts London, Matthew Foster, Long and Ryle and Jeroen Markies.

Around the rest of the fair comes the familiar range of traditional pieces from dealers such as clock specialist Howard Walwyn, Patrick Sandberg Antiques bringing furniture, mirrors and lighting, and Robyn Robb with porcelain.

Can BADA keep a balance supporting the old while welcoming the new? The fair is a perfect test – and it is going in prepared.

badafair.com