The best of the luxury brands do so much more than create a pleasing environment. They are a portal through which we are offered tantalising glimpses to a parallel universe, one where we often long to reside. Like the best novelists, they encourage us to use our imagination and see the world through different eyes. It is a seductive vision.
That has always been the joy of Talisman. It is not so much an antiques emporium as the glamorous intersection between antiques, interiors and fashion, enthusiastically and joyfully championing pieces that are more about personality than provenance. This is of course down to the inspired eye of founder Ken Bolan, who launched the original Talisman [in Somerset] in 1982 on his return from Switzerland, where he and his wife, Yolie, had opened their first antiques shop 10 years' earlier. So successful did the Talisman formula prove to be - every piece a star - that in 2006 Bolan opened Talisman London in a converted art deco garage on the New King's Road. This was followed in 2010 by a second London showroom on Ebury Street. The 'third' Talisman store is its highly successful online shop, which has made it possible for devotees of the Wow! factor it showcases to satiate their appetite from anywhere in the world.
It would be wrong, however, to think that Talisman only concentrates on decorative impact. Tour any of the stores and you will find pieces of exceptional quality, including works by great 20th-century masters such as Paul Evans, Karl Springer, Tommi Parzinger and Pierre Cardin. Bolan was among the first of the current crop of dealers to recognise the genius of Evans and has seen prices for the designer-maker go stratospheric in comparison to a decade ago. To look at a piece by Evans is to marvel at the choice of materials, the hand processes involved and the almost insane obsession to detail and finish. It is a testament to Bolan's love of such masterful craftsmanship that the Talisman workshops are almost unique in the highly sympathetic restoration work they undertake. In the case of Evans, this includes even making a guillotine that cuts at 70 degrees, rather than the usual 90, in order to replicate the shadow lines Evans contrived.
A French Brass Palm Tree Sculpture 1970s
A Selection of Spun Aluminium Furniture 1960s
In fact the Talisman workshops are at the very heart of the business - the company is rightly proud that it out-sources nothing. Most of them are still located in the West Country, close to the original store, and offer a range of craft skills that verge on the medieval, including cabinet making, stone masonry, bronze casting and wood turning. There are specialists for every kind of ornamentation imaginable, with Talisman lacquerwork, for example, being arguably the best of its kind in the UK (it took three years of effort before Bolan was happy with the finish achieved). This rich seam of artisanship not only allows Talisman to revive and restore important and collectable pieces, while always being careful to honour the original craftsmanship, but has also opened up possibilities to reinterpret furniture and lighting that is intrinsically of great design, but out of sync with modern tastes.
Sold under the label of Talisman Editions, these are mainly late 20th-century designs that have, in some cases, literally been turned upside down. Bolan has an ability to spot pieces of quality, often made with superb artistry, that were cutting-edge in their day but sit less happily with current interiors and lifestyles. Rather than rejecting such superb workmanship, Talisman looks for ways of making it relevant to the way we live today. The company has always puts its money where its heart is, so refashioning and reinterpreting such a piece is both an investment and time intensive - stripping it down to its core, encasing it in metal or lacquer, removing trims, changing handles, adding spectacular new embellishments or lining the inside with leather. However, Bolan and his team are careful never to lose sight of the maker's creative vision, keeping a connection at all times between the original design and the present incarnation. By the time, it hits the showroom floor a Talisman Edition will have undergone an extensive cosmetic overhaul, restoring it to its original youth and vigour.
Talisman Bespoke is also a direct result of the talent that has been nurtured within the workshops. At the heart of this label is the company's own range of beautifully upholstered furniture, the majority of which are special commissions made to an individual purchaser's specific requirements and designed to give pleasure over many decades in the same way a Savile Row suit or a pair of hand-made shoes might be. The core line of nine signature designs is currently being expanded to meet the demand Talisman Bespoke has engendered both from private customers and interior design professionals, who recognise the importance of buying furniture that has been truly made to last in a world too often dominated by a throw-away culture.
One of the revelations of Talisman is that it is both democratic and imaginative in the way it juxtaposes a vibrantly upholstered Talisman Bespoke sofa with an exquisite 18th-century Gustavian cabinet, a reinterpreted 1980s silver leaf Italian sideboard with a rare art deco ebonised floor light, or a metal 1970s sunburst sculpture with a 1950s goatskin bar-cart by Aldo Tura. No wonder fashionistas love it as much as design professionals do - Bolan likes to create a level of theatre and surprise that is mirrored in the work of iconic fashion houses such as Alexander McQueen or Vivienne Westwood. There are rooms not only devoted to furniture, lighting and accessories, but also to garden statuary, works of art and - most recently - vintage jewellery. However, at its heart are the strong core pieces - often of museum quality - through which Talisman has made its name. The three showrooms hold stock which spans three centuries and five continents, but the company's DNA is the way in which it introduces individual pieces that together create a cohesive signature. If something has been chosen to be part of this design 'family', you can be sure it has star quality.
A Low Back French Style Sofa by Talisman Bespoke
A Pair of Neo-Classical Cast Iron Armchairs 1960s
Photography by Bill Batten and Text by Helen Chislett
No wonder then that this formula has attracted a hungry following not only from private customers both UK and abroad, but from interior designers, property developers and retailers. The Talisman Hire arm of the business does just that: allows those in the trade to hire a complete room for commercial developments, individual rental apartments or flagship stores to add some Talisman concentrate to their vision (the minimum period is three months). It is not just that Talisman gives access to a cross-section of desirable and collectable pieces that would not otherwise be available in this context, but it also orchestrates entire projects, both commercial and residential, including design consultancy and comprehensive turnkey solutions. The burgeoning appetite for such services is a sure sign that Talisman has made the leap from successful shop to influential brand.
However, Talisman has never lost sight of its roots. For Bolan and his team, delivering an exceptional and comprehensive service is of equal importance to locating a constantly changing menu of exceptional furniture, lighting and objets. Talisman invests in its staff with the same care it invests in its furniture. Customers know they can ask for help, whether it is requesting a house visit for design expertise on how best to work with their chosen star pieces in their own home, or asking for advice on choosing upholstery with attitude. It is as far removed as possible from the stuffy antiques shops of Bolan's own youth - more glam rock than tame string quartet.
Of course it keeps changing and reinventing - not just in terms of stock but in the way it keeps adding to its repertoire of services and areas of expertise. A fourth concession opened in Harrods in January 2014, expanding the international audience it reaches even further. Visit Talisman one day and the shop floor will almost certainly have changed the next. Bolan, who still chooses the majority of stock personally, has an absolute horror of standing still. He also rightly refutes the usual ways of classifying a business such as this, "I am not an antiques dealer", he says, "I am about creating drama and theatre. I like people to feel they can come here and have fun looking around. Buy a piece of Talisman and you take home something with feelgood factor that will give you pleasure for many years to come."