We were in a diner over the summer. One of those reconstructed ersatz fifties places with lots of old newspapers stuck on the wall. Except it had clearly been around for at least 20 years. The fittings were worn in the right places, the door had the right not-jammed-any-more feeling. The edges of things were worn smoothed by the passages of many arses. It was fake, but it was still somehow authentic. It had patina.
I've been slightly obsessed with patina since I started writing egg, bacon, chips and beans. I think it's the thing I like most about cafes. It's not the same as age or history or vintage. A horribly designed place can have lovely patina. Patina says a simple thing: people have been here. People have used this thing. Their traces can't be erased, and they're really hard to fake.
So that cafe may have been a fake classic but it had real patina, real people have been there.
The Star Wars universe has always been good with patina and wear. It's one of the things that made it look different. Now they've got a range of weapons that are promoted as 'with battle damage'. If you were a trendperson you'd be getting your Maslov's out right now and start looking at the teen market - they're buying experience not shininess.
Disney have a damn good try at faking patina in the real world. I adored the matt finishes and shading of Toon Town the first time we visited. They'd taken cartoon furniture and given it the appearance of a lived life. And you see extensions of this in malls all over the developed world. This 'scene' from Tarzan's Treehouse isn't that different from what Pottery Barn are selling.
But patina is incredibly hard to fake. Which is why so much Steampunk stuff looks like Hallmark have started a new line of decorations called Christmas With A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. You only get steps to look like this by having thousands of people tramp up and down them every day. I bet patina is something like Rudy Rucker's Gnarliness, something very complex generated from simple rules, but still so complex that the only way to simulate it is to completely reproduce it. You can only compute the gnarls of a tree with another tree. So the only convincing way to get yourself twenty years of patina is to hang around for twenty years. (Greebling will only get you so far.)
That's probably why luxury seems to be turning away from instant bling at the moment. The really rare and valued stuff can't be created or acquired quickly.
But you can pick materials that age well, show their patina gracefully. Formica being one. Leather. Wood. They show you that they've been used. And how. (And peeling paint seems to give you the aesthetic quite quickly.)
And then the back half of Matt's presentation from Picnic made me realise that I get the feeling of patina from some web things too.
Flickr, for instance, has the rub of patina about it. Flickr's full of people and they show you evidence of those people all the time. It feels worn into place by millions of clicks rather than imposed from above by a capricious design god. And it shows you your own usage, it moulds itself to you, so it gets as familiar as an old fountain pen. Sort of. Equally there are web places that more, well, wipe-clean - loads of people there but you never see any evidence of them.
Ah well. Anyway...