East London, the area formerly known as East Berlin, and New York’s Lower East Side, have far more in common than their location in the eastern precincts of capital cities. Undoubtedly there are areas, north, south, east and west, in other major cities around the globe that, having been neglected and run down for a variety of reasons, are experiencing similar processes of regeneration, in which to a large extent rather than buildings having been demolished and new ones erected, a variety of former commercial warehouses and industrial workshops have been converted into apartments, offices, cafés, bars and shops. These three, however, currently exert the greatest influence at an international level, on fashion and lifestyle trends. Each boasts distinctive 21st century buildings, but down at street level, at times, and in certain locations within each, it’s difficult to separate one from another, especially since an overriding taste for vintage predominates in all.
In 1966, the US Customs Department legalised the definition of ‘antique’ as referring to art, buildings, furniture, accessories or personal possessions that are over 100 years old. Borrowed from wine-making, the meaning of the term ‘vintage’, was adapted and used to denote items in the same categories that were newer than 100 years old.
Over the coarse of the past couple of decades, these precepts themselves have become old fashioned. Currently, it would seem, anything older than last week can qualify as vintage and the description is taken to stand for the increase in value of any manufactured object that is a result of aging, selection or shortage – even when their patina is artificially created. Vintage, properly used, however, stands for a whole look – rather than any single item – and to achieve it requires a confident but relaxed attitude to the mixing of 20th and 21st century styles from a variety of periods.
Those who live in vintage-styled homes, or dress in vintage outfits, or do both – which is common – would much rather, sort her or his way through tightly-packed clothes racks at places such as Berlin’s Mauerpark Flohmarkt (Flea Market), than buy a new item of clothing, or an accessory, in a conventional shop. They might collect original or re-issued vinyl records, but at the same time live very much in the moment and are certain to own or desire the latest smartphone or tablet. They know their way around every aspect of the internet, too. They’ll tweet, text, chat, Skype, bank online and be guided to anywhere they need to go on their cranky old upright bikes by GPS.
It’s not surprising, when items falling into either category are displayed together, that the descriptions ‘vintage’ and ‘retro’ are often mistakenly taken by consumers to mean the same thing. Although there is a clear distinction, the confusion can at times be intended by the dealer, who may try to pass off new articles with fake patina or retro styling that apes much earlier genuine designs, as genuine vintage items. But, it must be said that often customers with little knowledge of design history don’t understand or appreciate the difference, or even care. Some prominent manufacturers, on the other hand, hoping to cash in on growing worldwide interest in vintage, have launched new products with bang up to date features that boast retro styling. Nikon, for instance, have just brought out the Df, a lightwight full-frame digital SLR camera, retailing at a whopping £1,865.76 (€2,215.62 / $2,999.95), which ‘pays homage to analogue camera styling’. With mechanical dials taken from the company’s famous ‘F’ series (1959) of 35mm film cameras – originals can easily be found in second-hand camera shops, on market stalls, and on eBay. The Df comes with an optional wireless mobile adapter, and the camera can be fired remotely by syncing it to a smartphone or tablet. Retro styled cars have been around since the late 1990s – the Prowler, launched in 1997, with exposed front wheels, was American manufacturer Plymouth’s take on a modern hot rod and arguably spearheaded the trend. In 2007, fifty years after it was first launched, the Fiat 500 was rebuilt, redesigned and relaunched, with many of its original features intact. But perhaps the Porsche Citroen 911 DS Franken-Sportscar by American design group Brandpowder, combining elements of two of the most renowned vehicles ever produced – albeit as a Photoshopped image – is the only one of these cars that merits the description ‘vintage’.
Vintage – Design with a History, the forthcoming exhibition at Zürich’s Museum für Gestaltung, will take a look at the special qualities inherent to original pieces from the world of fashion, furniture and product design, with the objective of throwing light on the current yearning for items from the relatively recent past and aims to explore commercial responses to the demand. In this regard, Belgian fashion designer Martin Margiela is considered by the curators to be an important figure. Various pieces, spanning the range of his reinterpreted second-hand textiles from the early 1990s to designs that deal conceptually with fashion’s expiry date appear throughout the themed sections of the exhibition.
Images from top
Martin Margiela top, 1989–2001
Photo Betty Fleck © ZHdK
Levi’s denim jacket, 1960s, USA
Showing natural signs of wear, in the exhibition this
denim jacket is contrasted with items of clothing which, on leaving
the factory, show artificially produced traces of use
Jeansmuseum Ruedi Karrer
Photo Betty Fleck ©ZHdK
Marcel Breuer, Metal Band Chair, model 1082, 1935
Found by its present owner in a chicken coop,
this chair is the most expensive object on show
Arrangement of vintage pieces, Möbel Zürich, 2012
Photo Regula Bearth ©ZHdK
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