Enough of Faux Vintage – December 2013
A terrible thing is happening and it must, must be stopped. I’d feared its arrival for some time, but it appears to be too late: faux vintage or fake antique is here and it looks like it might be here to stay – at least until fashions change again. The worst perpetrator is a well-known high street retailer; (without naming any names it is the one with excellent ethical credentials and mawkish Christmas adverts) that is currently selling a range of interior decorations under the name “The Curiosity Shop”.
The words of William Morris, the great 19th century aesthete and socialist, a man very fond of wall paper, in perhaps his most famous and oft cited quote – ring true today and should be heeded: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” – I’m sure Mr Morris would be appalled by this mass produced, industrially worn and aged rubbish.
The unnamed retailer is currently selling ‘vintage-inspired’ binoculars and phones, a carved wood horse head (no me, neither), a phrenology model head, decorative bicycles and packing cases – words like ‘quirky’ and ‘whimsical’ abound throughout the product descriptions. The whole enterprise is an exercise in laziness – If you can’t be bothered to hunt around antique or junk shops, you don’t have too – you can now fill your home with soulless, thoughtless, gimmicky ephemera – even better you can order it online to be delivered before 9am the next day.
There is nothing, in theory, wrong with collecting and displaying old objects, if it is genuine and the reason you have it is a sound and interesting one. Our nation’s current obsession with everything ‘vintage’ and ‘heritage’, from cupcakes to jeans, is in this correspondent’s eye, rather grating. Just because it is old does not make it valuable or worthwhile. Some things in junk shops are there for a reason. Trinkets and artfully displayed tat is not interior design – it is a style and a fashion, a style and fashion of which this is the short cut way to get there.
If you are interested in antique and vintage the key is to find that subject that really interests you. What is it? Perhaps it was something you collected when you were a child, lusted after when a good weeks pocket money was 50p and you knew that at this rate it would be 20 years before you could afford whatever it is that you wanted. Maybe it’s planes, trains and automobiles, books, maps, watches, records, guitars, dresses, shoes, My Little Pony. It doesn’t matter, as long as it says something about you.
The wonderful thing about London is that it doesn’t matter how obscure your hobby or interest, hidden away around corners, down alleys, on some of the city’s more obscure streets – and some less obscure ones if you look closely, are a whole raft of specialist shops dusty with time and memory for you to explore and enjoy.
So here are a few suggestions to get you started. If it has a story, comes from a genuine place within yourself and is either useful or beautiful – ideally both – then display it in your home with pride.
Storys Ltd. – Covent Garden
Cecil Court, running between Charing Cross Road and St Martin’s Lane is a veritable treasure trove, from rare and antiquarian book shops, gentleman’s outfitters to galleries. Story’s Ltd, at the St Martin’s Court end specialises in antique engravings and maps. It is a cartographer’s heaven with antique maps stretching way back to the 18th century available to buy. As well as maps they also specialise in military and naval prints particularly relating to Lord Nelson and Napoleon Bonaparte; costume and fashion; sports and pastimes and natural history. They also offer a framing service.
Arthur Beale – Covent Garden
Sitting rather incongruously at the intersection of Shaftesbury Avenue and Neal Street, far from any open water (unless you count Oasis swimming pool around the corner) Arthur Beale is an inland chandlery that appears to be hanging on against the ever encroaching tide of chain restaurants and shoe shops. The best reason your correspondent has heard for its position, where it has been for well over 100 years is that the River Fleet, London’s lost river, ran very close to the premises – which makes sense but may well be a myth.
Inside, behind it’s seemingly never changing shop window you’ll find ropes, flags, barometers, navigational charts, sextants (or GPS these days!). So even if you don’t live in a houseboat, but you dream of the open seas, this is the place to visit.
Guitars – Various – Denmark Street
Why certain streets become synonymous with a certain trade is a question this writer often asks on his wanderings – for example Charing Cross Road and books. Denmark Street, which connects Charing Cross Road with St Giles High Street, and amongst the nightmare that is the Tottenham Court Road Cross Rail development has just about managed to survive intact, is world famous for its music shops.
During the 1950’s and 60’s it was a veritable tin-pan alley where various publishers and song writers had studios. The Rolling Stones cut their first LP at a studio on the street in 1964 and Elton John wrote Your Song here in 1970. Today there is a whole raft of music shops where if you have the money, you’ll be able to pick up a vintage Fender, Gretsch, Gibson or Rickenbacker – which even if you can’t play would look fab hanging on the wall!
To be publsihed in the Geronimo Inns newspaper January 2014