Well, reckon we must have got something for just about everyone in this issue of Vintagexplorer!
As it’s the season for ghouls, ghosts and long-legged beasties – you might detect a certain sepulchral feel about some of the articles. Ghosts abound, but just out of shot, in Tarquin Blake’s photographic forays into the abandoned mansions of Ireland, while there’s a certain frisson, too, about the latest haul from Fellows’ jewellery auction. As for automata, they divide people don’t they? I think they’re great, but I know they can freak some people out – although I’m not too sure I’d be that comfortable with Eric the Robot helping me around the office...
Brrr! If you want to be put into an altogether jollier frame of mind, the fairground has come to town, as we welcome TV celeb Drew Pritchard to his permanent slot on our VE Collective, and discover what he’s kept for his own personal collection. Then we look at how a classic Bally Circus arcade game gets rendered into a stunning piece of home decor.
For fashionistas, the name Biba is so evocative – all those big-eyed, long-legged waifs, so very 60s yet romantically linked to the 20s and Art Nouveau via the most captivating and quirky outfits. Coming up for sale early this month, is a unique collection of pieces – some of which never even went into production – that takes us right to the heart of the Biba phenomenon so I couldn’t resist including them here.
One of those trademark harking-back Biba signature pieces was the feather boa, drawing on the long history of the use of feathers in fashion. As it happens, a major exhibition of that very thing is opening at the Bowes Museum. And, as it happens, the Bowes Museum is home to the Silver Swan, one of the greatest automata of all time... spooky how things connect up, isn’t it?
Right, I’m off. Sur le Continent, as they say. First to Ghent and then to Düsseldorf, on the hunt for all things vintage. It’s the most wonderful way to shop. In a world where you can buy the same shoes, the same rugs, the same coffee and the same burgers on any high street in any country in any continent, isn’t it great to know that, sometimes when you travel, it’s possible that you might pick up something that you’ve never seen before, and might never see again? Happy hunting!
Sophisticated, feminine, luxurious – feathers are a symbol of elegance but also of lost innocence and dark romanticism. By Karyn Sparks
Feathers have tickled the fancy of Mae West, softened the sharp edges of Marlene Dietrich’s chiselled cheekbones – and where on earth would fan-dance doyenne Sally Rand have been without them? Modern performers love their feathers too, from Madonna to Kylie, Beyoncé to Björk (who once turned up to the Oscars wearing an entire swan).
Their beauty, fragility and value have given feathers and plumes various connotations throughout history, but they have appeared in the fashionable dress of every era from Ancient Egyptian to Elizabethan to Edwardian. Which is when fashion’s passion for feathers came very close to, in a very real sense, killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
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DesignMarkt in Belgium returns for its second outing of 2014, and is a haven for lovers of classic European design. By Woo Gilchrist
Blimey! It seems like only yesterday that the VE Team was winging its way across the Channel with a van full of magazines to attend its first DesignMarkt in the beautiful Belgian city of Ghent – and here we are planning our return trip!
The dates are 8th and 9th November, the venue the wonderfully stylish concrete ICC International Convention Centre, and a design fair that attracts top dealers in Mid-century design from all over Europe.
But why we’re so keen to return is that the show is much more than just a collection of dealers; the whole atmosphere is one of encouraging people to embrace modern design and to use design classics in their homes. When we arrived, back in March, we set up our table and went for a look around.
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Vintagexploring can take us far afield – and we’re delighted to have discovered Germany’s biggest design fair in time for its annual shindig.
DESIGN CLASSIC (or Internationale Designklassiker des 20. + 21. Jahrhunderts) to give it its full title) started as just an idea. Back in 1999, the organisers found them-selves with access to 1,800 square meters of industrial space in Düsseldorf, a list of 45 dedicated collectors and a host of friends. At that first event (then known as Design Börse) an annual design fair was born – and has never looked back.
It is clearly here to stay; in this, its 16th year, this one-day event attracts more than 140 dealers and has expanded to cover a staggering 4,000 square meters.
The fair, to be held this year on Sunday 30th November, has a reputation for a very cool vibe, both lively and relaxed – some visitors just come for the food and the DJ! But there is plenty more besides if you fancy buying: the huge area houses classic interior design objects, architect-designed furniture, glass, ceramics, jewellery, Modernism, Post-Modernism, Bauhaus, Memphis, Mid-century... you name it, they’ve got it!
As well as the vintage traders, top auction houses with a wealth of knowledge of design classics, including Dorotheum, Lauritz and Quittenbaum, will have information booths in the fair. Visitors from the USA, Japan, Korea and Brazil as well as from around Europe make this a truly international event. And it goes without saying that VE will be there, distributing free copies of this issue to the world, so do come up and say hello if you spot us! Article continues in the magazine...
Photographer Tarquin Blake’s forays into derelict Irish mansions combine an Indiana Jones sense of adventure with an Alice in Wonderland sensibility.
A derelict house can be a blot on the landscape, but one elegant Irish relic has a tale or two to tell that photographer Tarquin Blake is eager to listen to. “I’m trying to document abandoned buildings across Ireland,” he says. “And the buildings that I’m interested in are those which have either historical, architectural or social importance. I feel they’re important places, which are basically just left there falling down. There’s nobody interested in trying to preserve them. So what I’m trying to do is just get a record of them, as they stand today.”
Glyde Court in County Louth, built around 1780, lies in a depression on the edge of a wood, almost invisible from the road. It isn’t signposted, or even named on recent maps. The only reason Tarquin is here at all is a tip-off, saying that the abandoned mansion might be worth exploring. And it is: though the trees that flank the house are encroaching into the rooms, and its corridors are clogged with rubble, the big crumbling building is beautiful. Article continues in the magazine...
From the Atomic Age’s Robby the Robot to 18th-century elegance, vintage automata encompass the magical, mysterious – and the utterly charming.
Robots are so much a part of our cultural imagination that it’s odd to think that the word has existed in English for less than a hundred years. It comes from the Czech for “forced labour” and arrived with Karel Capek’s 1920 play R.U.R. His chronicle of “Rossum’s Universal Robots”, a mechanical slave class who rise up against humanity, became a smash international hit, playing in New York in 1922 – with Spencer Tracy making his Broadway debut as a robot – and in London the following year.
Thanks to the wonder of Youtube, today's automata fan has access to more superb working specimens than you could have expected to see in a lifetime before the internet came along! Catch them below.
Childhood was one never-ending fairground ride for Drew Pritchard of TV's Salvage Hunters
I lost my heart to the fairground when I was just a boy – what child didn’t? But for me, the magic wasn’t just a fleeting afternoon fling or a holiday affair but part of my family life. My father was an old-school signwriter, and his best friend was from show folk, so every summer we would get in Dad’s minivan and drive to where the travelling fair made camp on the old donkey fields in Llandudno, to give it its annual wash and brush-up.
This was the mid-to late 1970s and my brother and I were brought along to lend a hand with the gilding, and applying the chalk lines and tracings on the waltzer sides and the large Foden trucks they had at the time. Dad would even write the signs on the back of the hot dog stands! I vividly remember helping with my first gilding when I was only about eight years old – it was on the rounding boards of a large ride. Sometimes the work was overpainting, which meant mimicking older styles. But it could also come bang-up-to-date, as some showmen were at the time: for a time Star Wars characters were painted on anything that moved!
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FInd out how Jez Speed turns a broken old Bally pinball machine into a highly stylish piece of furniture.
A couple of years ago I bought an old Gottlieb mechanical pinball table dating from the mid-1950s with a view to restoring it to working condition. Having spent a few months searching for the necessary parts - including the unobtainable decorative back glass - I quickly came to the decision that sadly it was beyond economical repair. So, what do I do with it?
The single thing that attracted me to it in the first place, was the incredible graphics on the play table. I needed to do something with this and thought it would make a great coffee table for my own house - I ain’t seen nothing like (it) in any amusement hall! Having always been a fan of mixing the old with the new, I thought, I can’t be the only one who would love to own one of these! Little did I know at the time that my first pinball conversion would lead to a number of commission pieces. This is a problem in itself, as the only affordable options available are broken machines, but they need to be in nice enough condition to re-use. So, when I came across this old Bally Circus pinball table dating from 1974 (this time with the back glass intact), I knew exactly what I needed to do with it – another coffee table - this time with a matching wall mounted light box - and luckily, just the client to buy it... how’s that for an outrageous wedding present?
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Born too late for Biba first time round? Now’s your chance to get your hands on a piece of fashion history.
IT’S ALMOST EXACTLY 50 YEARS since Barbara Hulanicki and husband Fitz (Stephen Fitz-Simon) opened a small boutique tin Abingdon Rd, Chelsea to sell well-designed yet affordable fashions to the masses. From its genesis as a mail order business a few months before, it went on to gain cult status, eventually be- coming one of the most talked about fashion brands in the world and a major design influence of the late 20th century.
The flagship store Big Biba, which the couple opened in 1973, became a destination for any hipster visiting London; The Sunday Times described it as, “the most beautiful store in the world”. More than just a clothing boutique, it im- mersed visitors in the complete Biba experience. The clothes, with Barbara’s trademark design flair, were dyed to a unique muted colour palette that included Butterfly Blue, Amber Rust, Creme de Menthe Green, Fudge Brown and Nightshade Mauve, all with cosmetics to match.
Importantly, it was one of the first-ever lifestyle stores, selling everything from Biba baked beans or dog food to furnishings, light fittings and wallpaper!