Sara Colohan writes for Londoncalling.com on Vintage in London

The rise and rise of vintage London

The rise and rise of vintage London

It’s undeniable, our love of vintage style is apparent everywhere from our tastes in fashion, furniture and even our food.

Retro chic is still evolving world wide and London is generally considered the most vibrant, active city for what is now a thriving global industry. Our love of vintage is not just in obvious hotspots like trend setting Shoreditch and Brick Lane (still seen as the unrivalled Mecca for vintage loving locals and tourists alike). Londoners’ love of vintage is far reaching with the biggest of our vintage markets held in Hammersmith , Spitalfields  and the world famous Portobello Market in West London. In fact, the London vintage scene currently boasts more vintage shops, retro café’s, Kilo sales, retro themed nightlife and vintage festivals than any other capital.

To look for our vintage roots we chatted to some of the individuals who have helped make London such a hot spot for world class vintage. Even with their guidance it’s hard to pinpoint when Londoners started to wear second hand clothes as high fashion (i.e. when the term ‘hand me downs’ became the more coveted ‘nearly new’) but ironically, in doing so they became world wide fashion zeitgeists for street and catwalk alike.

One of the biggest areas of growth is the surge in vintage fashion, furniture and kilo sales. Perhaps the most recognisable of these companies is Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair founded in Leeds in 2005 by former Selfridge’s personal shopper and celebrity stylist Judy Berger.

“As a fashion graduate, I have always been big into vintage, but was never able to source it because of how expensive it used to be. I noticed a gap in the market to regenerate vintage stock, not least because I knew everyone else had started to realise that the mass produced items they were buying carried grave repercussions. I saw reusing vintage clothes was one solution to that problem.”

Almost immediately after the success of her first fair in Leeds in 2005, thirty two further cities followed suit and now Judy’s Vintage Fairs are proudly breathing new life into old markets and buildings that may otherwise remain closed. One of her most recent success stories is York Hall in Bethnal Green. Previously used for boxing matches and firmly shut on Sundays, it’s now a colourful thriving market almost monthly. Judy also hosts monthly events in Spitalfields market, on days when the market had previously been closed. Judy can also boast that she’s been asked to curate major vintage festivals including Vintage Nation and Wayne Hemmingway’s glorious Vintagefestival. Top it off with regular mentions in Elle, Vogue and London’s own Stylist magazine and Judy’s Vintage Fairs are a huge asset to the London scene. Not bad for someone who says she only started the business because she “never had anything to wear!”

The other great London approach to vintage selling is the permanent presence of Alfies Market. Alfies (formerly Jordan's department store) was opened in 1976 by Bernie Gray, owner of Grays Antiques of London. The arcade has a striking art deco façade, a rooftop café with huge sunny terrace and around 100 antique dealers trading under one roof. All of the resident dealers are experienced specialists covering everything from militaria, books, ceramics, fashion, dolls and art. There are about twenty additional independent shops along Church Street also trading in antiques, many of which actually started life in Alfies, making the Church Street area the largest antiques hub in the city. Alfies is actually the largest antiques arcade in the country!

London is well known for it’s vast collection of vintage fashion shops and the biggest growing of these is Beyond Retro. Canadian born Steven Bethell opened his first store in London in 2002 and it’s since grown into one of the world’s top vintage stores. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this month, Steven told us how it came about:

“I spent quite a while travelling around the world to collect the people and the product necessary to build Beyond Retro. I focused on London, and specifically East London as it seemed the natural home for what we were trying to express. Our Brick lane store was followed by our Soho outlet, then we digressed a bit to open Brighton in 2009, then Sweden and more recently, Russia. But we came back again to London and opened our Dalston store 2011. Londoners just seem to have a love of vintage like no other city.”
If you pass the Brick Lane store on any given day you may see a stream of hipsters hanging outside. It could be because their favourite bands either playing in store, or possibly just shopping there. Beyond Retro’s reputation as an innovative retailer with a rock 'n' roll heart has been its key to success. Less 1940’s and 50’s pieces, Beyond Retro is the definite leader in 1980’s and 1990’s vintage (yes folks, 1990’s is deemed vintage!) They stock a good range of inexpensive costumes and menswear.

Vivien of Holloway has been a very different kind of fashion influence on London’s vintage scene. Promising to ‘make the world a more glamorous place’ this retro loving lady has kept true to her word. From her shop, based on Holloway Road, Vivien told us she started buying and wearing vintage clothes when she was just a child and in her teens, realised that her passion was recreating the simple, timeless designs of the 1950’s. Originally sewing up replica style halter neck and traditional sarong dresses herself on her sewing machine, her business has grown to such a size that Vivien of Holloway is now the largest distributer of women’s reproduction vintage wear in the UK with a huge online world wide market. Her dresses are seen on the red carpet and TV alike including Christine Hendricks, Nigella Lawson and Charlotte Church.

London’s love of vintage fashion store-come-coffee shop is also on the rise with The Vintage Emporium on Bacon Street, just off Brick Lane as a fine example of an almost picture perfect Victorian tea house on the ground floor with their basement full of 1920’s and Victoriana clothing. It’s a must see at Christmas time in particular!

Blitz Department Store on Hanbury Street, also off Brick lane is the only vintage department store in Europe and houses vast aisles of vintage clothes, books and furniture with a great lounging coffee bar area.

Drink Shop Do Caledonian Road, Kings Cross is another hive of vintage themed activity where everything is for sale from designer crafts, vintage tea sets, 1950's dressers and unusual tables and chairs, to hand-made cakes, ice creams, specialty teas, kitsch finger sandwiches, bottled beers and cocktails, all neatly tucked away in a Victorian Bathhouse, two minutes from Kings Cross Station.

Soho still hosts plenty of vintage gems with Soho Secret Tea Room aptly being the best kept secret among the vintage tea houses. Dedicated completely to serving stylish afternoon tea (with plenty of alcohol available for those looking for sterner stuff!) it’s situated on the first floor over traditional Soho boozer Coach and Horses (just opposite Soho House main entrance) As you ascend the windy stair case of this retro oasis, you’ll be met by glamorous styled waitresses ready to serve you a proper 1940’s cup of tea! Of course there are so many more places worthy of a mention including Bar Italia in Soho opened in 1949 and Paper Dress Vintage in Shoreditch which is a club, shop and café.

London can also be proud of its vintage themed beauty parlours like The Powderpuff Girls and dedicated retro hair salons including the newest addition Rockalily Cuts opening this month in Hoxton. You can take a vintage themed walking tour with Back in the day Walking Tours or maybe you fancy a vintage themed stylist/personal shopper to create your perfect makeover? www.vintagesecret.com/ is home to Naomi Thomson currently recognised as the UK’s premier vintage personal shopper. Style Me Vintage (the title of her first book!) is currently on sale too!

Hopefully we have shown some of what London has to offer the vintage lover with this brief slice of retro London life, but we realise we’re just scratching the surface! We didn’t mention swinging 60’s Carnaby Street, vintage cabaret shows including the current London Burlesque Games, London’s biggest swing dancing community Swing Patrol who are hosting the London Swing Festival in June or even the amazing 1930’s inspired Spiegel Tent set up on London’s Southbank hosting vintage inspired fringe theatre for the entire summer and beyond!

Perhaps it’s best to hand you over to some true aficionados, working tirelessly to keep you abreast of everything period and classic. The Vintage Guild to London is a vast online guide, sectioned by eras, steering you through a detailed ‘what’s on’ based on your chosen decade. This year they even host their own London Vintage Awards recognising and commending local businesses and their outstanding contributions to London vintage.

Whether you want to visit a 1920’s market, swing dance like its 1939 or sip cocktails at a 1950’s burlesque club then these are the people who will help you step out in style as you step back in time! Enjoy!

Sara Colohan writes on Vintage in London for LondonCalling.com

Venues in London — Entertainment — LondonCalling.com


Sara Colohan interviews Camille O Sullivan

Camille O’Sullivan. Architect, singer, performer…superstar!

Camille O Sullivan is a star performer summed up perfectly in one line in The Irish Times 'A courageous and singular performer, one of the most gifted interpreters of narrative songs yet to appear'
Camille O’Sullivan. Architect, singer, performer…superstar!

Her dramatic heart stopping versions of Brel, Waits, Bowie and Cave to name a few, have had audiences from Sydney Opera House to London’s Royal Festival Hall fall in love with her… and now Londoners get another chance to see her perform as she hosts a series of shows as part of Priceless London Wonderground. London Calling's Sara Colohan caught up with her.

London Calling: Camille. Welcome back to London. You’ve chosen the Southbank’s wonderful Spiegeltent  to host your latest shows. Some may say it’s your spiritual home, not least because your style of performance has been compared to Marlene Dietrich, who of course started her career singing in a Spiegel Tents in 1930’s Berlin. You also have a history with this famous tent…

Camille O' Sullivan: Yes I think it is my favourite venue ever to perform in and also to watch a performance. It is like a little jewelled box, almost church like and creates such a beautiful atmosphere with its stained glass windows and little velvet awning booths. You really feel the history of the past when you step up on stage, following in the footsteps of all the other 'gypsy' musicians that have passed through.

I've performed in around 12 different beautiful Spiegeltents worldwide since 2003, and was given the lovely titles of Friendly Spiegel Cat and the fun 'Queen of the Famous Spiegeltent'. I first performed in one in Edinburgh 2004, with my own show and a new show they were producing called La Clique. It was such an exciting time to be one of the original performers of that gorgeous mad show which went on to tour worldwide from New York to Sydney and was so delighted to be part of it when it received its Olivier award 2009!

I was also very lucky to be spotted by Trainspotting’s Spud (Ewan Bremner) who told Stephan Frears which resulted in me landing a role in Mrs Henderson Presents.

In a way it's a circus for big kids - us! (I always had the fantasy when I was an architect of running away with the circus). I love that the whole room is all a stage in a sense. You can perform in your allocated space then into the circle where the audience sits (no one is safe from the performer) or one of the intimate booths...and that you can see all the faces including yourself reflected in the mirrors when you are performing.

When I was with La Clique, I used to sit on a swing that was raised above the audience, it was great fun for them. I also loved the fact the tent travels, it comes and goes but your stage is always home wherever you go, though you get a little  confused sometimes - Am I stepping outside into Sydney, Edinburgh or in this case London?!'

LC: Not unlike Marlene, you spent a bit of time in Berlin too – but not as a singer. You earned a degree in architecture (the highest marks your University had seen in a decade, no less!) and chose Berlin as the location for your first architect’s job….

CS: Berlin is an incredible city and was a brilliant discovery for me as an architect and big lover of music and performance. We were there as architecture students – nine Irish girls in a little flat and it was a mad, brilliant, liberating time for us and the city itself.

Berlin was rebuilding itself - it was going through flux and art/music/performance was expressing itself everywhere.  There were brilliant late night smoky venues that stayed open all night long, showing art, film and music 24/7- which is where I discovered old weimar songs and Kabarett performances. I had never heard such haunting melodies or the direct in your face way of performing - it was a real intimacy with the audience where there was no fourth wall on stage, you the audience were part of the show. The performance could be full force or incredibly subtle or emotionally vulnerable (due to the content of the dramatic songs) and not always about pleasing the audience - i.e. went to a darker more provocative place.

I was hooked with these narrative songs and the characters they created. I listened obsessively to lots of Weill and Eisler and picked up my first CD ever - September Songs by Hal Wilner which had great translations by Nick Cave, Tom Waits and PJ Harvey - this is a well loved and worn out CD. I couldn't believe my luck a few years later when I worked with Hal Willner in Sydney Opera House with Rogues Gallery, I was revisiting my past with the great man himself!

LC: Obviously the world of music was calling you even then. You obviously credit Berlin with developing some of those darker traits of your stage persona. Where or who else do you credit?

CS: When I returned to Ireland from Germany I had the great luck of seeing a great artist called Agnes Bernelle. She was born in Berlin and fled the war first to London and then Ireland. She was in her seventies when I watched her, transfixed by her poise and stillness and the stories she told - Weill, Eisler, Tom Waits. After Berlin and seeing this brilliant inspiring lady on stage, I knew my architectural career could be in jeopardy!

I hadn't trained as a singer and she kindly said (drink and cigarette in hand) ''oh darling it doesn't matter, just tell the story - these songs are better from being yourself or an actor then trained singer." That has stayed with me…in a sense all my favourite singers use their own voice, Dylan, Waits, Cave, Brel - sing as you speak. As for stage persona, I'm not sure if it's something I created - I think it's just me magnified by 500. All the songs I choose show aspects of me, which allows me to be chameleon like on stage.

LC: You’re a huge star in Ireland, where you grew up and studied. More people know you from La Clique and your sell out shows in Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but perhaps most Londoners will recognise you from your legendary performance on Later with Jools Holland (almost 100,000 hits!). So legendary in fact, that he took you on tour with him after meeting you on the show! Did you realise after that particular TV performance that things would never really be the same for you?

CS: To perform on Later with Jools was a dream come true! It's such a big thing for a singer, I was absolutely terrified when I was singing live (I suffer from stage nerves at the best of times!) but I was so happy with how it went.

I could see Tom Jones and Gary Lightbody from Snow Patrol out of the corner of my eye while I was singing which  was terrifying and so strange! It was brilliant to show the complete different aspects of what we do with the fun of Kirsty MacColl's 'In these shoes' wearing sparkling red Dorothy shoes and then transform into dark veiled singer of Nick Cave's God is in the House. I was really delighted to be asked to perform on his tour. The first date was the Royal Albert Hall - I'll never forget that - it's a coliseum of 5000! My parents were there, my mum watched it though her fingers she was so nervous for me, but it was a great evening for us and Jools is a lovely fabulous gent!

Things did change after that. It's so nice to be able to say we were on Later with Jools! We've had great times doing our solo shows in London since at the Roundhouse, 6 week run at Apollo Theatre and the snowiest day of the year at The Royal Festival Hall - where my mic broke…I've good memories of throwing the mic away and singing acapella...wine was needed after that!

LC: With three live albums already released, Changeling, released this year is your second studio album. Tell us a little about the theme and can you pick a favourite track, or is that a bit like asking a mother to pick a favourite child?

CS: Changeling feels like the first album I've ever recorded and released. I'm known pretty much as a live performer due to the full on roller coaster and drama of the shows. The live albums captured our live shows to date and the first studio album was sweet but I hadn't learnt what my voice could do until I toured all these years!  The theme is close to what the shows are about - to change oneself, to become something, to explore different aspects of oneself i.e. vulnerable, dark, fun, gentle, full force, anger...chameleon-like!  It was big labour of love for me, Feargal Murray (pianist and right hand man) and Eanna Hickey (mad music genius by night and barrister by day).

As an interpreter of songs you love, you have to have a good reason to sing them, so it was important to make them my own, and people have been very kind in responding that they think we did. Some of my favourite writers are on the album, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Arcade Fire, Trent Reznor, Radiohead, David Bowie. Gary Lightbody from Snow Patrol very kindly wrote These Days, just for me. I designed the cover which includes our little touring rabbit which lights up, he gets asked about it a lot! Inside is a collage of pictures from the years of touring. I like the hands on approach to creating everything, from the artwork to the music. Hmmm - fave song?  I suppose Ship Song is my favourite for its poignancy and gentleness. And for the rocking out madness, it would be Revelator.

LC: So you start off in May with your current touring show Feel, then a rare chance for people to see your highly acclaimed past shows The Dark Angel and Chameleon? What made you want to revive those shows?

CS: I'm on the train heading from Gateshead to London now and halfway through the UK Feel tour. I was really delighted, after the successful run it had in Edinburgh, that we could bring it on the road and people have been lovely and very kind about it!! So I’m wrecked but happy and loving travelling around the UK. I decided to revive the old shows so people who may have not have seen them get a chance to see and hear different songs. The Dark Angel had toured extensively internationally and received a few awards and there have been requests to bring it back. We are currently touring the Dark Angel in Germany so it’s nice to bring it back to the UK.

As for Chameleon, that had 5 star sell out success at Edinburgh but the only place we brought it to was Royal Festival Hall. Feargal and I got caught up writing music and performing for Royal Shakespeare Company (Rape of Lucrece, which premieres at Edinburgh International Festival this year, before starting its worldwide travels) we hadn't time to take that show on tour. It's really lovely to revisit some favourite songs from all three shows, looking forward to Cohen’s Anthem, Oh Lord (Cave), Old Folks (Brel), Five Years and Rock n Roll Suicide (Bowie) and others. I share the stage with great friends and brilliant musicians – we’re all excited to be playing London again in the magical, gorgeous Spiegeltent, tent of mirrors!

LC: In August you’re coming back with all new productions…What can we expect then?

CS: Hopefully we’ll still be standing in August, I could be horizontal by then…only kidding!  We will have to create a new show for the album Changeling which will feature all the songs from the album, I'll have had fun over summer creating ideas for each song. I like to create a little world for some of the songs; for others I like to be still and just sing the words. I'm really looking forward to giving each song its best foot forward, brushing their hair to the right and sending them on their way! The Changeling show will be at the Priceless London Wonderground at the end of August/beginning September. I will also be hosting The Cats Miaow, a variety show we have done in Ireland and London. It's a purrrrfeeect evening of lovely brilliant guests, some musicians, dancers, rappers.  I may sing a few songs in there as well.

Listen and Download Camille HERE.

14/15 May 2012
Duration: 90 min
0844 545 8282 boxoffice@underbelly.co.uk

31 May 2012
Duration: 90 min
0844 545 8282 boxoffice@underbelly.co.uk

1 JUNE 2012
Duration: 90 min
0844 545 8282 boxoffice@underbelly.co.uk

28, 29, 31 AUGUST, 1 SEPTEMBER 2012
Duration: 90 min
0844 545 8282 boxoffice@underbelly.co.uk

Author: Sara Colohan

Sara Colohan interviews Camille O’Sullivan. Architect, singer, performer…superstar! — LondonCalling.com