I can’t remember exactly when I started taking interest, perhaps during my teenage years in Manado when Mom began collecting vintage chinaware from the Dutch colonial time, but I realized it was the years overseas that nurtured my penchant for vintage objects. Most probably because, instead of dusty and dirty like in here, the flea markets overseas are clean and chic.
The collective interest or at least public awareness of the historical, or commercial, value of antiques and vintage objects in Indonesia has only been growing in recent years. I’m guessing economic growth was a major factor—as the mass got busy racing to leave simpler lifestyle, new and shiny objects made much more impression to mark progress than some old stuff that were reminder of less prosperous past. Hence why many old objects were neglected or discarded, unloved and unpreserved. Added with climate factor, where objects collect dust and get oxidized faster under the tropical sun, it’s no wonder that many antique or vintage objects that are unearthed lately often can’t be restored to their original splendor.
People often incredulously ask me to explain the beauty of these yesteryear objects, which of course is equal to asking someone why s/he likes a certain perfume. Your senses subconsciously pick up various notions emanating from an object, stirred further in your brain with the stored memories or earlier predilections, before voila, you form a fondness. On my case of vintage maybe it’s the bygone designs, perhaps it’s the disappearing craftsmanship quality, probably the sentimentality of owning a piece that has witnessed history much longer than my own– quite possibly, all of those reasons.
I’ve heard other reasons from fellow vintage aficionados. Unique designs compared to the cookie-cutter mass productions, more eye-pleasing than the minimalistic modern lines, not to mention eco-friendly for reusing what’s already available than taking out from draining natural resources. Some cynics have even suggested that the cool cachet has also drawn more crowds to revisit vintage and antique paraphernalia, and to a certain extent, I agree with that.
Yet, in the true spirit of sustainability argument, all kinds of (vested) interests are fine and dandy to me at this point. You need the buzz to spark mainstream attention, which will grant access to educate further and open doors to new ideas. The maiden step towards IT was taken collectively by a few different communities last week through the first Indonesia Vintage Week, and I took a little bashful pride aside in having been invited to participate for an installation.
Held for four days in one of Jakarta’s prominent malls, jaded Jakartan mall rats got an exposure to antique traders, vintage and retro designers, flea market sellers, recycle crafters, and a couple of installations of vintage fashion, furniture, and motorcycle. As happens to any first attempt, mistakes were made. The themed installations couldn’t be erected properly due to strict mall policies, the participants were spread out in different spots that made it impossible to project a unified ambience, just to name a couple of glaring problems. Yet, sitting through the Opening press conference and observing interactions between mall visitors and participants throughout the event, I’m really glad that these communities got together to bravely taking the plunge.
We found the lifestyle journalists who attended didn’t even quite understand the industry definitions of vintage (an object at least 25-30 years old) and antique (an object at least 100 years old, in accordance with 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act), so that was the first thing the panelists happily shared. We also found a misguided notion about vintage objects being unreasonably expensive, so there was another sharing about the law of supply and demand in this particular market.
Interactions with visitors were even more colorful. A young couple discovered that to achieve the shabby chic look they found in Instagram they wouldn’t actually need to import furniture designed by Rachel Ashwell herself. Some middle-aged men were thrilled to meet vintage gramophone and motorbike enthusiasts half their age. Dozens of kids spent a good afternoon learning how to craft from discarded materials. A label-bedecked woman expanded her fashion knowledge when I explained that not only Diane von Furstenberg’s iconic wrapdress wasn’t designed in this millennium, the Zandra Rhodes’ 1970s painted chiffon designs might fetch twice on e-Bay than what she paid for her new Prada sunglasses.
But, my watershed moment took place late Sunday afternoon, a few hours before Indonesia Vintage Week folded, when a collegiate-looking lovebirds sauntered in, seemingly unaware of the event. A pair of vintage teacups in delicate rose pattern displayed by a seller instantly stole the girl’s attention, but the price tags were above her pocket money. The boy peered in closely, before exclaiming in a genuine a-ha moment, “There are plenty like these in my late grandma’s house! We didn’t know anyone would like those old stuffs. I’ll ask Mom not to throw them away and give to you instead.”
She flashed him a sweet smile and hand-in-hand they walked away, blissfully unaware of me standing nearby flashing my own smile like some proud older sister. In that short moment, some precious vintage teacups were saved from the fate of becoming a landfill, and a budding vintage lover was born.
In vintage we trust. The cheeky sticker printed by the committee has said it all.