The Value of Lo-fi Analogue Vintage Pre-loved Re-purposed Specialty Bespoke Handmade Stuff
Much like the lo-fi photography movement that celebrates imperfect pictures full of light streaks and the gunk from dirty lenses, or the artisan food (bread-making, cake-baking) and beverage (micro/home-brewery, Third Wave coffee) trend, printing too has been going specialty/analogue with the rise of the craft or hobbyist letterpress. The cottage vs mass production thumb-on-the-nose at the Industrial Revolution, ironically inspired by the wedding invites featured on the decidedly mainstream Martha Stewart.
To the layperson, this seemed to be the sequence of events: in 2006, the year Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread recipe arguably started to spawn the artisanal bread renaissance and attendant micro-bakeries, there arrived, opposite Thian Hock Kheng Temple on Telok Ayer Street, Kenny and Karen and Books Actually (now at Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru Estate).
They sold second-hand (and new) books for what seemed an exorbitant amount for those of us who still trawled Bras Basah Complex and lo-fi hand-printed and/or hand-stitched ephemera (postcards, bookmarks, journals, cahiers) that would eventually be parked under the “Birds & Co.” label. The price tag signalled to customers that this was not a thrift shop and at the same time elevated old stuff to objects of desire. The unique quirkiness of the space was enhanced by a series of plastic green soldiers along the stairway to the shop on the second storey, a dunce cap on an olive chair in the corner outside the shop, and retro decor within (including not-for-sale old Polaroid cameras).
Hundredth monkey theory validity aside, a Lomography shop set up before or about the same time on Smith Street before wearing large plastic frames was in fashion.
Then The Little Drom Store, Cat Socrates, and vintage rag and bric-a-brac shops (that somehow also encompass the tchotchke, handmade independent labels etc that inevitably accompany granny’s clothes):
- C K Collection (not Calvin Klein. 586 Serangoon Road),
- David Antiques (215 Rangoon Road),
- Deja Vu Vintage,
- Dulcetfig (facebook),
- Dinky Di’s (Golden Landmark Shopping Complex),
- Dust Bunny Vintage,
- Five Stones Vintage,
- Flea & Trees (facebook),
- Granny’s Day Out,
- Nana & Bird,
- Oakham Market,
- Past Image (#03-08 Excelsior Shopping Centre),
- The Attic Lifestyle Shop (04-146A Far East Plaza),
- The Heritage Shop (93 Jalan Sultan),
- Trippies (42 Bussorah Street),
- Salvation Army Thrift Store(s),
- Stevie’s General Store.
And now, demand has been such that shops (not along Sungei Road) sell vintage / rehabilitated / re-purposed / restored / pre-loved stuff for stiff prices that might shock a person of that certain era. Well it’s a “free economy”, so furniture that you could once get from garage sales or next to the trash can now be acquired in sanitised settings. Though they may not be considered collectibles or antiques (but when do objects make it over that threshold?), retro (including mid-century which may be considered distinct from specifically Singaporean retro) lust can be assuaged at:
- A Thousand Tales,
- Asher’s Vintage Market (facebook),
- Barossa Furnishings,
- Changi Junk Store (facebook),
- Forår: for wood and vintage,
- Hock Siong & Co. (facebook),
- Jennifer’s Vintage and Antique (facebook),
- Journey East (Tan Boon Liat),
- Junkie’s Corner (94 Jalan Senang),
- Koda‘s Commune,
- Belle and Cheu’s Like That One, Long-longtime Store (facebook),
- Lorgan’s The Retro Store (facebook),
- Mad About Vintage,
- Oddyssey – odds and whatnots (facebook),
- Room of Woods (facebook),
- Rumah Kita (facebook),
- Second Charm,
- Soon Soon Hong Huat (by Booksactually),
- Tong Mern Sern Antiques Arts & Crafts (acerbic neighbour of The Plain cafe),
- Viewpoint Trading.
If replicas are the barometer of popular taste then it would should be of note that the furniture reproduction business is also booming (though mostly for mid-century -> Modern or vague approximations): Comfort Furniture, Gnee Hong, Lorgan’s The Retro Store, Lush-Lush.
Similarly, if wedding accoutrements are any indication, the healthy rental rates for kombis and old VW beetles should attest to the vintage trend: Kombi Rocks (facebook), Ray’s Vintage Rental, as should recommendations for bespoke invitation cards (see also Ri Stationers, Box In Blue).
So now the letterpress gets its 15 minutes with great excitement being generated about its process and the tactile enjoyment it provides (for more, see Briar Press). Excellent for stationery fetishists:
- Kin Yiap Press – for more commercial design printing,
- Paper Tiger Press – “purveyor of luxuriously tactile paper goods”, “evoking a bygone era of sophisticated correspondence”, “it’s got real soul, but it also isn’t exact”, “subtly unique”,
- PapyPress – 1950s Heidelberg Windmill, “letterpressed print speaks to a bygone era when printing required great skills and the printer regarded as an artist. The result is an art piece that aroused romantic and oftentimes sensual feelings in the beholder”,
- The Gentlemen Press – run by two ladies,
- Perched On A Tree Letterpress (facebook) – when they finally get a space to call their own,
- possibly a Bureau Press at The Bureau?
We were talking about the occurrence of this sort of thing at last week’s somewhat secret supper club, “supper clubs” being unique to urban locations where alienated individuals crave some way of connecting with fellow humans. In the same way, the retro zeitgeist seems to have been propelled by city dwellers so desperate for human warmth that they would pay a premium for anything “artisan”, “bespoke” or “handmade” regardless of actual quality (ah, but who determines quality?).
So what is valuable and what isn’t? If one man’s junk is another man’s prized antique, who is right about such attribution of value? Who is to say that the old couple who have hoarded decades-worth of newspapers in their flat have psychological issues? The fruitfly-lifecycle of these trends tell us this much: some fools sell and some fools buy, but the wise man invests in things with objective value. The Eternal One who is in control of the history and future of humankind tells us as much:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:21-27)