Last week, in a strongly-argued piece in The New Statesman, British author and journalist Steven Poole took a stand against the modern world’s obsessive pursuit of authenticity. “Second-hand clothes have been re-described as ‘vintage’ as though they were fine wines which flatteringly project an air of discriminating scholarship on to the prospective buyer. Some new clothes call themselves pre-worn, faded, or distressed, soaking the product in an ersatz history and off-the-peg personality,” wrote Poole, naming products that “featured dents, scratches and areas where the paint or varnish has been painstakingly sandpapered off or the white plastic trimmings have been yellowed”.
Delightful or dampening, authenticity has indeed become a modern affliction. But it is hardly about making it look deliberately old to suit new aspirations. It is not even a passing urge that can be fixed by merely rummaging through a grandmother’s time-worn trousseau. At Lounge, when we first thought of a luxury edition on retro modernism, many pertinent questions and terms (French and other local cousins of retro) came tumbling out. Do you mean the 1970s, the 1960s or the 1930s? asked some of our guest writers. Vintage or antique? Really old or new vintage? Nostalgia or just a longing for cherished things that grows intense with the passage of time? Postmodernism, right? But when was modernism?
This graph of zigzag thoughts, this spontaneous thesaurus pinned down the theme for the pages that follow. Retro modernism or vintage modernism, also described as time travel, is a combination of elements, movements and periods from the past tweaked with modernist functionality. As a concept it is both new and old.
But for the past couple of years, in fashion, luxury, design, architecture, leisure, lifestyle, craft and consciousness, it has been invoked like a shared global religion—with designers referencing past centuries for new catwalk collections, young brides visiting revivalists to restore family heirlooms for their digitally smart weddings, travellers paying exorbitant amounts to live in a palace, or brands bringing out heritage products to convert younger clienteles and new markets. From a forgotten chair in an Indore palace to a memory of hot chapatis made with a specially designed wooden rolling pin, from living inside a 200-year-old heritage home, to a fashion interpretation of hanbok, the traditional Korean garment, an old pen that has an almost print-like quality, especially when it is put to thought in Gujarati and Urdu, and a shopping guide to quell your “I want it too” retail urge—we have a lot here. The edition is strewn with less heard, warm and witty personal anecdotes that make it retro modern in a special way.
If the future is just a mysterious blank and the present is only hatching, sometimes in an uninspiring way, the past becomes a refuge. It can be reopened and reused as friend, muse, map and craftsman. It is such a luxury.
■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■
Genuine luxury really means ‘Pehchan’—understanding—of an old, talismanic memory that is precious or a piece of design that has stayed back to become your own.
Global perfumers are circling back to India for retro scents.
Nibs of large and thirsty old Montblanc pens make inking a page an inviting ritual.
Does the business of repetition have an art and a science?
As needlepoint nets attention on global ramps, the traditional Parsi ‘gara’ embroidery returns to roost in fashion portfolios.
A renewed love for all things vintage could lead to exciting new roles for Indian craftspeople.
Almost everything we wear today has the influence of years gone by, and not without reason.
Wedding outfits, wall art, furnishings, installations—vintage textiles and garments are finding many takers.
Guillaume de Seynes—a sixth generatiom Hermès family member, tells Lounge what leather that never weathers means for one of the oldest luxury brands in the world.
This contemporary jewellery designer lives in a 200-year-old heritage home in Hyderabad, juxtaposing tradition with new impulses.
Good news for retronauts: the newest smart watches will look like the designs from the early 1900s.
Radhi Parekh’s Artisans’ gallery in Mumbai turns vintage Indian crafts into coveted modern luxury.
Does time-honoured design work as an anchor in unsettled times or do we use it as a cut-and-paste tactic to generate new trends?
The demand for heritage homes turned into luxury hotels rises as tourists seek newness in nostalgia.
A buyer’s guide for vintage-inspired fashion, luxury, furniture, design, décor and more.