The Laneway Series: talking all things vintage
Step into Arkive Vintage and you will discover a treasure trove of eclectic, beautifully presented vintage clothing and accessories spanning decades from the 1920s to 1990s.
Behind this selection of handpicked items from Europe and America are the hip duo, Angie and Jake Varnam. As former traders at Brick Lane’s famous Vintage Market in the East End of London, and with extensive backgrounds in vintage fashion, the Varnam’s journey to date has been an incredibly interesting one.
We spoke with Jake about all things vintage, the Brick Lane era, and how to incorporate an Arkive Vintage piece into your wardrobe.
You met each other working in the Vintage industry. Did you both grow up with a love for all things vintage?
Angie and I come from very different cultural backgrounds but both certainly had the precursors for a passion of all things vintage from an early age. Angie’s parents were migrants from Egypt who came to Australia in the 1970s. They then moved to Melbourne where she was born then later to Queensland. I grew up in inner city Leicester in middle England surrounded by Victorian industrial factories and urban heartlands. Both these places of origin are very different at first glance, but in many ways after closer inspection have a common bond. This commonality of history, real history- is what I think brought an initial connection between Angie and I.
When you grow up in a country or have migrant parents who came from a place steeped in history, naturally what’s within is an appreciation for what went before you. With this appreciation of history comes a cultural understanding of the link between community, the cultural history of that community and its identity. Having a love for vintage naturally leads you to wonderful aspects of culture such as music, art, and theatre.
When I was young and discovering grunge, punk music and Brit Pop, I wondered where all these amazing artists were getting their clothes, because I would go to the high street and not find a single item that my heroes were wearing. On a fateful day when I entered my first vintage store, I soon realised that this was where these creative men and women were going for their fashion. From that point on, I was hooked.
You traded at Brick Lane’s famous vintage market in the East End of London. What were some of the highlights of this adventure?
Angie and I owe so much to this area because it is one of the most concentrated places for vintage anywhere in the world. It helped formulate our view of openness, multicultural beauty and creativity. It also solidified for us that the fear of not fitting in was in fact a misplaced concern, and this mindset only inhibited the ability for people and communities to express themselves openly.
It’s very hard to pin down specific moments as highlights because there are so many, but for me the more general highlights were the people we worked with, served or became friendly with such as very famous artists, musicians, big bands, film stars and also local general characters who were part of the Brick Lane community. Angie managed operations for one of the biggest vintage companies in the world for ten years. They had two stores based on Brick Lane and she worked with or styled an endless amount of the who’s who of the music and movie industries such as Tom Yorke (Radiohead) Courtney Love, Pete Doherty (Libertines), Kiera Knightly, Florence And The Machine…the list goes on. For me, a general highlight was the energy and colour of that time down Brick Lane in the mid 2000s because it was an exciting, creative period and the buzz of real excitement was palpable each and every day. Each day you never knew what to expect, who would walk through the door, plonk down next to you in the pub, or start searching through the vinyl next to you in Rough Trade Records. Ah, I do miss it!
Where do you source your vintage items from?
When we opened our first store back in 2012 all our products came from Europe. We now import mostly from the US due to logistics and exchange rates but we compliment what we get with exclusive vintage product from Europe such as European military or French work wear etc. Europe is particularly steeped in cultural history but America has its own unique story and is full to the brim of what I call popular cultural history. Combining these two sources of product we feel gives us a unique selling point over other companies who mix B grade vintage items with Chinese made and imported newly made products. Quality of product and the high level of grading for A-grade one off product is something we do best and believe is the true heart of a sincere and genuine vintage company.
Are there any vintage trends you are seeing today?
The trends we follow on a whole are focused around what is happening at a street level in London. In cities such as London and other global fashion iconic cities, major trends are complemented by what we term as ‘micro trends’, and in this mix you get a truly eclectic combination of styles and individual looks bursting all around you.
Here in Australia, trends tend to be restricted to one or two major commercial trends and this has been the case for some time. Right now, we are seeing branded clothing, high waist and baggy fits which in lineage go back to the golden age of house or acid house back in the States and the UK. However, the current version of this vintage era is very clean cut and the original elements of punk, grunge and what some may term as edge, have in my opinion been lost due to the influence of Instagram and social media more generally. Having a crisp perfect look, with perfectly made make-up, posed for a perfectly tailored position, for a perfectly taken photograph is more paramount to what was back in our day, the most important facet to it all- which was to have fun and be authentic in what you were and how you expressed yourself no matter what.
For someone new to buying vintage clothing, what would you recommend purchasing first, why, and how should you wear it?
We believe and were always taught to mix old and new. Never just do all vintage and never just do new. Mixing both together contemporises what you create and also allows you to consider everything in fashion terms available to you. Starting with vintage for the first time will be daunting because there is so much to look at and so many different patterns and shapes that you may never have encountered before. Embrace all of this, view it as if you were painting a picture and where once you had only black and white to choose from, you now have all the colours of the rainbow at your disposal.
Be creative and allow yourself to be open to all things new, challenging and different because you will be surprised by how liberating this can be. Vintage basics are good to start with and classic vintage prints. For example, vintage basics such as Levi jeans, or branded denim jackets are quality items easy to incorporate into a more conventional wardrobe. Vintage tees and shirts are androgynous pieces of clothing that you can easily mix and match with simpler high street or vintage basics.
When looking for items be prepared to try on lots of options. If you are looking through shirts grab five or six to try at least because every piece in vintage is unique and like no other, so grabbing one item and it not fitting and then leaving is really missing out on the whole vintage experience. Shopping vintage requires more thought, more creativity and more vision than perhaps shopping high street. But all this is something we should always actively seek out in our lives - being creative and allowing ourselves to think more deeply will in turn make our experiences more substantial and a lot more enjoyable.