Thursday September 20, 2012
A love for all things vintage
By MELINDA LOOI
Some people are keen on stamps and coins, but our columnist loves collecting all things old, even vodka bottles!
RIGHT now, I am trying to keep calm and collected in the midst of the chaos in my life – the renovations, contractors’ issues, packing and moving, getting rid of things, giving some stuff away, and cleaning up. Hence, I thought it best to write about something that is close to my heart, something I truly enjoy.
And that has to be collecting all things vintage. Some may call it junk, but to me, old things are beautiful. I’ve been collecting since I was little. My grandma used to call me a “rubbish collector” as I would pick up all sorts of bric-a-brac and keep them, in order to make my art masterpiece one day.
Thinking about it, now I know where Max inherited his collector’s habit from. He collects empty boxes, anything and everything, because, he says, he would make something out of it one day soon. It must be in his genes!
I love to up-cycle things. I was asking my uncle in the United States to help me receive some items that could only be shipped to a United States address. He asked why on earth would I want such junkyard rubbish. Somehow, I don’t think he was convinced when I replied: “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”
Among my collections is a line of Absolute Vodka bottles, which I started amassing in 1996 when I was studying in Montreal. I do not touch alcohol, but I just love the vodka bottles. Every time I travel overseas, I make it a point to get a bottle at the duty free centre. As this has been going on for 18 years, I do have quite a cache. I just wish someone would help me consume the alcohol and give the bottles to me so that I can make my dream Vodka bottle Xmas tree. Incidentally, I don’t think I have enough bottles for this yet, so I’m still collecting.
Another favourite item I love to collect are hats. I have been fascinated by hats since forever and always wanted to learn how to be a milliner. About 12 years ago, I started collecting old hats and hat boxes. In 2004, I went so far as to register myself at the Central St Martins College of Art and Design in London for a summer course in hat-making.
Unfortunately, I missed it as I was stuck with work and by the time I arrived in London, it was too late to join the class. Instead, I decided to just try and make one on my own. I read books and went online to study the art of millinery.
However, the more I learned, the stronger the desire to study the art grew, and I’m sure that one day, I will take that elusive course.
I also love vintage accessories – everything from brooches to pendants, especially if they are made of Lucite (a kind of acrylic resin that was popular for jewellery in the 40s and 50s) or rhinestones.
My favourite Lucite jewellery designer has to be Lea Stein of Paris in the 60s. Every time I’m in Paris, London or anywhere in Europe, I visit all the second-hand or old jewellery stores to see if I can get hold of a nice and affordable piece of her work. They are very pricey now as they’ve become veritable collectables.
Speaking of jewellery, I have tons of owl pendants from the 60s and 70s. I know you can easily get owl necklaces or accessories now as it became a hot fashion item last year. But I’m collecting the old ones. Somehow, the settings and materials used are much better in the old items. I also have lots of owl sculptures, figurines, candles, display units and even paintings I drew myself. Perhaps I have an affinity for the nocturnal creature because I work very late into the night.
Someone asked me what it is about owls that fascinates me. Well, I think they are mysterious and strong, like guardian angels. That’s why I have this big owl tattoo on my body with my kids’ names on it, to symbolise how I intend to protect and guide them for as long as I can. My owl “family” is growing, thanks to all my dear friends who are always giving me “new” old owls. Even my children have started doing the same.
I am also a big fan of Enid Collins box clutch bags, and own over 30 pieces. Collins was an artist who painted on wooden boxes and bags. Each and every piece of her work is absolutely amazing. She added plastic gems onto the painted visuals to make them fancier and dressier. In Asia, though, hardly anyone knows her. I accidentally discovered her work seven years ago, when I was looking for an owl figure bag. I fell in love with her work and started collecting them. One day, I would love to show off my collection in my own gallery.
For a while, I was also a crazy collector of medal brooches/pins. I have lots of these from different countries. I love all the colourful ribbons and stars. They make for funky accessories on jackets, especially when mixed with rhinestone brooches. Because of this fascination, I used to visit all the military stores in Canada, and the military jacket/trench coat was my “uniform” while I was there.
I have to admit, I would love to collect Art Deco jewellery and furniture too, but these are beyond my budget at the moment. One can only live in hope!
Basically, I love anything vintage. Who knows, maybe one day I might open a shop of vintage treasures? Or a museum?
Given my penchant for the old, I’m really pleased to see the recent trend of up-cycling in interior design. Many shops and especially restaurants are reworking the old to make them look new, mixing them with modern deco. I think this is simply beautiful. What’s more, it’s an excellent way to reduce waste and energy.
The fact that old things have lasted so long goes to prove how well made they are. Modern junk is nowhere in comparison. The way we’re going, old may be the “new” new! And wouldn’t that be simply wonderful?