Licentiate Column 10/01/13: The Vintage Sessions

This is a tale of two (vintage) cities. One is our capital, the other is a different shade outside of The Pale – so to speak. In the past six years, Cork has experienced a surge in interest in vintage clothing, accessories and homewares. Dublin, on the other hand, has been in dealing in vintage ever since Homo Erectus picked up a second-hand bison fur and ,“Hmm, this might be worth a few nuts and berries”.

It was with that slightly odd mental picture in mind that I emailed Irene and Ruth (no last names please, they’re like Prince and Madonna), the organisers of Dublin’s Vintage Sessions, in the tentative hopes of getting a press pass and seeing the masters in their natural environment. They emailed back, asking if I could speak at a panel talk on the relevance of vintage clothing in modern Ireland. I couldn’t say no. Actually, I could, but that would have been rude – and like most columnists I welcome any chance to hit people over the head repeatedly with my opinions.

On December the 6th, I rolled up to a stately-looking Georgian house on South William Street, the epicentre of all things fashion in Dublin. All four floors of the building were devoted to some aspect of the vintage industry. Vendors from all over Ireland (including Cork’s own Elsa and Gogo) were touting the best of their Christmas stock, women were having victory rolls and cat-eyeliner flicks administered in the hair and beauty sections and sparkling pink cocktails in teacups were being passed around willy-nilly.

The top floor was my domain, not just because that’s where the toilet was, but also because it was home to the fashion talks – a programme of interesting and illuminating discussions were planned for throughout the day. Especially enjoyable was the talk on forgotten Irish icons presented by co-organiser Ruth (Griffin, by the way), although it was unnerving to note how many of them left the country for much greener pastures.

It was a cover-all-bases vintage event; commerce, discussion, beautification, community. Nothing has been done quite on this scale in Cork, where the onus is often on selling – vintage fairs are markets as opposed to all-inclusive ‘events’. Vintage Sessions co-organiser Irene (O’Brien, just in case you were wondering) expressed a love for Le Chat Noir, Cork-based organisers of beautifully-executed, well-considered vintage fairs. I concur with this evaluation.

And yet. Vintage is a movement that comes in gradual stages. First, it’s a cult pastime, done only by a few people. Then, it’s mainstream commerce. Finally, it becomes a community, a melding of the previous two stages. Cork has yet to reach this community stage – something I’m sure many vintage vendors would argue against. What shapes this community aspect is the buyer, not the seller.

In Cork, there has been no such event quite like The Vintage Sessions, in which fifteen euro buys you a makeover, a photoshoot, panel talks and all the sparking stuff you can handle as well as the opportunity to buy clothes. For many people (who don’t make their living selling vintage), vintage is an omniscient way of life not just pinned down to the clothes they wear. While I love vintage fairs, I would love to see more ‘events’ running concurrently.

I realise that the following is a statement that may result in having eggs thrown at me, but maybe we could learn something from Dublin. Maybe.