From New Design 121
Alistair Welch chats with fashion designer Wayne Hemingway, a man who is eager to share his passion for vintage culture
He made his name as the founder of globally celebrated fashion label Red or Dead, now you’re most likely to find Wayne Hemingway admiring a classic Jaguar or rifling through Northern Soul vinyl. Morecambe-born Hemingway is carving quite a reputation as an events organizer as his calendar of Vintage Festivals goes from strength to strength.
The concept is a relatively simple one. Find a venue, bring along a great range of stall holders with superb vintage clothing and wares, add a rally of classic cars, organize some top DJs and live acts, garnish with some top-notch street food and open the doors to the public to enter the vintage spirit.
All this begs the question, what actually is ‘vintage’? How does an object, a garment, or a record qualify for the tag? Surely it’s about more than simply age. Hemingway agrees, for him vintage is about age, yes, but age mixed with that most essential of ingredients: style.
Hemingway traces his interest in vintage culture to his upbringing in the 1960s and 70s in the north of England. “I grew up wearing second hand clothes because that’s all I could afford,” he says. “Both me and my wife are from fairly poor backgrounds and the whole of the punk movement, especially up north, was about adapting second hand clothes so they didn’t look like charity shop clothes.”
Hemingway turned his passion for clothes into a business when at 18 he and his future wife Geradine moved to London and began selling second-hand clothes on Camden Market. Initially trading to earn enough to survive, their venture grew into something much larger to the point where they were taking over £10,000 a weekend. By the age of 19, Hemingway had opened his first shop.
A life-long thriftiness also plays into Wayne’s love of vintage. “Constantly buying new is wrong and you don’t need to because if you’ve got any style you can make old things look up to date,” he says. “I’m wearing vintage now, just a sweatshirt from the 80s and a pair of brown cords which are probably 70s. If I said I’d bought them in Paul Smith last week nobody would have known the difference. I’ve got an interest in timeless design – things that don’t go out of fashion.”
This ‘timelessness’ is important to Hemingway’s understanding of vintage; a term that he sets in opposition to ‘retro’. “Vintage has to be something that is still relevant because otherwise it becomes retro,” he argues. “[You can] get dressed in leggings and listen to Cyndi Lauper, but Cyndi Lauper has never been cool, it’s kitsch.”
Along with poor Cyndi, Hemingway suggests Findus Crispy Pancakes and Wagon Wheels as cultural phenomena we might safely label retro rather than vintage. “Certain foods that were around in the 70s are still relevant and some aren’t [he’s looking at you Findus Crispy Pancakes] because they have been improved upon,” he says. “If you could improve on Stevie Wonder he wouldn’t be playing Songs in the Key of Life to a sold out Hyde Park. People are not going there because it’s kitsch, because it reminds them of a time they were eating Findus Pancakes, they are going because that album is as good as it gets.”
Hemingway sees his Vintage events as the antithesis of an 80s reunion weekend which, throwing another word into the mix, he calls ‘naff’. “Naff we should leave behind,” he asserts. “Naff we should leave behind and not naff we should show to a new generation.”
He continues: “There’s a difference between vintage and just looking back. You look back so you can see the things that have a massive influence on today. To look back at the 1950s and the Festival of Britain and Robin and Lucienne Day is absolutely valid, but you can also look at the 50s and see things that are like ‘what’s the point?’”
There is certainly a point in reflecting on the heritage of automotive design and a celebration of the motor car was at the heart of Hemingway’s latest event: The Classic Car Boot Sale. Held across an April weekend in the King’s Cross area of London, the event brought together over one hundred classic cars, motorbikes, and scooters, alongside vintage traders and a curated host of design-makers.
“We started Vintage because we felt that going to festivals and events was too full of Bieber and Rhianna and hippy massages and wellbeing,” explains Hemingway. “I was a punk so grew up not liking all that crystal stuff, and in the festival scene there was a lot of that going on. We’ve always liked dancing, going out, and watching bands. One of my favourite clubs was one in Manchester where you could go into a punk room, soul room, a 50s room – some people would dress accordingly for the room. One moment you would hear Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, next it would be Marvin Gaye.”
A similar eclecticism informs the vibe of Vintage events. “Add some amazingly designed cars, good DJs, good bands and great street food and we’ve achieved a fun weekend out,” he concludes.
Matthew Arnold writing in the 19th century thought culture to be “the best which has been thought and said.” Wayne Hemingway’s understanding of vintage culture isn’t too far away: it’s the most stylish garments, the most beautiful cars, the most timeless tunes committed to vinyl. And, above all, that which isn’t naff.