Last week a fashion-insider friend introduced me to Hammersmith’s Vintage Fair. A monthly event, held at the Town Hall, it gathers a broad range of vintage dealers, some of them specialists in particular eras or designers. There was just about everything, from antique textiles to costume jewellery. The dealers were keen to impart their knowledge and enthusiasm for their stock and not just to make a sale. It was a busy, happy atmosphere with a mixture of shoppers from the serious vintage stalker to family groups.
The stall that absolutely stopped me in my tracks though was Fuji Kimono. The kimonos drew me in: a gorgeously tactile array of silks and a table of fabric patches, obis and other accessories. Then I noticed the second rail. Not silk but traditional working clothes in indigo cotton. Some of the items had been patched repeatedly and washed so many times that the cotton was almost silken. In scale, the garments were smaller than most western clothes but clearly sized to allow ease of movement and layering. Ties and fastenings appeared in slightly baffling places. I could have spent all day there trying on different items because what was most fascinating was the feeling of transformation. I felt different wearing these clothes and I looked different too.
As working clothes, they would have been fairly mundane items but they had been cared for attentively and expertly. Patches toned with the garment, subtly changing it with every application, so that as it aged it changed its form, becoming increasingly asymmetric, unique and expressive of its owner. The flamboyant beauty of the kimono silks had initially drawn my eye but the time-worn work wear was where a life was lived and expressed.
The whole experience reminded me of what makes markets and fashion so absorbing: the opportunity to find the unexpected, see things in a new way, try on a new identity, discover beauty in the unexpected.