“Wabi Sabi is a kind of atmosphere in the air. It’s philosophical.”


Some market stalls are subtle. Yosuke’s stall is perhaps the subtlest of them all. On first glance you’ll see nice denim items – modern Japanese reproductions of American jackets in Wabash or denim. Then suddenly, an aged, ragged item catches your eye, an item which is impossibly resonant. There’s a large, long bag in a cotton duck, which looks like a piece of ancient American workwear – which turns out to be designed for making Sake. A military coat in a similar, coarse cotton weave is a variant of the traditional, thick work jacket, designed for firemen. This is history, subtle, resonant and, from the European perspective, strange. How lucky we are to have people like Yosuke to explain it to us.

Tell me about this object you’re holding, which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.
This is a sort of kimono, particularly it’s called Sashiko. Which was worn by farmers, from a long time ago, actually 140 to 150 years old. It’s from, I think, the North of Japan. My colleague is collecting this stuff from antique markets and dealers in Japan.

And this is natural, plant indigo. And would you call this the Edo Ai period?
It is natural indigo. And that time in Japan, there are still samurai and of course Ninjas, even.

When did you move to London? And how do the markets here compare to Japan?
If comparing to Japan, the number of the lovely local markets, I mean not only antique market, is absolutely larger and it has roots into people’s life and culture of city or town in the UK. From the beginning of my life in here, market is always full of wired stuff I’d rarely seen. So it was really tough to hold myself back from jumping at them. I really like the scenery and atmosphere of London market, that people are wandering around with various faces, looking forward to discovering stuff. I’m really enjoying to stand in my stall every week. I appreciate organizer Mike.

How did you come to run a stall in Spitalfields?
I’ve been taking over this stall from my friend, Yuji, who had run A stall here for three years and he had took over this stall from his boss who was selling these sort of stuff in here. So actually I am in the third generation. Yuji’s coming back maybe next February so I hope that we can keep suppying interesting garments to our customers.

How did you get into antique fabrics and vintage clothing?
I’ve been collecting vintage clothes since when I was 15, it was the second vintage boom in Japan. Since then, I have loved stuff and garments which we can imagine something interesting story behind them.
We have lots of vintage clothing stores though, mostly they are selling the stuff has only particular style, specially American vintage has been still popular in Japan for ages. I thought it would be interesting,if I could create more chaotic space like a miniature of this world then I came here.

So you have a shop in Japan as well?
Yes. I’m planning to open my shop in my hometown.

When did you start dealing in Japanese, as opposed to American, clothing?
I still love both. I think in this three years this sort of stuff is getting popular especially in Europe, so maybe three years ago.

How do you find your stock?
In the antique markets of Japan. There are many local ones. Lots of markets. It’s difficult to say, each area has its character, it depends what your favourite is.

Tell me about these black coats, in a basket weave cotton, what are they?
They are firemen’s coats, very thick cotton. Of course it’s a very old one, I think 1960s. Again it’s called a Sashiko, and the reason it’s very thick is that when they go to a fire, they make it wet, to protect from the fire.

And tell me about this item, it’s in cotton duck or canvas.
This is dyed with persimmon. It’s called a Sakabukuro – Sake bag – when people made Sake they put the rice into here. And the liquid comes out of the bottom. I think it’s from before the war, this custom has been lost already and people’s using machine. I reckon maybe from 1920~40s.

This indigo Sashiko, with all the wear and repairs, embodies for me the notion of Wabi Sabi, it’s so beautifully aged. Is that why you like it? And how would you explain Wabi Sabi?
Haha, yes it does. If I explain about Wabi Sabi in my words, that is one of expression of beauty and a kind of atmosphere in the air around the object or space. It connects to Zen mind or Ku. It’s very philosophical and I need more practice to express or embody it.

David White, denim Indiana

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“I was once chased off a property by a guy with a rattlesnake.”

 

Old items have stories behind them. And few of the stories are as gripping as those of some of the items on David White’s stall . It’s jam-packed with blue-collar treasures, beautifully-worn US workboots, or deadstock jackets that have languished in some forgotten store out West for decades. Other items, like the jacket he’s holding, boast almost unbelievable pedigrees, evoking stories of tough guys who didn’t always make it home.

Why vintage clothing?
I’ve always been very passionate about vintage clothing,  it’s always been my thing – I was always a big fan of Levi’s and vintage leathers. And about eight years ago I was dissatisfied with what I was doing. I was a set designer,  building and designing sets for TV shows, and I decided to follow my passion. I think you’ve got to do what’s most important in life.

I’d spent a bit of time in the states on holidays, my wife was working over there at the time so I kind of knew about the vintage scene in America. Back then it was possible to find the odd treasure in a thrift store. I didn’t have any contacts. I just bought myself a ticket to Los Angeles, and off I went.

What’s the most resonant piece you’ve owned?
I was honoured to briefly own a 1920s pair of Levi’s 501s, that’s probably about as good as it gets. But I’ve also had some wonderful pieces with not so high price – I like a lot of no-brand generic denim. I had an original A2 [flying jacket], that was nice, had a wonderful 30s US Navy denim work-coat that was nice, and I like a lot of the old knitwear, there was was a company called Utah Knitting mils, they made some of the most amazing sweaters I’ve ever seen in terms of style, durability and all round quality.

Tell me about the diamonds in the rough, the items that you’ve come across where you didn’t expect them.
At one point I found a pair of ’50s 501s in with the offset belt loop in a thrift store. And digging though the bottom of a rag pile once,  I saw a 1940s woolen CPO (Chief Petty Officer) shirt that had a nice embroidered anchor on the breast pocket.

Is it getting harder to find original items?
Absolutely. By the month, I’d say.

Tell me about the jacket you’re holding.
It’s a USN N-1 deck jacket  that belonged to a crew member of the USS Swordfish. If you google the submarine USS Swordfish you come up with a whole bunch of information, they were a pretty ruthless bunch and they sunk a lot of ships. It’s £150 more than a standard jacket. It’s a jacket that’s been there.

Have you had any close shaves on your buying trips?
I was once chased off a property by a guy with a rattlesnake on the end of a stick. I do a lot of cold calling, we go out into the west and drive around, and if we see a likely looking ranch and it looks like they haven’t thrown anything away in 80 years we call in… and this guy was not taking any chances. And I’ve met some lovely people. People who still live out in the west, with no running water, who generate their own power, live and die out in the ranch.

David White’s Ragtop Vintage is at Spitalfields, Thursdays; he has recently opened a shop in the basement, 1a Turville St E2. You can find his blog here.

John Andrews, Fishing Philosopher

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“It’s a form of time travel, that takes people back.”

 

Some market stalls have a unique resonance, embodying history, like a kind of tactile time travel. John Andrews’ is such a stall: tiny pieces of fishing tackle with instantly striking craftsmanship, books and ephemera with distinctive typefaces and colours that are instantly evocative. But they’re not stuffy – these are items designed to be used and handled. Fittingly, just as these items send the viewer on a journey, they have sent their seller on his own journey, one that tells of both modern London, and an older Britain.

Why fishing equipment?
I worked at Creation Records – I was marketing manager there. When the label folded at the end of 1999 I had been collecting vintage fishing tackle, rods and reels and bits and bobs for years, which I used to go fishing with. When I would go fishing I’d talk loosely with a friend of mine about writing a book and the idea was I’d write it when I got a lot older. The night Creation finished we went to the pub, and he said, Now you can write your book!  So I started writing when Creation stopped and got a deal for it. And off the back of that I started to do bits and pieces of freelance journalism on angling, and the social history of angling. And obviously I earned very little money doing that, so I started to sell bits and pieces of my fishing tackle collection.

Then, by chance we had a clear-out at home, took a stall at the old Camden Passage, and we sold general antiques down there, with my wife. Then when it got really cold I just carried on with the fishing tackle. I was at Camden Passage for a few years, then we all switched over to Spitalfields, and it’s grown from there.

What was your role at Creation – did you ever consider staying in the music industry?
I was Marketing Manager – I worked with great artists, including Teenage Fanclub, the Super Furry Animals, The Boo Radleys. I never thought about going back – I made a conscious decision to leave [the industry],  mainly because I didn’t think I’d find another label like Creation. I’d worked in the business for 13 years and Creation was a highlight, it was where I wanted to end up. I thought, I’m not gonna have so much fun and job satisfaction, and work with such good artists and have such freedom and autonomy ever again.

Explain the magic of antique fishing tackle.
I think it’s do with with its reliquary. All the objects are artefacts. When people pick them up, and this applies not just to me, it’s a form of time travel, that takes them back to when they first used that tackle when they were younger, or a relationship they had with a father, or an older person who taught them fishing. They just have a kind of votive quality. It takes people somewhere else.

And the other aspect is, the tackle in itself is beautiful because a lot of it was made by hand in Britain by specialist makers, either in small cottage industry workshops, or large factories, where people made them for their entire life. In, say, the float department at Allcocks, you’d start as an apprentice at age 14 and work your entire life for the company. So there’s an  integrity to the products. And you have dozens and dozens of lost brands of tackle because as the 20th century developed the soul fell out of British fishing tackle-making, eroded by cheaper imports from the far East, and eventually most companies either went bust or were bought out by aggressive American companies whose marketing relied on cheap products at a low price. Whereas British fishing tackle had always relied on expensive product at a high price – and that represented, I think, better  value than buying cheap tackle. British fishing tackle makers, or Abu of Sweden, Mitchell of France, Dam of Germany and other Italian makers, they were all great makers.They’re now celebrated by collectors and dealers across the world. It’s like somebody buying a good brand of jeans. Why would you buy a vintage pair of Levi’s when you could go down to TK Maxx and buy something for a tenner? It’s about quality, integrity, where that item takes you on a journey in your head.

Tell me about fishing itself, how it makes you feel.
The reason people do it is very hard to describe to somebody who doesn’t fish. I think people have a fishing gene and it’s in them. It’s something that goes back generations, to  when in this country 150 years ago every adult male fished, pretty much, across all the social classes, it was deep in people’s DNA, their connections to the landscape, the water and all the elements. As industrial society grew people were removed from that. Now people are detached. Ultimately for me when I go fishing it’s like going through a door into another world. Once you’ve gone through that door you can’t ever come back.

Is there one item, that you’ve come across, that you particularly love, or that embodies all those feelings?
It was probably the first time I bought a cased fish. Taxidermy is quite a tricky area, mainly because there’s a lot of bad taxidermy out there, fake, reproduction and plastercast  taxidermy. But an original piece by an original maker has a real atmospheric quality, and can be quite possessing. And it’s an art-form that’s coming back – you have modern taxidermists like Polly Morgan reinvigorating it. The first cased fish I bought was was a pike. That had been mounted by PJ Horton,  of 112 Fernhead Road Paddington, a 20lb pike caught in 1928 on the Thames. I bought it at auction at Bonhams and I paid far too much money for it. It’s got a real presence. It’s on my wall with lots of other examples.

It’s places like market stall that help perpetuate this culture that you love. But how do you see the future of market stalls in London?
I think it could go one of two ways. I think there’s a renaissance in people visiting markets and using them to buy things, items for their lives, partly driven by food and farmers markets. Then the whole phenomenon of ‘vintage’ has created a new generation of people into fleamarkets. However, I think the traditional places where you’d have a fleamarket, a piece of waste land or abandoned parking lot, because of of the growth in the value of land they are now few and far between. Spitalfields is a really good example. When we started it was a big empty space, with multiple uses, a football pitch at night, then the house clearance vans would come in and there’s a full on proper market. And then.. they turned [the building]  really into a retail theme park.

The market sits in there and it works well because of the local community, the Bohemian feeling in this part of London. But it needs to be be managed very sensitively, so that the soul of the market, the style of the traders and the essence of dealing isn’t lost. We don’t want to become a theme park. It’s got to remain real. It’s got to be somebody with a van, with a load of gear, coming in, chucking it on a table – and people coming in and finding treasure.

John Andrews is at Spitalfields Antique Market on Thursdays. You can find his blog, on fishing and ephemera, at Andrews of Arcadia


Steve Sorrell, distressed seller

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“I sold a cupboard that someone said looked like a train wreck. But it reflects my outlook. I cannot stand anything poncey. ”

 

On a good day, Spitalfields covered market is one of the great markets of the world; while some of the shops in the area charge premium prices, you often can pick up an industrial lamp, a well-worn display case, or an intriguing rare item of workwear from a stall for a shockingly reasonable amount. Steve Sorrell’s stall is the perfect example; I can’t imagine it anywhere but Spitalfields, and its combination of functionality, good honest wear and a quirky Englishness is instantly recognisable. But get there early, while the morning frost is still in the air; like several local traders, a lot of his stock tends to be snapped up by dealers, who will charge you a premium for shopping in their cosy, centrally heated showroom.

The items you pick have something consistent about them, don’t they? How would you describe it?
I just go for a look… you just get a gut feeling. And when you do Spitalfields, you buy very much for that area. Tastes change, it’s difficult to describe; to be good at this game, and now it is a game, you’ve got to do your homework, keep up with  trends -  it’s all linked up with art, design and everything these days. Antiques used to be antiques, now it’s more about creating a look. Also at Spitalfields you get young people not interested in provenance,  they just want something to look right in their flat. As for me I started out in the early ’80s dealing with art deco, than started getting into 20th Century Design, then  loads people jumped on the bandwagon, so  now I go for something quirky and unusual.

And how do you find your artefacts?
I’ve been doing it for so long I’ve got loads of connections, and mates in the house clearance game, then there’s auctions, several good car boot sales where we live – it’s mainly a question of getting up early in the morning. I’ve never done it full time – I work at the market Thursdays and I go out hunting mainly on Saturday and Sundays.

So many antiques these days are over-restored, as if they’re supposed to be new. But not yours. They’re all attractively… distressed.
You have to buy stuff that you like, to be honest with you. I like stuff that’s well used, well worn, I don’t like stuff that’s ornate or over restored. I sold a cupboard last week, a woman said it looked like it came out of a train wreck, but it’s still had that great used look, which reflects my outlook on life. Basically, I cannot stand anything poncey.

Why the blue scooter?
I’ve got a friend in Hampshire does house clearance and he comes up with the most wonderful things. I’d bought lots of stuff and was leaving his house and he said, This is you. I said great, and I just love it.

What’s your favourite object that’s passed through your hands recently?
I picked up a beautiful old workbench, that had obviously been in someone’s garage or workshop for years and years. It was splattered with paint, there were saw-marks in it, it was something that was obviously used over over again, and it was made by someone who had absolutely no idea of aesthetics whatsoever, it just had a practical use. But because it  was 50 or 60 years old, the way the wood had darkened and it had marked, it looked beautiful. When I took it home I cleaned it up, scrubbed it clean, put loads of wax on it, polished it –  and in the end  it looked like something that had come out of a medieval house, it was absolutely beautiful. I took it to the market and I sold it pretty much within an hour to a guy in the East of London who is a fantastic photographer. He put it in his kitchen. And it was perfect, and it was wonderful that something so simple could be so beautiful.

That story embodies all of this, the issue of finding old objects a new home
A lot of people do this to make lots of money and I’ll never make lots of money out of it… I love to share my enthusiasms with people. It sounds stupid but I’d rather make a small profit and know it’s going to someone that’s going to love it and enjoy it. That’s important to me.

Steve Sorel is at the covered market, Spitalfields, Thursdays. Get there early.


“It will be a constant fight – I think there will be a turnaround where people realise the markets maketh the area.”


In the years we’ve seen Paul Francis around Greenwich, Spitalfields or Dulwich, we’ve never seen him wear  the same outfit twice. His stall is a treasure trove: tweed plus fours, Northampton-made brogues, fine jackets, army officer boots, thick woolen socks, Mackintoshes, Tootal paisley scarves – purposefully so, for often if he has a special item of stock, he’ll hide the gem away, so the customer can experience that joy of discovery that drives us all. His aesthetic is obvious, but hard to define – but his stall is always a joy, an oasis of 1940s England, reinvented for the modern city.

How would you describe your stock?
One of the names I use is Urban Shepherd. That’s it in a nutshell. Countrywear, things made elsewhere, being worn in in London. Some people would call it boring, I call it well-crafted traditional clothing made to be colourful and interesting, with a twist.

How did you get into your Urban Shepherd Look?
The best things that have happened to me have always happened by accident. I’ve bought vintage clothing for a number of years, then spent 12 years in property, at that time always bought new stuff. None of that new stuff lasted, but all the stuff I brought previous to that lasted. In 1996-1997 I designed clothes, first bought vintage stuff and got it remodelled, then from that I did a menswear range called Abdul Jamal, using traditional fabrics, again with a bit of a twist and a bit of color, then bit by bit I got into what I do now, so I’ve been doing stalls for maybe two years.

How do you track down your stock?
The kind of things I find and look out for I’m seeing every day, whether it be charity shops, boot sales, ragyards, and also people bringing me stuff who have an idea what I want, people seem to know my style, and there are people who buy for me, so it’s a combination.

What’s your finest recent discovery?
Just now, I found a jacket in a bunch of stuff at a ragyard. I didn’t even look at it, I felt the weight of it, and I thought… throw it in there. Normally I would try everything on, and I didn’t this time because I knew intrinsically it was something nice. Then discovering it, looking at all the zips and the rest of it, it didn’t have any label but I thought I’ve seen that lining, it looks familiar. And it was a Belstaff, a wonderful jacket, maybe from the 50s.

We’re in Greenwich, where one market has gone and the second one is under threat. How do you see the future of markets in London?
We’re going to have to fight. It will be a constant fight from here on in, and I think there will be a turnaround where people realise the markets maketh the area, as opposed to if we take the market away that’ll improve the area. The market is the lifeblood of the area. All the places people want to live, they’ve all had markets in. It’s crazy how they want to take it away, but I think there’s a fight back. It will turn around but I don’t know when.

Why the shoe horn?
I like things to be able to more than one thing. It’s useful, you can put beautiful, well-made shoes on with it. And it’s a piece of furniture.

Paul Francis is on Camden Passage Wednesdays, Spitalfields Thursday, Greenwich Clock Market, most Saturdays and Sundays, and Dulwich Village Fashion Fair, last Sunday of every month.