Think back to the last movie you went to. It was likely some mega-budget, summer tent pole starring a man in brightly coloured pantyhose and loaded to the gills with CGI. At some point you may have thought, “You know, I think the bad rubber shark in Jaws was better. It was more creative.”
Technology has made manufacturing easy and many would argue it’s also made it dull and very often cheap. Not just price wise — but quality wise. That’s a broad statement that doesn’t apply to everything but it feels as if we’ve collectively sacrificed quality and charm for convenience and cost.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that vintage design — clothes, furniture, cars, you name it — is a rapidly emerging trend in Hong Kong. Yes, the argument is that the local culture doesn’t support old stuff, but as the city’s design scene has matured and consumers have gotten pickier the tide has slowly started to turn. Vintage retailers have sprung up all over Hong Kong, the latest in, literally, a pop-up shop in the recently opened PMQ.
Ross Urwin is the co-founder and creative director of design and events firm Infrastructure as well as the mind behind The World Beyond (TWB). Urwin did stints at Liberty and Habitat in London before bringing his old/new eye to Lane Crawford. The continually changing stock at TWB comes mostly from Europe (the UK, Italy, France, Belgium, Germany) and leans toward the mid-century classics: the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s are well represented. But Urwin’s finds don’t all bear the sky-high prices often associated with vintage interiors, and he’s quick to dismiss the notion that local consumers simply don’t like anything that’s not shiny and new. “Oh but they do,” he stresses, while admitting he does have a certain type of customer. At least he did initially during his Lane Crawford days. “That’s absolutely true. The majority were that ‘kind’ of shopper but it changed after around two-and-a-half years. For lack of a better word, you educate your customers about the value of antiques and they come to appreciate them.”
TWB’s vintage items are complemented by a select clutch of new items, like Spanish designer Jaimie Hayon’s Orolog watch collection (an exclusive in Hong Kong), Graz sunglasses from Japan, leatherware for modern electronics and art. But it’s the vintage furniture that really grabs all the attention and Urwin’s dedication to picking through the markets of Europe has clearly paid off. Among the standouts in the store are a pair of Italian burgundy recliners from the 1950s, a rare pair of purple and lime easy chairs (also Italian) that are way cooler than that sounds, a German circular chrome and glass shelving unit, a 1960s Giovanni Ausenda coffee table with built-in wine cooler, an English polished metal chest, and English industrial flight path tilley lamps from the ’40s — which would have been lit with candles back in the day. Also of particular note is a 1980 triptych of paintings by Italian artist Vittorio Maria Di Carlo. That said, Urwin plans on swapping out the stock frequently, so if you see the perfect sideboard and decide to sleep on it, if it suddenly vanishes, ask after it. Oh, and there are garden gnomes.
So who’s browsing The World Beyond? So far everyone and Urwin expects it to stay that way until the shop closes down in November. “It’s a mix. I had a guy in the other day that seemed familiar with everything. He had a lot of Lane Crawford stuff, so he was of that mind,” recalls Urwin. “And then there are people who see something and just fall in love with a piece. A woman with her kids was in a few days back and [the kids] had a question about absolutely everything … I love that about design. It covers every age.”