Vintage Treasure Hunting in London

Written By Arman Zulhajar on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 | 1:23 AM

There are very few places in the UK better for hunting out vintage treasures than the world famous Portobello Road, West London. Fifteen minutes walk north from Notting Hill Gate underground station, or five minutes east from Ladbroke Grove station, under a giant tent beside the M40 flyover, Portobello Green Market flourishes on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

On Friday and Saturday at least thirty good dealers can be found selling a fantastic range of vintage clothing and vintage accessories. It's definitely not to be missed. Many of these dealers come to London each weekend from the provinces with new vintage and antique treasures gleaned from charity shops, auctions, house clearances and rag yards to sell on at very reasonable prices.

Serious vintage buyers are there early - 7am - and, in winter, take a torch. You will have plenty of competition, even at seven, because anybody who buys and sells vintage in London will be there. It is also popular with designers - established and student - Cath Kiddson is a regular, but most big-named designers, like Paul Smith - will usually send a representative buyer.

These designers are looking for vintage ideas for conversion. Vintage clothing was constructed quite differently when compared with today's fashion garments made in China or India, as cheaply as possible. It is interesting to see how vintage garments were cut and put together and sometimes, for just a few pounds spent in Portobello Road, a forgotten piece of dressmaking skill can be rediscovered. These details incorporated into the design of a new garment can often improve the shape and fall, possibly making the difference between success and failure of a whole line.

Designers also covet vintage prints and weaves, to be copied and converted. Cath Kiddson has made a huge success of incorporating vintage textile motifs into her designs for home-wares. A colourful printed design on a vintage skirt, dress, scarf, apron or even a lampshade that may have been popular in the nineteen-thirties is now out of copyright and free to convert. Textile print motifs that would have been very familiar to our grandmothers can now be seen copied and used, sometimes with slight alterations or additions, on book covers, plastic bags, tin boxes, rucksacks and (Kiddson again) even tents.

As the sun comes up, activity will be frenetic. Stallholders running back and forth between their vehicles and stalls carrying colourful armfuls of vintage clothing or pushing wheeled rails laden with vintage coats and dresses. Some arrive with anonymous black-plastic sacks bulging with vintage secrets, which are simply tipped onto the floor. Buyers rush from place to place rummaging and haggling over vintage handbags, vintage shoes and even scraps of cloth. Arguments are common, but quickly settled; after all, everyone is there for the same reason, to trade and arguments are bad for business.

There are always famous faces around Portobello Road so don't be surprised to see celebrities haggling along with everyone else. In fact, if you don't see at least one famous face, I'd say, you weren't looking. Actors and models not only buy vintage, they also sell it. More than one stallholder on Portobello Green is a "resting actor" and there are a few ex-models too.

I guarantee, that if you deal in vintage textiles, wear vintage clothing or vintage accessories, or are furnishing you home in vintage style, a visit to Portobello Green on a Friday or Saturday morning will always be interesting, often exciting, definitely fun and sometimes very rewarding.

Sunday on Portobello Road is a little different. There is no need to be there before dawn as less established, casual traders dominate a much smaller selection of stalls with more emphasis on crafts. For the vintage hunter Sunday is much more hit or miss.

But, on any day in Portobello Road and the surrounding area you will find plenty of friendly coffee shops and cafes where, after vintage treasure hunting, you can have breakfast, read the morning paper and people watch.

One particularly amusing sight, if you are eating breakfast in the popular Mike's Café, Blenheim Crescent, is the endless stream of tourists photographing or being photographed outside the Travel Bookshop opposite. They believe this to be the bookshop featured in the very successful movie Notting Hill, filmed in the area. The shop, in the film, is owned by the posh-but-poor William Thacker played by Hugh Grant, who falls in love with a rich and famous actress, Anna Scott (Julia Roberts), who can't decide what she wants, but, naturally, chooses Grant in the end.

The joke is, that none of these scenes were filmed in the Travel Bookshop, Blenheim Crescent. The film company hired a shop around the corner in Portobello Road and converted it to look like a bookshop.

Sam Scribbler
Visit Vintage Rag Trader!

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