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Bangkok’s finest vintage

Bangkok now rivals Tokyo as Asia’s capital of second-hand style. We take a tour of the markets and shops at the centre of an exploding scene

  • Bangkok’s finest vintage
  • Bangkok’s finest vintage
  • Bangkok’s finest vintage
  • Bangkok’s finest vintage
  • Bangkok’s finest vintage
  • Bangkok’s finest vintage
  • Bangkok’s finest vintage
  • Bangkok’s finest vintage
  • Bangkok’s finest vintage
  • Bangkok’s finest vintage
  • Bangkok’s finest vintage
  • Bangkok’s finest vintage
  • Bangkok’s finest vintage
  • Bangkok’s finest vintage

Words Jason Gagliardi
Photos Guillaume Megevand

In Bangkok, the vintage craze has never been, well, crazier. Over the past few years, vast clothes and bric-a-brac markets have sprung up, and even high-rent shops in the trendy lanes of Thong Lor and Ekkamai are now filled with tin toys, antique telephones, 1950s and ’60s furniture and old designer frocks.

While Thais often point to Tokyo as an influence, in many ways the vintage scene is now more vibrant in Bangkok. Here an electic mix of collectors, entrepreneurs and fans have taken to buying everything pre-loved, shopping everywhere from pretty boutiques and night markets to online stores.

Ground zero for Bangkok vintage is the Talad Rod Fai weekend market, or the “train market”, on Kampaeng Phet Road, a short hop from the huge and world famous Chatuchak Weekend Market (which also has vast secondhand offerings in its Sections 5 and 6). Talad Rod Fai consists of several old railway department storage buildings crammed with vintage shops, antique stores and pubs, some ancient-looking trains that long since ran off the rails, and hundreds of brightly coloured temporary stalls that multiply as the sun sets.

The cornucopia of stuff here varies from genuine antiques to kitschy tat. A brigade of bright plastic Astro Boys stands sentinel beside scratched Abba records, candy-coloured Bakelite radios, and Matchbox cars, all watched by the unblinking lenses of vintage cameras in varying states of repair – while an army of hip young Thais in Converse sneakers assembles around old Vespa scooters and VW Beetles. It’s as good a place to grab some food as it is to shop – but bring a torch: occasional power cuts and dodgy lighting rigs mean it can get a little dark here.

At one of the stalls, you’ll find Waleeya Phanomphan preparing to hawk her quirky-cute collection of vintage blouses and accessories. Phanomphan is the twentysomething proprietor of Cinderella’s Room, a vintage store that operates on Facebook during the week, but operates as a stall at the train market at around dusk on weekends.

She is wearing a khaki jumpsuit, teamed with a jaunty military hat and some bejellewed badges, pins and medals. She does a twirl and gives a mock salute before returning to the pile of shimmering vintage treasures she is hanging up on racks.

Phanomphan is typical of Bangkok’s burgeoning ranks of retro entrepreneurs, having managed to turn her passion into a thriving business. During the week, she scours second-hand stores, flea markets and garage sales on Bangkok’s outskirts, and in nearby provinces. She then models all her best finds herself on her Facebook page, often with the help of her dog “Wua” (Cow).

“High-waisted jeans, vintage blouses, short shorts, [traditional Japanese] happy coats, dresses – I love all of it,’’ she says. “I’m also really into pins, badges, vintage belts, stuff like that. It started off as something I just loved to look for myself, but I’m happy that it’s turned into a business now. I could just do it from Facebook but it’s good to come down here and see everyone on the weekends and just keep up with what’s happening.’’

The market, also known as Talad Dek Neaw (the “indie kids” market), got its start in June 2010 when long-time Chatuchak vendor Phairod Roiakew rented a warehouse from the State Railway of Thailand, moved his restaurant, bar and antique shop, and re-christened it Rod’s. He then set about inviting other vendors with a taste for vintage to join him.

Looming behind the stallholders’ spaces are Depots 1 and 2, imposing structures that house second-hand and antique shops – dark, mysterious spaces that beckon like Aladdin’s caves to the steady stream of vintage collectors. One of the largest is Chev’s, which sells everything from 1970s furniture to tin toys, with a lot in between. Chev, the eponymous owner, is a stocky man in decidedly un-retro pink T-shirt and camouflage pants. He’s a man of few words, but concedes that business is good. “Busy, yes, very busy,’’ he mutters, repositioning a precariously perched gnome then stalking off to buff a rare Ms Pac-Man pinball machine. When pressed, he reveals the most expensive piece in the store is a garuda, the mythical Thai half-man, half-bird figure – in this case a large, carved wooden specimen from southern Thailand. The statue is more than half-a-century old and Chev says he won’t part with it for less than 50,000 baht (NOK9,250).

In a dusty corner of Chev’s, the bespectacled. middle- aged Piyapon Phongdej is beaming. “I’m here almost every weekend,’’ says Phongdej. “Is it an addiction? I’m not sure, but I can’t seem to stop collecting.’’ His passion is for European furniture, and Chev’s has a steady supply of pieces from Germany, France and Belgium. “Come and see what I’ve just bought,’’ he grins, leading me through a maze of sofas, tables and chairs, cabinets and evil-looking garden gnomes. He stops before a wrought-iron trellis and garden- furniture set. “Isn’t it beautiful? It’s over 80 years old, from Belgium. I actually bought this from their catalogue.’’

If you take the train out of Talad Rod Fai, a 20-minute trip brings you to Siam Square, an independently-minded enclave in the shadows of glittering luxury malls including Siam Paragon, Siam Discovery and CentralWorld. On the second floor of one of its long, barrack-like structures is the recently opened Siam Vintage, a collection of shops and stalls packed with clothes and accessories priced decidedly higher than the offerings at Talad Rod Fai.

One of the smartest looking shops is His & Her Vintage, where Kulthida Maneerat and her husband Subrat Misra sell a selection of dresses, accessories and glasses.

If you take the train out of Talad Rod Fai, a 20-minute trip brings you to Siam Square, an independently-minded enclave in the shadows of glittering luxury malls including Siam Paragon, Siam Discovery and CentralWorld. On the second floor of one of its long, barrack-like structures is the recently opened Siam Vintage, a collection of shops and stalls packed with clothes and accessories priced decidedly higher than the offerings at Talad Rod Fai.

One of the smartest looking shops is His & Her Vintage, where Kulthida Maneerat and her husband Subrat Misra sell a selection of dresses, accessories and glasses.

The pair have had a shop at Chatuchak since 2008, and opened the store at Siam Vintage in April last year. They have a house in upstate New York, but Maneerat says it was while living in Hawaii that the vintage bug bit. “We import all our stuff from America,’’ she says. “Vintage dresses were my first love, but now we probably sell more accessories – jewellery and hats.’’

Maneerat has a dazzling collection of dresses, trousers and jackets from the ’50s, ’60s and ’80s. “Look,’’ she enthuses, “aren’t these hats amazing? They are all Dior, from the ’50s.”

Maneerat says her customers are usually women in their 30s and 40s, and, like Phanomphan, she also does a brisk business selling her wares from her boutique’s Facebook page.

Misra’s fiefdom is glasses, and he enjoys sharing his encyclopaedic knowledge of yesteryear’s shades and specs. “Ray-Ban,’’ he declares, when asked what brand of sunglasses always stays in style. “From the ’50s and ’60s right up to the ’90s, there’s always a demand for retro Ray-Bans.

“We do a good trade in eyeglass frames from many of the classic American brands. Right now Tart Optical is smoking hot, thanks to Johnny Depp and Lady Gaga. But we also sell great brands like American Optical, Shuron, Victory Optical and Art-Craft.

What’s expensive? Well, I have some original James Dean Shady Character glasses – this was his own brand and they will set you back about US$600 (NOK3,400).’’

Misra adjusts his own super-stylish glasses and offers his view on why vintage is so hot in Bangkok. “We’re following in the footsteps of Japan,’’ he says. “The retro thing has been huge there for years, from the vintage clothes and glasses to anime and classic furniture. Japan became cool here and the influence has gradually rubbed off . It’s that simple.’’

To visit Talad Rod Fai take the MRT to Kampaeng Phet station, get out at exit 3 and walk 450m west on Kampaeng Phet Road, away from Chatuchak Market.

More Bangkok Vintage Gems

Shades of Retro Hidden on a side street, scene stalwart Shades of Retro is equal parts bar and retro furniture store, offer- ing “vintage Danish design, collectibles and an unhip bar”, according to its own- ers. You can buy a classic Danish sofa or just enjoy a cheap Beerlao, a burger and one of the bar’s laidback open vinyl nights. 808/12 Soi Tararom 2, Sukhumvit 55, www.shadesofretro.tumblr.com

(un)Fashion Vintage Collection Home to hundreds of pairs of restored vintage leather shoes – most are Italian from the 1970s – this shop has stocked footwear dating back to the ’30s. Be there on Wednesdays to check the new stock as soon as it arrives. Ekkamai Soi 10, www.facebook.com/unfashionvintage

ZudRangMa Records The city’s – and possibly Asia’s – hippest vinyl store has a leather couch where you can listen to a vast array of genres, including luk thung (popular Thai music), mor lam (its Lao equivalent), Thai Shadow, Middle Eastern psych, dancehall and reggae. Or you could just get an old record by Blondie or Donna Summer. 7/1 Sukhumvit Soi 51, www.zudrangmarecords.com

Thai Auto Vintage More of a curiosity than a shop, this showroom – complete with retro auto- mobile signs – has a stunning collection of classic cars, from 1960s Jaguar E-types to a 1956 Mercedes 220S and a Soviet-style 1965 BMW. On Nut Soi 57/59, www.thaiautovintage.com

Again and Again For upscale vintage, this airy store stocks quality vintage curated by the fashion editor of Marie Claire Thailand – from frocks to vintage handbags and chunky costume jewellery. Thonglor Soi 4, Sukhumvit 55, www.vintageagainandagain.com

Cocue Basics This vintage warehouse – probably the biggest vintage shop in the city – looks like something you might find in east London or Berlin and is filled with old military jackets, classic jeans and pretty frocks. 1/F Baan Ekamai, Ekkamai Soi 21, www.cocuebasics.tumblr.com

Fotoguffy One of the city’s best spots for hip cameras (there aren’t many), the whitewashed Fotoguffy specialises in toy cameras and stocks everything from new Lomography Diana cameras to fluorescent Polaroids. Old Samyan Market, Chula Soi 50, www.fotoguffy.com


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