Examples of formal definitions of ‘vintage’ include, “Denoting something from the past of high quality, especially something representing the best of its kind,” and “The time that something of quality was produced.” Vintage, it seems, is everywhere – interiors, outerwear, jewellery, wedding themes and garden design, amongst many. But who, what and where is staying true to vintage – where does one go to when a traditional antique shop isn’t quite “it?” I met with Tim Bent, founder of Bentley’s in London, to discover why people all over the world are on the hunt for “old items” which represent hours of craftsmanship.
Knightsbridge in London is home to luxurious boutiques, department stores and flagship stores of British and international fashion houses – and does it bustle! Close by all of this, yet tucked away, is the vintage haven of Bentley’s, in Walton Street. “The Best Is Good Enough,” states the shop’s interior wooden sign. Tim Bent founded Bentley’s in 1989 – a showcase for all his vintage treasures found on fascinating tours around the world – English leather accessories and travel goods, beautiful Edwardian silver and the finest vintage trunks from the great French houses of Louis Vuitton, Goyard and Hermès. I say all of his treasures – some pieces are “traveling” – on loan to prop departments of some of the most prestigious film production companies. Our fascination with past design – costume, furniture, luggage, cars and architecture – has been partly responsible for the highly successful export of Downton Abbey and numerous other British TV and film productions. That said, “the choice of gifts here is endless and constantly changing as our stock evolves,” Bent says. “New pieces are introduced every week. We could offer an exceptionally rare crocodile skin desk set designed by Paul Dupré-Lafon for Hermès; a desk made from the aluminium wingtip of a Dakota DC-3; a Victorian leather cigar case, perfect for one’s favourite Robustos or perhaps a leather covered, brass military telescope by Negretti & Zambra.”
What is the riskiest item Bent could buy, I wonder, and how much of an ROI hurry is he in? Bent smiles and explains that “there really aren’t any risky ones because I am buying for myself – I have to like it, fall in love with it and when it is sold, I know it’s going to be looked after and enjoyed too.” Considering there are few accessories a man can actually wear, there is an abundant choice of desk, library, and sporting accessories to discover at Bentley’s. I ask Bent why men enjoy collecting vintage items – what are they looking for? “We sell the finishing touches; briefcases, cigar cases and luggage that is beautifully made. The men that buy them from us are not looking for brand names, they are looking for beauty, for detail and for individuality.” As each object is unique, it’s always interesting. He adds, “The demand for vintage Louis Vuitton, vintage Hermès and vintage Goyard is not based on the name, it’s based on the fact that these craftmakers had the best craftsmen, used the best leathers and came up with inspired solutions to their customer’s sometimes outlandish requests. For instance, in 1886, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Abdulhamid II, asked Louis Vuitton to make him a trunk purely for his underwear and of course, they produced the perfect, leather-lined, brass bound example for him.”
Increasingly, it would seem, there is a growing appreciation of luxury craftsmanship and a move away from fast-pace, disposable objects. Bent explains, “In the past, there was a feeling that you were buying for life, investing in pieces that were made to last. Price was less important than buying the best. Whether it was your luggage, your suits or your boots, the craftsmanship was valued. There was no thought of making something that would wear out and need replacing – it was a matter of pride to build something properly and do it beautifully.”
Bent believes that “leather is a beautiful material that should be allowed to age and mature – that’s when it gets better and better. Sadly, few of the British luggage makers that were famous at the turn of the century have survived, with the notable exception of Asprey, but recently a growing band of British craftsmen have started to make their mark.” It’s why the Made In Britain tag is valued abroad – it’s perceived as the best and worth the price difference.
Our discussion moved to Bent’s favourite films and how some of his collaborations are, of course, all about timing. “I suppose that Out of Africa is still one of my favourites and the luggage and accessories that they used in the production were exceptionally well observed. The Darjeeling Limited, Wes Anderson’s classic, is full of wonderful, bespoke-made Louis Vuitton luggage that Marc Jacobs designed especially for the film. We work with a lot of film and TV productions to supply what are known as Hero Props – pieces that have to be immaculate as they’ll be seen in full frame – and the attention to detail that the costume designers and prop buyers go to is admirable. Downton Abbey is a particularly good, recent example for us. We have also worked with a number of other productions, including Martin Scorcese’s Hugo, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock and Madonna’s W.E. The attention to detail was exceptional in this production. We had a number of pieces from Edward VIII’s personal collection that we allowed the film to use.”
The term “vintage” is getting much global traction in style discussions, design and indeed retailing. “Vintage evokes a period of fine design and craftsmanship,” Bent says, all of which is evident in the shop. But Bent also recognizes that Bentley’s online offerings (their photography is particularly good) play an important role too. “The website is a crucial tool for our international clients – we spend many hours running through the selections with customers around the world. We want to make the experience as close to that of visiting our London shop, as possible.” I learned that the website, and indeed shop, frequently inspire the youngest of collectors-to-be, as Bent goes on to share that “interestingly, I always find that the natural inquisitiveness of children mean that they really enjoy the shop. They love the extremes – the oldest, the biggest, the rarest, the most powerful – and we have lots of pieces that fit those descriptions.”
Vintage – what a pleasure it is! All those specialist histories of craftsmanship, the layers of genuine patina that add to each story and every piece, involving a real voyage of discovery – whatever age you are!
204 Walton Street
London SW3 2JL
+ 44 (0) 20 7584 7770
Melanie Sarah Image Styling is a bespoke service for men and women, fine-tuning personal style www.melaniesarah.co.uk
+44 (0) 7715 113 632