Approaching designer vintage fashion with the same innovative creativity as modern avant-garde fashion culture, Byronesque is “the first combined editorial and e-commerce website that treats vintage fashion with the same progressive creativity as contemporary fashion magazines and boutiques.”
Founded by creative and cultural strategist, Gill Linton, Byronesque’s aim is to “challenge fashion and popular culture mediocrity… and provide a more meaningful alternative to bland, aspirational consumerism — an antidote to fast fashion and outdated, nostalgic vintage that pushes our imaginations and inspires us to buy better clothes so we don’t look like everyone else, without adding more waste to the planet.”
While Byronesque focuses on covetable vintage pieces, modernity in itself is a central concept to their output, and we spoke to Creative Director Justin Westover about the remix of old and new; ”It’s an approach that’s fundamental to Byronesque; we permanently mix vintage and contemporary. We want to drag vintage out of its kitsch, ‘costumey’ [space] and show how relevant it is today.”
This is ultimately explored and introduced in Common Herd directed by Simon Burrill, a showcase of Byronesque’s curated vintage pieces in a modern setting, highlighting the true diversity the individual pieces have.
Westover explained the film’s inspiration as a combination of controversial literature and contemporary culture; “In the 19th century Jens Peter Jacobsen wrote a poem about a Company of Melancholiacs. He described it as ‘a secret confraternity… who by natural constitution have been given a different nature and disposition than the others… that wish and demand more… than that of the common herd.’
“It’s a poem that really resonated with us, and it struck us that George Orwell’s 1984 is exactly the same story told centuries later. And now, over 60 years since it was published, a similar imposed herd mentality still exists. The Common Herd… features clones in blue overalls, like the ones worn in Orwell’s dystopian society — where people were persecuted for individualism and independent thinking.
“Instead of red sash belts that Orwell used to distinguish women from men, our herd wore red masks to emphasize the anonymity of contemporary culture — [model] Eve Salvail literally tears into them, wearing authentic designer vintage that is available to buy exclusively on Byronesque.com. Obviously we’ve exaggerated for dramatic effect, but hopefully we’ve got our point across.”
Burrill’s fashion film is a perfect example of the current trend of creating short films with an emphasis on fashion, blurring the lines between which element takes the focus — cinema or style. Westover discussed this evolution with Portable; “I think fashion films have been slow to evolve. For a long time they consisted of a model dancing to a thumping soundtrack, or Kate Moss flashing her knickers in a dark alley and many feel like cheesy grandiose perfume ads from the 90s.
“Part of the problem is that they are still very static, as if they are awkwardly moving photographs; either that or they’re cinematic exercises that are just nice to look at, but not intelligently engaging — there’s a dearth of narrative and the focus is on beauty rather than storytelling. Fashion photographers have long sought to build narrative into their shoots, so it’s surprising that it has taken so long for that to begin to emerge in a meaningful way in fashion film. There seems to be a tacit acceptance that its fashion therefore it can be beautiful without any substance. But I guess that music videos have had an incredible, experimental journey over the last 20 years, and fashion film is still very much in its infancy — hopefully it will mature in a similar direction.”
Similarly, what Westover finds so fascinating about vintage clothing is “stories… scars, and… cultural context — there’s a narrative embedded somewhere in every piece we sell. Some stories are more obvious. With a pair of Seditionaries trousers, it’s easy to visualise the fucked-up DIY attitude of Vivienne and Malcolm that infected the King’s Road. It might be less evident in a pair of Montana trousers that you can imagine Grace Jones wearing to Les Bains Douches in the ‘80s, grinding against Prince on the dancefloor… Even though the clothes have their own unique historical context, the narrative continues to evolve with every individual owner.”
However, Westover makes clear that it is only “the right kind of vintage [that] is covetable,” and Byronesque’s purpose and love of vintage comes from iconic and cult-like pieces that evoke a memorable era or moment in time.
“It can represent quality and uniqueness, which separates it from an increasingly mass-produced banality. However, it is also a very prevalent and often-abused term, co-opted to add a veneer of authenticity to products that do not necessarily deserve it. This is frequently coupled with a sense of nostalgia, and a belief that it somehow has been “approved” and is a safe bet. That’s the opposite of Byronesque. Yes, we relish its quality and beauty, but it should never feel retro — always contemporary. We’re aiming to establish a benchmark that applies to both vintage and future vintage… Current designers such as Rad Hourani and Thom Browne are styled with our vintage in a rarefied, fragile universe. It’s very important for us to recognise and foster those unique talents — they are already hard enough to come by.
“Vintage has too long been relegated to being a costume. It doesn’t need to be a kitsch signifier — no one should have to know something you’re wearing is vintage, unless of course someone who can spot the real thing notices it. Some people crave the comfort of that security and others are secure enough to be individuals — those are the people for whom we created Byronesque.”