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By Olivia Marsh on 12.8.2023

Tales of A Festival Goer: Hemmingway Vintage Festival

Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway brought their award-winning Vintage festival to the Southbank Centre Royal Festival Hall on the 29 – 31 July 2023 as part of the Festival of Britain’s 60th anniversary. Celebrating seven decades of British cool: the music, dance, fashion, food, art, design, and film from the 1920s to the 1980s. The event includes catwalk performances, DJ sets, dance lessons, vintage retailers, hair and beauty makeovers and arts and crafts experiences.

Arriving at the Royal Festival Hall on the Sunday afternoon, the atmosphere was electric, men and women dressed to the nines from their favourite decades ranging from 1920’s flapper girls to 1940’s war time austerity tailored pencil skirts and blouses and 1960’s miniskirts and cropped tops. The large performance area in the centre of the hall showcased dance lessons: teaching hundreds of people the Charleston and playing host to catwalk shows by British Airways, the London School of Fashion student design show and a special collection by Pearl and Daisy Lowe. The Royal Festival Hall was compartmentalized into areas in which you could have your hair and makeup transformed into the style of your favourite decade (courtesy of Benefit cosmetics), rooms dedicated to Vintage clothing and accessory retailers, an area where you could dress up in outfits put together by the London School of Fashion and have your picture taken professionally, and several rooms dedicated to live music, DJ’s and dancing.

The arts and crafts section of the festival was one of the most interesting and quaint features, in which you could learn to crotchet, create clothes from scraps of materials and create kitsch flower brooches from buttons and material scraps. Large tables were set up for everyone to sit, take part and create something unique, recycling old materials whilst chatting and making new friends. This I feel is at the heart of vintage fashion and clothing, reusing clothing and material which is perfectly good and needs to be loved yet again by those confident enough to appreciate it and put the work in.
The Pearl and Daisy Lowe catwalk collection was, for me, the best part of the day. Introduced by the mother and daughter models turned design duo, and opened by a pair of ballet dancers in tulle ballerina skirts, ballet shoes and corsets, pirouetting and chasseing along the catwalks to Bjork’s ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’. All of the models were dressed as ballet dancers and the show started with subdued pastel shades of yellow and blue with soft tulle skirts and gentle tops, but as the show and the music became more dramatic the design turned to heavier corseting and netting in deep mauves, crimson and pewter. The show moved to a more upbeat tempo and style to the soundtrack of The Cure’s ‘Love Cats’ which pushed the ballet movements to a fusion of pirouettes and Charleston steps. The last ballerinas appeared in cat and fox masks with tulle headdresses and the final outfits hinted at the influence of the decadence of the French court in the time of the revolution: Marie Antoinette style hooped skirts and corseting with chalked up faces. Daisy and Pearl Lowe walked the catwalk together at the close of the show, Daisy Lowe wearing a deep red velvet dress with a white ruffle collar whilst Pearl Lowe wore a more demure knee length subtly shiny red dress with a lace overlay.

The Hemmingway Vintage Festival has all the potential to be a fashion must attend event, but perhaps due to its low profile it has retained an intimacy and an atmosphere of cordiality which I have not before experienced at similar events. Everyone being dressed in such a unique way left no room for gossiping or judging, everyone had a mutual appreciation of each other’s clothing and style and the effort and forethought put into people’s outfit selection was clear. The event was a success and I hope that it will continue to be so for many years to come and to grow into an increasingly dynamic and larger scale event with many more retailers and higher profile artists becoming involved in what is already a well sponsored and supported festival. A definite event in 2012 for all fashionista’s looking to be inspired by vintage fashion and to be immersed in the world of vintage in the heart of London.


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