Remember when movies were silent, mobile phones were giant and photos took two weeks to process? No? Well, that doesn’t mean you can’t long for their return.
Retailers aren’t just tapping into the past on baby boomers’ behalf – they’re playing on a generation’s nostalgia for a time they never knew.
While some brands are cashing in on their own rich cultural cachet (see: Coca Cola or Adidas), others are hopping on the retro bandwagon, providing eager young buyers with faux (but fashionable) relics faster than you can say Lana Del Rey. But this instant aura of authenticity may ultimately be their downfall.
“The ironic fate that extinguishes so many trends built on suggesting and exploiting authenticity is that their very popularity extinguishes that which made them popular,” argues Nathan Jurgenson in the online sociology journal The Society Pages.
Jurgenson adds that faux-vintage photos made through Hipstamatic and Instagram serve “to highlight the larger trend of our viewing the present as increasingly a potentially documented past.” (And this was written before Facebook Timeline became standard.)
For posterity’s sake, here are some of my faux nostalgia finds in the world of fashion, film and more.
The tweeted photo: a quiet, snowy street scene. The comment: “It was so beautiful I didn’t even need Instagram.”
We’ve gone from grainy, faded polaroids to disposable cameras to crisp digital photos to… grainy, faded digital photos. The new mantra: When in doubt, add a filter. That way you’ll place “yourself and your present into the context of the past, the authentic, the important and the real,” according to Jurgenson.
But if you want to be really original, you’ll take a photo that can’t be Photoshopped. On a recent trip to chic Parisian department store Franck et Fils, I happily paid €10 (one tenth of the price of my last digital camera) for a single picture from a photo booth.
Developed by legendary photo studio Harcourt, the booth debuted at Cannes and produces bright, flattering headshots that are a far cry from the stark portraits made at your local DMV.
Banana Republic’s Mad Men capsule collections aren’t just cashing in on a sexy, award-winning series set in the 1960s – they’re appealing to men who collect bowties and women who long for the days when Marilyn Monroe’s voluptuous figure was the standard of beauty (whether these days even existed – just try nailing down Marilyn Monroe’s dress size, I dare you – is another matter).
The first collection, created in collaboration with Mad Men costumer Janie Bryant, was promoted through an online casting call that let fans reenact and upload scenes from the show.
In a nod to (or a swipe at) the copycat series Pan Am, the second collection launched on a branded Virgin America flight from JFK to LAX, with a suspicious number of fashion bloggers on board.
The cinched waists and tailored tops are accessibly retro, whether you’re a Peggy, Joan or Betty, but never stray into kitschy costume territory. And no girdles required. Can Debenhams’ Downton Abbey line be far behind?
Forget alcopops and molecular mixology. Old-school spirits are front and centre in hip bar and hotel menus like Fairmont hotels’ Classic Cocktails program, which lets guests order a Singapore Sling, Boxcar or Brandy Alexander at any Fairmont property in the world.
Not only is Fairmont appealing to a prohibition party-throwing, Boardwalk Empire-watching crowd, each drink serves as an intro to the hotel brand’s illustrious history. e.g. The Jazz Bar at The Peace Hotel in Shanghai, or The American Bar at The Savoy in London, former home to bartender Harry Craddock (who created The White Lady and published the seminal Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930).
Fairmont is also using the program to send fans to their social networking microsite – Everyone’s An Original – for recipes and tips.
Popularized by 1999’s The Blair Witch Project (or, if you must, 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust), the found-footage genre is running strong in movies such as Cloverfield, The Devil Inside and the Paranormal Activity franchise.
With less of an air of manipulation than a mockumentary, found footage gives viewers an “authentic” alternative to scripted scenes and slick CGI. In the case of recent teen comedy Project X, the goal is “simply to look like the wildest viral video of all time,” wrote The Globe & Mail’s Andy Nayman.
And while early faux footage films may have strained audiences’ credibility – what kind of person would keep the camera running with her life at stake? – in 2012, it’s all too believable that someone would document every waking moment of her life, assuming it will interest someone else (see also: Twitter updates).
Even more believable? That in the future, all footage will be found with iMovie’s Aged Film effect already applied.
Did I miss anything? Live performances of podcasts? Joysticks for your iPad? New albums on vinyl? Mobile phone attachments that look like rotary handsets? Feel free to weigh in with your favourite old-school-inspired goods.
Original photography in top image by Yu Tsai.