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The Vintage Guide To London | December 12, 2017

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Vintage Seekers column: Chelsea AutoLegends

Estella Shardlow is deputy editor of Vintage Seekers, the premium online platform for rare 20th century design and collectibles. In a new regular Vintage Seekers column Estella will be reporting on high-end vintage events and news. This time, she reports back from Chelsea AutoLegends, which paid hommage to all things Sixties.

“There’s so much that’s fabulous about London’s swinging Sixties scene: the hemline-slashing, psychedelic-print fashion by Ossie Clarke and Mary Quant, as immortalised on Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton; an Austin Mini jetting down the King’s Road and mods strutting down Carnaby Street; the Avengers, Beatles and James Bond sparking the original wave of Cool Britannia.

So, we at Vintage Seekers were thrilled to hear that the theme of this year’s Chelsea AutoLegends would pay homage to this influential era of British pop culture.

The annual classic car extravaganza took place in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, a beautiful Victorian red brick building beside the Thames, on Sunday. Its displays of rare sports cars were always sure to draw motoring collectors and an old guard of petrol heads, but thanks to this year’s celebration of all things Sixties there was an awful lot to tempt those who didn’t know their torque from their torsion springs.

Indeed, if your idea of vintage style is a tulle Dior prom dresses or Audrey Hepburn in a Givenchy LBD, the notion of a motoring event may not immediately whet your appetite.

But it’s about eye candy as much as any of the technical gadgetry that seems to so fascinate the males of the species. Firstly, there’s the simple fact that many car designs from the mid 20th-century are breathtakingly, unforgettably beautiful objects. Take the sculptural, elongated profile of Jaguar’s E-Type (pictured above)– released exactly 50 years ago and celebrated at the event with a showcase of the 20th century’s rarest and most famous versions – or the ice cool DB5 convertible, as driven by Sean Connery in the early 007 films.

Then there are those quirky, fantasy showpieces that provoke a sort of childish wonderment, which we saw at Autolegends with the original Pink Panther car (pictured) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, both on display ahead of being auction next week.

At Vintage Seekers we delved into the Sixties theme and got to thinking about all that is iconic and desirable across design and collectibles from this period. For our paddock, we brought along a rail of fabulous dresses from the Sixties – including the same monochrome dress (pictured) as worn by Julianne Moore in the 2009 film A Single Man – and limited edition photographic prints by Ronald Falloon, a contemporary of David Bailey who captured Sixties icons such as Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy on camera.

Armand de Brignac champagne in opaque, metallic pewter bottles designed by ‘space age’ fashion designer André Courrèges added to the glamour. We also showcased a very special 1963 Airstream Bambi – though not strictly ‘London’ (silver Airstream trailers are the ultimate in American mid-century chic and this one was sourced from a collection in New Brighton, Minnesota), it’s such a rare, show-stopping period piece that we couldn’t resist giving AutoLegends crowds a peek inside. It was certainly a welcome addition when the heavens opened and we all took shelter within its cozy walnut and sea foam green interior.

Beneath the nostalgia for swinging Sixties London, there was a certain timely poignancy to this theme. The Sixties were a period of optimism and hedonism, a cultural revolution that shouted out with the old and in with the new – whether that was the subversive form of an E-type bonnet, a Quant baby doll mini skirt or social change towards the newly ‘permissive society’ that decriminalised homosexuality and made the Pill widely available through the NHS.

But last month in London we saw a much darker side to what can happen when the young throw out the rulebook and a senseless rebellion saw lawless, anti-authority actions devastate the capital. Perhaps there’s a correlation between the sense of emerging opportunity and post-war comeback enjoyed then, in contrast to the current economic downturn in which a sense of rebellion takes an ugly turn. This isn’t the time or place to plunge too deep into such a complex topic, but one thing’s for certain: London has needed a bit of a boost.

We live in an incredibly creative, dynamic city so let’s back the clock 50 years and remember all that in 1965 made Diana Vreeland, then-editor of Vogue magazine, declare: “London is the most swinging city in the world at the moment.”