Hand crafted, hand sewn, hand made, slow food and slow fashion (and the myriad unmentioned) are now accepted as desirable and meaningful. But once, perhaps ever since the dark satanic mills, the collective aspiration was something closer to harder, better, faster, stronger.
Today, everything old is new in a way that’s retro, steam punk or mid century modern. Aspiration for the past is nothing new but when its morphed to the tastes and whims of the contemporary there’s an interesting twist; think Neoclassicism, English Manor Gardens with faux ruins, the Pre Raphaelites. Its weird because of the reinvention and take on the past. Fashion doesn’t just come and go, it cannibalises itself and reinvents.
The music industry, where its commodification led to digital streaming is now experiencing a backlash in the form of vinyl. You can’t hug an MP3. Vinyl production has something cottagie and reminiscent of the printing press era maybe because so few vinyl production houses actually exist. But the sound is better avoiding the compression blandness and mirage that is digital audio.
Steel frames, once synonymous with bicycles old and redundant are now something original and different. Cyclists recognise the special character of steel. Its flexible and feels better, has an irreplaceable role for fixies, has a cold-to-touch and body warming feel. Lightness and rigidity benefits road bikes and hybrids but the ‘steel animal’ is different. Its for the chromoly BMX and traditional sit-up-&-beg Dutch utility. In this context neither aluminium or carbon fibre supersedes.
Sometimes a glimpse into the past is a revelation perhaps something akin to cracking a code or finding treasure. The picture is complete and needs no variation, impervious to the vicissitudes of time. Here are stunts fully exploiting the complexity and possibilities of the then, relatively recent diamond frame safety bike. Standing, skating, balancing and riding in all conceivable ways by men & women. Fancy Cycling by Isabel Marks is a window into a world that is complete and rivals the stunt cycling of today. Edwardian stunt bikers effortless mastery of a hundred years ago.
Fancy Cycling, 1901: An Edwardian Guide (Bloomsbury)