UPDATED: March 23, 2023 at 12:55 a.m.
A pair of pink suede rollerskates, a book on Zuñi Fetish Carvings, four silver cherub earrings, and five Dizzy Gillespie records. Visitors encountered these objects and more at the Brighton Bazaar’s “Retromania: A Retrospective Expo” held Feb. 18 and 19 at the newly opened Roadrunner music venue.
Brighton Bazaar normally only holds open markets at the Charles River Speedway and in the Brighton Elks Lodge, but this was the first year organizers Emily A. Robertson and Andrew J. Gifford decided to hold an additional market, off-cycle from their regular season, with a specific retrospective theme. With close to 4,000 tickets sold and 114 vendors, the expo surpassed their expectations.
The day of the expo, Gifford sports a practical zip-up hoodie ideal for the physical work of setting up the expo, while Robertson opts for a patterned button-down and pair of Mary Janes. Gifford and Robertson own two other businesses, a vintage shop called All the Rage and Robertson’s handmade jewelry line, Feral Fawn Art.
The two initially considered naming their third business “Boston Bazaar” instead of “Brighton Bazaar,” but as longtime Brighton residents, they wanted to draw attention to their “corner of the city that has been kind of ignored and overlooked,” Gifford says.
Retromania is “for vendors, by vendors,” Gifford says, catering uniquely to the needs of vintage sellers. Gifford and Robertson have drawn on their own experience as vendors in other markets to find “what people really want in an event.”
“We’re really interested in things from a historical perspective, like the history of fashion and history of design,” Gifford says. He makes clear that “it’s not as easy as it seems to sort through tons and tons of stuff to find all of the pieces that are actually truly old and have a story.” To him, vintage collecting is, at its core, an endeavor steeped in creativity and narrative.
While a student in art school, Robertson began frequenting secondhand shops for their “weird art supplies.” Her first purchase of clothing, she says, was a polyester shirt from a thrift store. This shirt led to a highly curated and personal collection of ’70s disco shirts that now make up the bulk of her wardrobe.
Most of Retromania’s vendors also purchase secondhand clothes themselves and actively seek out sustainable collections.
One of the vendors, artist Emma G. Peacock, needle-felts, transforming wool tufts into adorable felt animals. Peacock found the vintage community while studying photography and graphic design. Her mentor encouraged her to needle-felt on top of her photography, and Peacock found that needle-felting related closely to her previous work as an oil painter. Peacock’s work is informed heavily by vintage design; plush mushrooms envelop her booth, taking on the shapes and colors of the Sears 1970s Merry Mushroom Canisters collection.
Because the work of Peacock and other vendors is not exactly vintage, Gifford and Robertson intentionally avoided labeling the expo a vintage market. True vintage markets tend to only take items 20 years and older, putting up a barrier for contemporary creators. With a recurring concern for inclusivity in mind, the pair chose the name because the term “retro” encompasses a wider range of pieces.
Included in this broader definition is the work of Marianne Radnitzky, a local vintage-inspired printmaker. Her designs adorn the event’s posters and social media publicity. Drawing inspiration from the psychedelic work of Peter Max and graphic designers of the 1970s, Radnitzky blends color palettes of the 20th century with contemporary iconography.
Items at Retromania are engaged in a constant conversation with one another, and the line between creation and curation is often blurred. Multimedia artist Chris J. O’Donnell, owner of the store Scorpio Sun, makes vintage collages from mid-20th century magazines, displaying them alongside velvet gowns and colorful stones.
There still exists a space within the expo for more traditional vintage collecting, though. Vinyl collector Russell Livingston of Uncommon Find Collectibles brought an extensive collection of records, ranging from jazz to ’70s pop. The small business owner finds a great sense of camaraderie in the vinyl collectors of the Boston area and insists that there is nothing quite like “putting a record on and reading the liner notes.” Livingston also relishes the research required for collecting vintage items, a passion shared with other Retromania vendors.
Jewelry collector and vendor Caryn Abroms stresses the cultural history of her vast collection. Mid-century silver is her specialty, but she generally keeps an eye open for “things that are different.” For this former teacher, a collector’s job not only lies in finding unique and timeless pieces, but also in educating the next generation. Abroms views collecting as a continual “learning experience.”
“It’s just endless,” she says.
For vendors and visitors alike, there is something gratifying and intellectually stimulating in combing flea markets and thrift shops for the perfect find. Based on the success they’ve seen from this year’s Retromania, organizers Gifford and Robertson are confident that this will become an annual event, something to “turn February from a kind of boring month into something exciting.”
Correction: March 23, 2023
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that previously, Retromania was held at the Charles River Speedway and in the Brighton Elks Lodge. In fact, Brighton Bazaar regularly hosts unthemed open markets at the Charles River Speedway and in the Brighton Elks Lodge, but this was the first year they organized Retromania, which is retrospective-themed and off-cycle from their normal open market season.