I took a trip to Planet Vintage Girl to meet Laura Gaither – and got a bit jealous.
It all began nearly twenty-five years ago, Laura remembers, with a very old bike. Back in her home town in the US, she rescued it, restored it and grew to love it. It was then that she began to understand the value of bringing wonderful objects back to life. And she still has the bike now.
“That said, I don’t obsess about owning things,” says Laura. “We’re all just guardians – beautiful and well made objects are constants – it’s the people that come and go.”
Planet Vintage Girl, perhaps more a selection of curated objects for sale than an ordinary ‘shop’, first appeared in Levenshulme Antiques Village – but not for long. “I was soon asked to leave because I put a space-hopper in the window,” she laughs. “Manchester took a little while to pick up on mid-century modern!”
Laura’s passion is for items produced (mainly) in the 1950s and 60s. Known as mid-century modern, it’s a style that reflects optimism for the future: new materials, sleek design, bright colours and a reaction against wartime utilitarianism.
“The design of these items may look simple, but the particular curve of, say, the back of a chair, has been so carefully created and shows real craftsmanship. This is also the age of synthetics: I love materials like formica When people first saw images of the Earth from space, I think they were struck by its colour and beauty and wanted to reflect that through the colourful things they chose for their homes.
Stints in Didsbury’s Art of Tea and In Situ on Chester Road followed, but you’ll now find Laura’s collections in Pear Mill, Stockport; a warehouse in Failsworth and smaller objects – ceramics and such – at Chorlton’s PostBox Cafe.
With a background in history and interior design, Laura began her career in Washington DC, but since coming to England in 2004, she’s had to re-learn her trade. “You can really see the two countries’ differing histories though vintage,” she says. “This youthful, creative spirit really came to the fore in the fifties in America, but it was in the sixties here in the UK, so the styles can be quite different. I love talking to people who owned or remember the things I sell. These are living memories – we have such affection for the objects we knew as children.”
But it’s not just about nostalgia: “I have a lot of young, fashionable customers who come in looking for something that feels ‘new’ to them – industrial-style rusting metal and old factory fittings, typewriters, record players, umbrella stands and the like.”
Other clients include theatre, film and TV companies, fashion photographers and stylists: you’ll see Laura’s props – from creepy paintings to stuffed ducks – in a wide range of settings. Each piece is carefully chosen. There’s no mass-purchasing here, no container-loads from China. Every individual piece, from terrariums to teatowels, coatstands to cocktail cabinets, has been rediscovered and earned its place.
I start to think Laura must have the best job in the world. “I do wonder about the future for this business, though,” she says. “People buy so much from Ikea these days. That stuff just isn’t built to last – and I really doubt that anyone will want it in the future in any case. We need to treasure what we already have: it’s not just sentimentality, it’s sustainability and the design and quality is just SO much better. Why do people pay so much for flat-pack? It baffles me.”