Retro mania

Event organisers could learn a lot from designers.

Festivals are great, aren't they? Tens of thousands of people getting together for a shared experience. A chance to overdose on eye candy, to take photos, to build memories. They are a rite of passage, something to plan for and save for, a way to escape from the worries of making a living and paying the rent. At a time of wage stagnation, festivals represent value for money (compare the price of a ticket to see a band and a support act at, say, the O2 with the price of a ticket to see hundreds of acts at a festival - no contest). They also represent the chance to "culture-cram". No wonder there are dozens of new ones popping up every year.

But as quick as festivals pop up, so they disappear. The British public became jaded with the plethora of Blackpool, Margate and Southend-style "kiss-me-quick" seaside resorts, and there is a danger that festival fatigue could take the shine off this growth industry. Just as seaside resorts such as Morecambe decided to become smaller versions of Blackpool and suffered heavily for it, many festivals are becoming indistinguishable from one another.

Strip away the branding of the event and what is left is identikit line-ups, driven by a music industry that is increasingly relying on live performance to boost revenues. So you get the same bands, the same comedians, charities, stilt walkers, blokes dressed in rhino costumes, the same caterers and retailers (selling the same printed wellies and cagoules) and the same portable loos (which often look as if they have come from a previous event without having been cleaned), all going from festival to festival like a travelling fair.

It's our job as designers to spot gaps in the market. So it was with all these things in mind that, while sitting in our Winnebago at a festival in 2007, Mrs H, I and our three eldest kids (then aged between 16 and 20, and camping with their mates in miserable conditions) decided that there surely must be a demand for a festival that was different from the ones out there. We wanted an antidote to gatherings in a muddy field; a festival that would encourage glamour and unite all the things that our family loves - music, fashion, art, design, film and food - in one event.

Gerardine and I sat in the Winnebago telling stories of our youth, of clubs such as Le Beat Route, the Wag, the Blitz and the Hacienda, where there was a buzz of creativity. Our kids responded by saying that's why, on a wet Saturday evening like this, they would prefer to be at a cool club in east London, rather than sitting bedraggled in a field in the middle of nowhere. We talked about blending the serendipity (and great music) of Glastonbury, the wonderful "nine festivals in one" approach of Edinburgh, the attention to detail of the Venice Biennale, the shopping frenzy that is Clothes Show Live, and the breadth and intelligence of what many designers believe is the greatest such event Britain has ever put on - the Festival of Britain, 1951. With our background in selling second-hand clothes at Camden Market, we decided to call our festival Vintage.

Working with researchers from Wolverhampton University, we assembled archives and the experts who would enable an authentic celebration of music, fashion, art, design, film and food from the 1920s to the 1980s and help us focus on how these decades continue to influence Britain's creative culture.

The idea became reality last August with the Vintage at Goodwood event. More than 50,000 people came to party, most of them dressed to the nines. At the 2010 Festival Awards, Vintage walked away with three prizes, including Best New Festival and Best Dance Event. The feedback proved the Hemingway hunch that there is a gap in the summer festival calendar for an annual event that reunites music and fashion, and ties in broader cultural influences. l

Wayne Hemingway is a designer and the co-founder of Red or Dead. Vintage is at the Southbank Centre in London from 29-31 July. For details visit:

This article first appeared in the 20 June 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia