The return of retro
What are we really yearning for in all our nostalgia? All the vinyl, lomo filters and hipster accessories stand for a time when things were more predictable, more permanent and when people, ironically, were more connected.
They call it slow. But what it is, a lot of the time, is retro.
Slow food, slow travel, slow living, slow fashion, often mean doing things in the way they used to be done, in a time before hashtags, web searches and constantly refreshing timelines.
“At no other time in our history, have humans been bombarded with as much information, communication and technology as we are now,” says Parmesh Shahani, head of Godrej India Culture Lab. “It’s just a cacophony of messaging, with very little that is permanent. Where you could post on a Facebook wall and it stayed there, now it’s all about Instagram stories that vanish in 24 hours.”
In an endless cycle of posting, scrolling and FOMO, #TBT or Throwback Thursday is now the eighth most used hashtag on Instagram, ahead of even #nofilter. Here, you find sepia-tinted photographs that reflect on a simpler time — a birthday party of cake, chips and samosas; hanging out at a bus stop after college. Also popular are gramophones and vinyl records that require collection and care; upcycling to turn old clothes, furniture and knick-knacks into new; long hikes in areas with no network; intricate recipes and baking.
“What we’re craving in our nostalgia is a more predictable past, where things did not move at the breakneck pace of today,” says the author Manu S Pillai.
What we’re also craving are deeper, more meaningful connections with each other, adds Shahani. “The quest for a deeper connection isn’t new and has been seen in every generation. The rise of yoga and the organic movement in the West were a result of that.”
The business of nostalgia is growing, with retro-styled products like the Vespa scooter, the new Mini Cooper and the Polaroid camera, and vintage bridal wear.
The old and the new have always co-existed, adds Shahani. “The new is built on the foundation of the old. It’s just that today, people are finding the new by recognising, reframing and playing with the old in creative ways.”
When people consume nostalgia today, they aren’t leaving the rest of their lives behind, Shahani adds. “They are not living in the past. It’s a momentary escape. So, Polaroids may be cute but we’re predominantly taking photos with our phones.”
The effort, author and ad man Ambi Parameswaran agrees, is to try and combine the best of the two world. “While on the one hand, retro-styled products have become successful, on the other, new-age streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime are also doing extremely well,” Parameswaran says.
What we’re also seeing is a romanticised, airbrushed version of the past. “While people fondly reminisce about the ’80s as the era of disco and shoulder pads, it was also a time of terrible conflict. The AIDS crisis killed a generation of people all over the world,” says Shahani.
The people who lived in the past were, like us, made of flesh and blood, but we reduce them to icons of perfection or tragedy, Pillai adds. “Reality, of course, is very different, but then if reality is what we wanted, we wouldn’t be overdosing on nostalgia–it is something that helps avoid our own reality. It is a form of escapism at its core, which is not necessarily a bad thing.”
Play it again, Sam:
Retro trends that
were hot in 2018
Vinyl: After fading out of the Indian market by the 1980s, the classic LP began making a comeback about a decade ago. In addition to the vinyl lovers’ groups, listening sessions and pop-up sales where crate-diggers scrounge for everything from David Bowie discs to Jagjit Singh, there are also workshops where you can learn to DJ by mixing vinyls.
“There’s more interest in vinyl mixing workshops because it’s a visual medium. You can see the disc spinning on the turntable and the timelines of the song,” says DJ Skip, who conducts such workshops across India. Two years ago, electronics giant Panasonic began manufacturing turntables again and last year, music giant Sony announced that it would begin pressing vinyls after a break of almost three decades.
“Besides the high fidelity [or accuracy in the reproduction of sound], it’s the connection you develop with a vinyl that sets it apart from digital mediums,” says Mumbai-based collector Arul Kacker, 24. “Over the years, the material ages and acquires a character of its own. And no two copies of the same record will sound the same.”
Retro filters: Analogue-style date stamps were popular on party photos; or the photo outside the Taj Mahal could be made to resemble the one your parents have preserved in a slightly tarnished album with the vintage and disposable camera filter apps like Huji and Lomograph.
If you want to record your baby’s first steps as a fuzzy, VHS-style home video? There’s an app for that too – VHS Camcorder. A hit with celebrities like Selena Gomez and Ranveer Singh, the filters are all you need to enjoy a #throwback to 1998.
Polaroids: Move over, selfie sticks. The Polaroid is the latest craze among wanderlust-filled millennials. The instant camera that processes and prints the image right after it is taken was first conceived of in 1943. The US-based Polaroid Corporation that pioneered this technique and manufacturers like Fujifilm are bringing it back with cute, pastel-coloured models. “In the digital age, the feeling of holding a picture recounting a memory holds a lot of value,” says Akshita Sharma, a PR executive who uses a Polaroid camera. “It also helps that one gets a physical keepsake of a memory instantly.”
The vintage look: Acid-wash jeans and shoulder pads that throwback to the decadent ’80s, chic front-knotted tops from the ’70s and maxi-length prairie dresses with floral motifs retro styles are back.
So are vintage neckpieces, chokers — and jewellery. Deepika Padukone’s four-tiered choker at her wedding reception? Anushka Sharma’s wedding lehenga in vintage chintz colours? Both throwbacks.
Automobiles: If Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck were to recreate their iconic Vespa ride from Roman Holiday, they wouldn’t need a time-turner to get their hands on the scooter. Launched by the Italian manufacturer Piaggio a utilitarian product in 1946, has become a premium, hipster accessory and a symbol of freedom and an unfettered lifestyle. Other retro-style automobiles on the roads include a revamped Mini Cooper. (An attempted comeback of the Volkswagen Beetle has been rather unsuccessful).
“These are reputable brands with nostalgia value, and people are attracted to the pop colours and sturdiness,” says Sudhir Gupta, who owns a scooter dealership in Uttar Pradesh that has sold 20 Vespas in three months.