Amanda Bloom is a triple threat. She’s known in Phnom Penh particularly for her music, composition, and stage presence along with her authentic, dress-up fabulous vintage pop-up sales she has been hosting for the past three years since she has lived in Cambodia, gorgeously titled “The History of Things to Come”, along with a compelling mind rich with knowledge on the projects she’s involved in. Amanda is passionate when the topic of vintage arises, as it truly is her lifeblood, an integral part of her personal history, and has been in a way methodically soothing to her in many ways which is apparent as she softly says in one part of our discussion, “I love the little details of vintage, the things that surprise you. The details in the buttons…the pleating… the garment…”
I had a chance to sit down with Amanda over a glass of white wine, raw almonds, and kittens to discuss why she conducts The History of Things to Come and what sparked her initial interest in vintage. One of my dear friends back home, Brooke Casanova, is a vintage connoisseur of sorts and loves a great find- so it was of particular interest to me in how Ms. Bloom runs her business, why she does it, and how she manages her product and client base with an increasing, sometimes fraudulent, vintage market growing in The Charming City.
Like many, Amanda found herself in Phnom Penh with her partner with a plan of action and decided that upon her arrival she wanted to focus solely on her music saying, “My first love is music, composition, and piano…the love of vintage began in my university days when I didn’t have enough money to buy the latest trends or whatnot, and even if I had the money I wondered why I would want to look like everyone else.” She remembers the times she would visit the opp-shops (this was a new term to me, slang for Opportunity Stores, or secondhand stores like Goodwill or Value Village for an American) and find really fun, quirky, and interesting items that made her feel like she was standing out in a world of the boringly outfitted and found that by wearing these one-off pieces, she, felt more confident than ever before. Amanda explained, “Fashion is a form of self expression and a kind of insight into a person and into the way they feel about themselves as well. You can gain a real insight into someone’s level of confidence as well, if they are confident enough to wear something different and something that makes you feel beautiful.” It seems that’s the way vintage got it’s hooks into her and from there, created some sort of relationship and bond that has lasted and thrived to this day. The first dress she purchased from E-Bay, a 1950’s floral thick canvas-like fabric bought for $30, still joins her in Cambodia and continues to be one of her favorite personal pieces of all time.
“I am passionate about timeless things, things that never date and it kind of also mirrored with my music because musically I don’t like trends- I find them fickle and to me things that are trendy rely on people following them without much individual thought,” Amanda says, “the thing that I love about vintage is that a lot of the cuts are classic and have stood the test of time. You’re tapping into this timelessness. These clothes were made to fit the women, nowadays the woman has to fit the clothes. Before clothes were made with detail and thought into ‘how is this going to bring the best out of a woman?’ and although it may not look so pretty on a coat hanger, when you put it on it comes alive. Whereas these days in more of the mass market, clothes are made just to impress when you see them on the hanger and you just buy them. In vintage, there’s a lot of detail to the back of the garment so many times a dress will be classic, beautiful and stunning in the front and in the back, there will a surprise- a really low back or a beautiful bow or train, just as much detail and emphasis and energy going into the back of a garment in a lot of vintage items as the front.”
She does know there is risk in making these statements about vintage items, however, as she knows she can only truly speak of the pieces that have stood the test of time and that she hasn’t had the opportunity to witness and feel the items that do eventually fade, fall apart, and end up in the rubbish bin after years of wear and tear- even though they may have once been breathtaking. Amanda understands that she only comprehends pieces that are extremely well made and have made their way into her possession or the possession of other like-minded individuals, such as the close to pristine Edwardian jackets that grace her collection. When holding these pieces, it’s as if I’d taken a trip back through time- feeling the spider-silk thin lace and velvets almost sent shivers down my spine as I think of all the years these pieces had lived through, the people who have cared for them, and the stories that cling to them-unknown and mysterious.
As we sifted through racks upon racks of colorful, intricately detailed, beautifully crafted clothing, it was noted that the materials used in clothing for each era were varied and for reason, Amanda explaining, “People had more respect for their clothing back then, especially through the Second World War and the Great Depression, I think they were symbols of status and luxury when everything around them was crumbling. People were grateful for their clothes and I think you can feel that.” During a recent estate sale she visited, she went through a woman’s wardrobe and witnessed the amount of care that had gone into maintaining each special piece, further showing her the need to continue to share these pieces to people who would appreciate them. Among one of the pieces shes recently added to her collection is a women’s jacket from World War Two. To put it on (it swallowed me up) knowing that it came from this era, this tragic and incredible time in history did raise the hairs on my neck. I was literally holding a piece of history in my hands.
As mentioned before, Amanda had hoped to have a stricter focus on her music once she moved to Cambodia; but as she shared a music studio with her then partner, found herself having to take the time to divide the recording space time and increasingly became frustrated when she felt the desire to create, but was unable because another client was in the studio. She found E-Bay to be her own personal therapist and would treasure hunt for vintage pieces to be shipped that she realized she would eventually resell and gain a profit after repairing, caring, and processing each item. For her, the shopping was “a meditative, repetitive thing I would do to relax.”
When Amanda decided that she wanted to break into the Cambodian market, at least starting among expats, she found that the desire was high as many women were looking for larger sizes than were available at the local shops. A personal friend and mentor of Amanda’s, Erin Gleason, was also running similar sales at the time under the name of Circa and was a large factor and influence in Amanda’s furthering of vintage sales. Gleason confirmed there was a want for vintage in Cambodia and in February 2011, Amanda held her first sale. Before her departure from Sydney, she co-owned a vintage boutique that would sell their pieces and style celebrities for era specific events for the ultimate of authenticity down to the gloves and hair pins; she was able to take stock from her old business and sell it in her first sale along with items from other sales she had hosted in the Middle East.
Amanda finds that it can be difficult for many individuals who visit her sales to understand how she prices each pieces and why it may cost $80 for an “old style” dress, that it can be a challenge to explain that a 1960’s designer cocktail dress shipped from the United States, dry cleaned, and sold for $60 is actually a fraction of the price one would spend in many other places in the world. She understands that she has to take monetary cuts from her sales in Phnom Penh and that she’s making much less here than she would abroad, but it’s worth it to her for the items to be worn, seen, moved, and taken care of rather than sitting in a moth-ball filled box or musty closet. If she were to put the real market value on her items, they would likely stay on the racks only to be admired but never worn; she would rather take a cut and see the beauty of vintage spread than have more women running to the next big box brand name store to pick up the same thing the woman next door to them might own. She does include pieces from the 80s and 90s in The History of Things to Come to create a mix among her highly antique pieces to help bring in a wider range of shoppers; but wants to continue to focus her attentions on specific and highly well made vintage.
Amanda recalls a woman who lived in Phnom Penh who had previously worked for Vogue in London who came to one of her sales and she was doing some fashion things in the country. The woman’s roommate told her that the The History of Things to Come was overpriced and not to go, yet thankfully her advice was ignored and she visited anyway, to her delight finding piece after piece of incredible vintage items that would be sold for exceedingly high prices in the United Kingdom, astonished that Amanda could continue her business in a market so unaware of how timeless, historical, and interesting some vintage offers.
When I asked her about the shops, everywhere in the world, claiming to sell “vintage” while much of it is simply second hand or a few years old and how she copes with these sort of things, she took a moment to think, and composedly and calmly responded, “I think it’s very much like wanting to buy an antique chair and going to an antique store and they’re selling secondhand chairs from IKEA and calling them antique- in the end of the day, if you’re going to buy that and tell your friends this is an antique chair that’s really an indictment of your own ignorance. I also really think it’s a bit fraudulent and a waste of an opportunity for education, especially for a country that is growing exponentially on so many different levels. I sell some things that are not true vintage in my sale, but I make it very clear that they are not vintage- I just say it’s beautiful and it’s reflected in the price. Four to five percent might be 10-15 years old, which I don’t consider vintage. I think it’s odd when you consider how simple it is to do a quick Wiki search or Google search to find the definition of what vintage actually is and I can’t imagine going into an antique furniture business, or any antique business not knowing anything about it because I would be so scared that someone who knows (the industry) would ask ‘what era is this from? Is this an Eames?’”
Amanda has simply honed in on her craft, knowing her pieces, the era they come from-sometimes even down to the specific year, her designers, fabrics, and specifics of care and her complete honesty and transparency when it comes to what she does and doesn’t makes a shopper feel not only at ease, but much like putty in the hands of someone who seems to almost have the ability to turn back time.
Anticipate another upcoming The History of Things to Come sale from Thursday October 24th to Monday October 28th from 8am to 8pm. Some things to look forward in particular are some fabulous 1940’s rayon bias cuts, 1950’s wiggle and cocktail gowns, and 1970’s hippie gauge maxi dresses.
Address: #21 street 306, BKK 1 Private Residence. Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Next to Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.