the last standing americana in the far east

words by tsaqif • pictures by azizul ali
15.10.2019

Chang, otherwise known as The Collector has been collecting, buying and selling vintage goods for the past 23 years. Despite being one of Singapore’s longest-standing vintage dealers, Chang’s ‘The Attic Lifestyle Store’ remains one of the nation’s best-hidden gems. Not to be mistaken for a thrift store, Chang’s humble little shop in Far East Plaza presents itself as a Vintage shop offering rare, specifically curated items. Only appealing to a niche group of individuals, the longevity and durability of the products Chang acquired has withstood the test of time, and in some cases, even wars.

By definition, Americana is a collective term for artefacts related to the history and cultural heritage of the United States of America. So how does it transcend fashion? When we talk about Americana, brands that create garments (especially denim) meant to withstand the test of time tend to fall under this category. Brands such as Carhartt and Dickies that specialise in creating clothing made for laborious work has found its way into the Americana culture due to the durable nature of their products. With age, the garments are elevated to a whole new status and it is this very reason why denim is at the heart of the Americana style.

“You have to live within your means and make good with what you have” 

“Clothes have a purpose and we need to use them.”

While most stores would want to clear their shelves and racks, Chang is in no hurry to sell his goods. Instead, he is more fixated on finding the right person to sell his goods to. “I want to sell my things to the right person. Finding the right person who can continue this legacy. Someone who has the same passion and enthusiasm to take care of and appreciate the item for its worth.” Chang has an emotional connection with all the clothes he carries and has even added his personal touch to a handful of them including sashiko stitching, patches, etc. Rather than seeing them as mere pieces of clothing, he admires each piece like it’s a work of art. He is always finding ways to improve his products and restore them to their prime condition, including the rings he carries – going from store to store, finding the perfect gemstone for each ring. Everything is carefully curated and represents Chang’s identity as a scavenging Americana. He is not afraid to take apart expensive pieces and find more suitable materials for the sake of longevity. “You’ve got to be practical when collecting vintage goods,” he exclaimed while pointing to the native American necklace he refurbished.

With all that being said, it is impossible to talk about Americana without mentioning the Japanese. Brands such as Nonnative and Visvim create Americana-inspired clothing and are absolute go-getters, establishing themselves in a predominantly American-centered culture. Chang epitomises this by intertwining the two together as seen in his hand-stitched American flag made solely of denim scraps he collected over the years. Upcycling is very much part of the culture and Chang abides by the Japanese concept of mottainai – not letting anything go to waste. He is constantly finding ways to mix new fashion styles with old pieces of garments and doing them seamlessly such that they do not come off as tacky.

While the clothes he carries will continue to last over the years to come, the same cannot be said for the Attic Lifestyle Store. It’s not always rainbows and sunshine and more often than not Chang is met with, “So old already! How come so expensive?” In some extreme cases, some customers would even accuse him of cheating them of their money, arguing that rusty objects should not be worth so much. At the start, Chang was hopeful that he could influence younger Singaporeans just like how the generation above him has inspired and educated him. However, this hope is slowly fading away as he has sights on opening a store in Bangkok. “We are all just custodians of the nostalgia after all. We can’t bring it to our graves at the end of the day but we can enjoy the process of owning it for as long as it’s worth.”