The 1920s was a time of fusion where music, culture, and class, collided. Jason “Mr. Vintage” Volk, head of the Greater Boston Vintage Society (GBVS) is a dedicated keeper of the vintage flame, with his dapper wardrobe, Ford Model A Phaeton and easy-going personality. For these – and other obvious reasons – he was recently called into action when a historic Boston hotel needed someone to create the perfect time capsule to help celebrate the Downton Abbey Exhibition at The Castle at Park Plaza (on display through Sept. 29).
Volk does not view vintage as a trend but rather as a lifestyle. His love of history and swing dancing were introduced to him as a child through his grandparents. He collaborates along with Mike Hibarger of Boston Swing Central in bringing the Roaring ‘20s to life in what is quite possibly the largest vintage event in New England each summer at the idyllic Cranes Estate, in Ipswich, MA. (learn more about the Roaring ‘20s party here)
“The first year it was a hit!” Volk says.
Photo Galleries by Krzystyna Caldarone of Vintage Girl Studios
Attendance that first year in 2013 was approximately 1,000 partygoers, and the number swells on a yearly basis, with this past year’s attendance close to 3,000 attendees. It is supported by an array of vintage aficionados and mostly New England based vendors, all with a genuine love for their retro-community. Boston Swing and GBVS put on such a show that even if you are not a vintage fan, once you attend you will become one.
After his first year of collaboration for the garden party, Volk decided to start his own vintage-based business, drawing attention to historic venues the likes of the Larz Anderson Auto Museum, Salve Regina University, and the Stevens Estate, among others.
“I think the Roaring Twenties is a great decade, it changed the women’s vote and all these different forms of music emerged into popular culture. I love celebrating that. It’s fun, easy-going, takes you from your daily life … you get your mind clear and spend time with your friends. That’s the number-one thing,” Volk says.
His love of vintage led to a spot on the popular local news show “Chronicle,” where he shared with viewers his historic house, with Bluetooth-enabled antique telephones and his antique vehicle, which he rents out for events.
And that is partly what led to a commission to decorate a suite in the historic Fairmont Copley of Boston, in honor of the current Downton Abbey Exhibition. In offering his vintage services to the Downton Abbey marketing team, Volk was directed to collaborate with the Fairmont Copley which happened to be actively searching for props for their Downton Abbey-themed suite.
“We decorated the room together, they wanted five or six props,” says Volk, who contributed a number of items from his personal collection, including an Art Deco tea set, vintage telephone, tulip lamp, antique record player, and a crystal cocktail set.
He appropriately added a Boston Globe newspaper referencing the sinking of the Titanic, as well as a fringe lamp purchased online.
“I googled it (fringe lamps) online and sure enough what shows up is a Downton Abbey trade-marked lamp from a company that makes all kinds of different old fashioned lamps,” says Volk.
The Fairmont Copley, known as the Grande Dame of Boston, has in recent years been renovated, but more importantly, it has been restored preserving its vintage patina, as its beauty lies within its meticulous preservation of yesteryear. With its marble-lined walls, trompe l’oeil ceilings, and crystal chandeliers it is the pinnacle of vintage elegance. Baroque opulence surrounds you as you walk through the polished luxury of Peacock Alley and look up into the magnificent gold-accented coffered ceilings of the grand lobby. Built in 1912, arguably there is no other hotel in Boston that would be more appropriate to host a Downton Abbey-themed suite as its Art Deco design is a seamless fit.
Not to mention its gracious staff of employees.
And a bonus for Volk – timing was on his side, as he was able to spend a night in the room he helped create, with his new bride on his wedding night.
“It was the best, it was so amazing staying in the room! We saw the (Downton) exhibit the next day and left on Monday for our honeymoon in France,” Volk says.
Based on the book, “To Marry an English Lord,” by Carol Wallace, and created by Julian Fellowes, “Downton Abbey” is PBS’s top-rated drama of all time, with 120 million viewers. The only TV station that could host a series of such refinement would be PBS, a well-deserved and well-earned accolade for the Public Broadcasting Service, that has a niche demographic, hosting educational programming of the highest caliber, including Nova, Masterpiece Theater and American Experience. One is always satiated after watching PBS programming.
The exhibit is a must for all Downton devotees. It’s an exquisite submersive experience, expertly executed, impressive upon arrival. Sets are recreated with painstaking detail, and behind-the-scenes anecdotal information is included. Each costume design by Anna Mary Scott Robbins is more sumptuous and exquisite than its predecessor, all of them works of art unto themselves.
“The exhibit was great, pretty much everything I expected. I learned a little bit about the history. The exhibit was actually built and tested in Singapore before being shown in NYC and Florida. Good timing with the movie, they are being smart with it,” Volk says.
And speaking of the Sept 20 “Downton Abbey” movie release, Volk has once again been commissioned to assist in bringing Abbey to life. He has outfitted a mannequin in the Chestnut Hill Showcase Cinemas with an original costume of Maggie Smith, who depicts the Countess of Grantham, for the upcoming premiere.
“I guess they wanted to give it to someone local who knows costumes. I’ve worked with mannequins and displays at WGBH and elsewhere,”Volk says.
In asking Volk what he feels the future is of GBVS he responds, “I’m happy with where it is and I like the special projects that come up, like being a wedding chauffeur with the car. It’s a combo of GBVS and Mr. Vintage and the two sides of the business are all moving pretty strongly right now. In general, I like where things are going and we try our best to up the ante every time. I would love to tie our events in with some famous faces. I applaud people like Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and Baz Lurman – you can feel they have a real passion for history and I admire their ability to spread what they have learned about culture to the current generation,” Volk says. “For me this is a lifetime love, and it makes all the effort worth it to see others enjoying themselves and learning more about the past.”
Reach Constance Cherise at email@example.com