The push in recent months to designate the term ‘quarter’ to certain areas of the city centre has seemed sometimes a little arbitrary and Francophilic – I for one can’t see that many cafés on Mill Lane. It’s certainly difficult to group and map out particular parts of the city that are known for their nebulous collections of like-minded businesses and shops. Cardiff Fashion Quarter, however, fits the bill perfectly.
Recent years have seen a rise in alternative and vintage fashion events at venues such as Milgi, Buffalo and Gwdihw. The annual vintage fair at City Hall took place last weekend, but until recently Cardiff has lacked everything under one permanent roof. The only other hub of vintage clothing that springs to mind for me, the upper floor of Jacob’s Antiques Centre, seems still relatively off the map, figuratively and literally. I struggled for weeks to find the correct railway bridge and side street.
This is precisely why the manager of the Nisa at the top of the alley, Ricky, took it upon himself to post an ad promoting low-rent space for independent traders. The opening couldn’t have fallen on a better weekend what with the inaugural Cardiff Fashion Week and arguably the biggest and best Swn we’ve had yet, and with an unrivalled location on Womanby Street, this old cinema turned flea market has garnered a lot of attention within a week of opening its shutter door to the public, certainly turning a few heads at the impressive street art on display at the front of the store.
For a converted space occupied for barely 3 weeks, it’s already looking well-lived in. Most of the stalls run along the balcony that surrounds the open centre space, allowing visitors to take a meander through the different shops. I tried desperately to find a manager of some sort, to no avail. I found Ellen, owner of Big Knits, knitting in a little crevice by the door. She told me that the market has developed into more a “collective of circumstance” than anything else,
“The grassroots scene has always waxed and waned,” she says. “but there’s been a real need for a permanent space.”
There’s a mixture of period-savvy collectors with a keen eye for fashion and artists selling their crafts. Rock-ola Reborn, for example, occupies a cavernous unit underneath the balcony. The name is homage to Daisy Green’s parents’ vintage shop Rockola, open between ’84 and ’92 at the heart of Cardiff’s rave scene, while Penny Lane is a recognisable local, having relocated from Morgan Arcade to set up shop at CFQ. Venture as far as you can along the balcony and you’ll end up in a stall ran by Modern Alchemists, who have quite recently put on exhibitions at Milgi Warehouse, another emerging event showcasing local independent artists.
Helen of Nelly’s Treasures is putting the final touches to a couple of blue triangles on the wall by the staircase. Her wares are an eclectic range of clothes and accessories, a range of hand-made and revamped clothing. She tells me a little about the successful opening day, which also featured performance art pieces by Kitsch ‘n’ Sync, prompting the question as to whether the space will be used for more interdisciplinary art projects or good old hootenannies. It’s early days yet, but a few at CFQ are in talks with The Full Moon about possible collaboration on street-wide alldayers, festivals and markets – something The Full Moon has shown itself to be a dab hand at in its first year of business. It’s a big and versatile space inside, too, that could hopefully play host to a few DJ sets and parties.
It’s refreshing and encouraging to see artists seize the opportunity to exhibit and sell their work, especially as the textile industry has suffered in recent years. First and foremost, this is a market and everybody here has to make a living. But they’re doing it with a bit of imagination, creativity and flair. Consider avoiding the St David’s Christmas shopper crowds and get your mum a nice little local present this year round. She deserves it.