Hand-picked retro homewares and an eclectic exhibition space come together on one of the city’s most unique streets. By Michael Tatarski. Photos by Vinh Dao.
Saigon’s creative scene has expanded dramatically in recent years, with new galleries, exhibition spaces and multimedia outlets like DeciBel and Outcast adding a breath of fresh air to the city. Antique Street, located on District 1’s Le Cong Kieu, a road known for its antique shops, opened about six months ago and has quickly established itself as another unique addition to the burgeoning art community.
Gregory Jewett, creative director at a design company called Rice, and his wife Le Hien Minh, an artist, are behind the new shop. The couple lives in the building and Minh manages the antique store on the ground floor, while Antique Street sits above on the first floor. The modern space features vintage homewares that Jewett and Minh have collected on their travels abroad, especially in the American Midwest, where Jewett is from. It also functions as an exhibition space for a variety of outside projects. Jewett explains that the original idea for Antique Street was born of a need for a project space.
“Minh and I were collaborating on an art piece and we just couldn’t find a good place to show our work, so we decided to show it here,” he says. “We had storage but it was kind of wasted space, so we converted it for that show into a gallery space and we really enjoyed doing it.”
The exhibition was well-received, and Jewett and Minh decided they should continue using the space for such a purpose. “We started to invite people that we thought were doing interesting things to show work,” Jewett says.
Recent exhibitions have featured photography by Neil Massey and Archie Pizzini and a local designer who makes minimalist women’s ready-to-wear clothing. At first the couple reached out to artists, but now people are contacting them to inquire about holding exhibitions.
“We wanted a space where people can show their work but it’s not a gallery, we’re not representing them,” Jewett explains. “They can do whatever they want and we would support them to do it.”
The second and equally important aspect of Antique Street is the selection of vintage and retro homeware items available for sale. According to Jewett, many of these goods follow the American slow life aesthetic, which entails a love of design and promotes a more thoughtful lifestyle.
Minh writes via email: “Antique Street is a highly curated environment. We take our time to search for and select items that we feel are special and unique.” Antique Street’s goods range from furniture that Jewett and Minh have refurbished to bar accessories and dining utensils. Minh continues: “The products are really unique for Saigon, it’s not the kind of stuff you can find anywhere else.”
While the items for sale at Antique Street are much different from the antiques on the ground floor, they have an important relationship with each other. “In a way Antique Street is an extension of the shop…not everyone that comes in knows about antiques or wants to spend a thousand bucks on something,” Jewett explains. “Antique Street offers an alternative, where you can find something cool and interesting but you don’t have to wonder too much whether it’s real and it’s much less expensive.”
The couple also feels a very close connection to Le Cong Kieu and hopes that Antique Street can spur change in the area.
“I hope Antique Street will be the first project of many to try something different on the street,” Minh shares. “We believe in this little corner of the city.”
For Jewett’s part, he says they take inspiration from the street around them. “It’s an amazing street that has potential with the rest of the city,” he says. “We believe that Antique Street can be part of that change…the street has a reputation for not being very transparent or legitimate and people are somewhat nervous when they come in.”
Looking towards the future, Jewett and Minh have considered expansion but they are in no rush to push too quickly. “As Antique Street grows I hope to keep a fresh eye and a keen mind and stay true to our core philosophy…I also hope that we can continue to create interesting events which promote creative members of our community,” Minh elaborates.
Jewett, for his part, pointed towards collaborations as a possibility. “We’re not trying to compete with galleries but we are interested in supporting the art scene. I could see maybe an Antique Street/San Art collaboration of some sort,” he says. Jewett emphasises that he and Minh do not see their project as a rival to other creative spots. “I think a lot of the same people who appreciate DeciBel appreciate our space as well, so there’s some crossover,” he tells me. “I think we consider those people our peers.”