Paula Rubenstein

When we visited New York this October I did my homework beforehand. I tried to source new and unknown places, new retail concepts, the best restaurants, the galleries we could not miss – the usual. But I did not find that much. Just more of the same. Don’t get me wrong, that was still super good because we’re in New York, but I wasn’t blown away.
Until, between two appointments, after a quick espresso at La Colombe and a spare five minutes, I was making my way down Bond Street and stopped as soon as I saw a shop window. It wasn’t even particularly fancy but it did catch my eye for some reason: it was a nice little shop front with some old ceramic bowls on display and a huge old ‘Black Cat’ ad behind the window, yet it didn’t feel like any other vintage or antique store.

— As published in Journal de Nîmes No 9 —

The moment I entered the place, I was sold. An elderly lady welcomed me kindly and slowly the objects around me came to life as we walked thru the store. She introduced herself as Paula Rubenstein, shop owner for the past twenty-five years and longtime collector of everything beautiful – from North American vintage textiles, rare objects and industrial furniture to amazing quilts and blankets. I lost myself in the beautiful antique indigo quilts, a patchwork made from old award ribbons, vintage rag balls and more, much more.

For me a big part of the joy of collecting is the story behind each object. In our studio I know almost every single story behind every object in all the collections. Most bizarre is probably my collection of photographs of people holding human skulls. This one started with one single image I found of a girl sitting with two skulls on an island in the Black Sea. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, this island was used as an USSR prison camp. This idea was so peculiar and freakish that it became the starting point of a whole new collection.

At Tenue de Nîmes we source special collections to accompany a story we want to share. Think of the boxing and sports theme in the men’s section in the basement of the Haarlemmerstraat store or the antique pressed flowers and plants on the women’s side, or the vintage photographs of working men wearing beautifully faded denim. They all have their own unique stories. Of almost all these objects I know their stories.

Back to New York. In Paula Rubenstein’s lovely store, she and I discussed this idea. Rubenstein told me her take on collecting, based on the concept of sculpture over story. It is not about the story behind an object. That is no longer relevant: the objects became sculptures and we need to see them in this light. These objects became so much more than they used to be. A collection of taped balls in a beautifully hand carved bowl is so far removed from what they were originally used for, that their story of origin doesn’t matter anymore. Yes, it is important to know a little about age and origin of objects, but it is so much more about where it is now, and about the space around them.

The objects in Rubenstein’s store are displayed in harmony with each other, they balance out the overall look and feel of the place, and I could really feel what she said. The objects got a new life as sculptures, next to other objects that once served completely different purposes. They were put together not because they come from the same region or era, but because they match in their sculptural aesthetic at this moment, in this particular place. It’s form over function. Or: sculpture over story. All that counts is the object in its whole sculptural presence.

It’s an inspiring and contrasting opinion to the idea we had with building the Tenue de Nîmes collections of vintage denim pictures, antique denim aprons, old pressed flowers or sports memorabilia. It goes against my own ideas and the way I started my collections at Another Something & Co too, but the idea somehow stuck and we can really see how this idea will shift our beliefs and strategies, and how it will eventually change the way we collect in some way.

One thing is for sure, Paula Rubenstein got at least one new, and hopefully many more, returning clients to her beautifully curated and well balanced store on Bond Street NY and it inspired us all to look beyond the roots of an object and really see it in a pure form and context.

As published in Journal de Nîmes No 9 for Tenue de Nîmes