Hunting for Treasure with Intramural’s Bijan Shahvali
“How much is this knife?” asks Bijan Shahvali, picking up a rusty pocket knife from a tatty cardboard box, rotating the ornate handle carefully in his palm? “10 dollars,” comes the reply from a gruff Russian man in an ‘ushanka’ hat, who quickly returns to an animated conversation with a fellow market trader. They might be arguing, or professing their deep affection for one another. It can be hard to tell sometimes.
“How about 5?”
“Now it’s gone up to 15! I ask you 10, then you try and deal? I’m already losing money on this!”
“I can’t even get the knife out, look, it’s all rusted. Ten is too much.”
“Okay, don’t buy, or maybe you give me 50…”
There’s a pause, a slight tension in the air, before prospective buyer and obstinate seller break out in smiles, exchanging a knowing nod. “It’s understandable,” says Bijan, having exited the arena, relatively unscathed. “Not everyone’s up for cutting a deal. Let’s go and see the book guy. There’s also a guy with a junk table… he’s good too.”
On a flat grey Saturday morning, we meet Bijan on the corner of West 25th, outside of Chelsea Flea, a vintage market in an area of Manhattan that is glamorous with a whiff of decay. A handful of traders have braved the chilly morning to hawk their wares. There’s the aforementioned reticent Russian, the book guy, and someone selling tribal masks, a kitchen equipment table; rails of fur coats, a stack of eggshell blue plastic chairs and a painting of a daffodil that is so terrible that it has transformed into a thing of peculiar beauty.
As the founder of Intramural, New York’s leading name in all things niche and vintage — Mercedes Benz glass tumblers, Swatch beach towels, an LA marathon t-shirt from 1989, or a Herman Miller mug — Bijan is in his element. He’s made a name for seeking out the sort of pieces that make you think both, “Why did they decide to make that?” And, “How did he get his hands on it?”
“Growing up in LA, I would always go to garage sales,” says Bijan, weaving through the crowds. “It was always so appealing to me. The hunt, finding a hidden gem An idea will often pop into my head. ‘I wonder if they made a t-shirt for this?’ or ‘I wonder if they made a mug?’”
“The philosophy at Intramural HQ is that we should all incorporate things that inspire us into our daily lives,” adds Bijan. “In my opinion, the people with the coolest style, when it comes to dressing and home decor, always include an element of something personal. It's always something that has a fascinating story. Vintage is a great way to add this personal element to our day to day.”
Bijan is currently working on building out an Intramural reference library, not just selling a vintage t-shirt, but also an idea that might trigger a new one. “When someone comes across an object, or a print or poster at Intramural, it could trigger a design idea in their head. Here’s what I think is cool and, you can take it to a different place.”
“It’s quiet here today,” says Bijan, inspecting the smattering of tables and hagglers. “The hardcore guys are all seasons!” We stop to chat with a woman called Nila, who is selling old clothes of indeterminate quality. “I try not to come into a flea, or an estate sale with a set idea of what I want. You just have to be guided by your eye and your taste.” A dusty stack of magazines catches his attention. “Oh, these are cool. How much are these?”
After a brief back and forth he leaves with a 60s graphic design magazine, and ‘A photographic guide to greenwich village.’ “There’s a part of me that wants to buy all of them… but you have to know when to leave stuff be.”
Satisfied with his haul, we head for the exit. There’s a brief nod to the knife seller, a wave to book guy and some meandering conversation with a woman who passionately details the recent estate sale of the deceased fashion editor, Andre Leon Talley. “The luggage was so beautiful! But only the hard cases, not the duffle bags.” We nod in agreement.
“That’s the fun thing about vintage,” says Bijan at the exit, the day clearing and a trip back to Brooklyn on the cards. You’re always meeting fun and interesting people, and the definition, what vintage means, is always up for interpretation.
“Everyone has their own perspective. I like that.”