New York’s Knick-Knack King: Intramural’s Bijan Shahvali
You might remember our friend Bijan Shahvali from his recent episode of Drake’s Radio and/or his expertly curated and tricky to define Intramural shop, a treasure trove of fun, strange and, most importantly, rare merchandise and trinkets that has gained a cult following New York and beyond. If there’s a piece of peculiar ephemera out there - a set of IBM mugs; a key tray commemorating the 1979 New York Marathon; a Herman Miller mouse pad, or an embroidered Ernest Hemingway t-shirt - then chances are Bijan has found it, stocked it and sold it.
Bringing his roving eye for big city souvenirs and niche tchotchkes to the Drake’s 'Open Studio' as part of an ongoing series of pop-ups, we caught up with Bijan to find out more about the Intramural ethos, his holy grail of merch and what makes a great playlist to clean to.
Drake's: Hi Bijan. Is there an Intramural manifesto? If so, what is it?
Bijan Shahvali: The philosophy at Intramural HQ is that we should all incorporate things that inspire us into our daily lives. 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. My hope is that Intramural can someday be a part of the stories people tell when someone is asked about the vintage t-shirt they are wearing or the vintage object in their home office.
What makes America such a rich source of merchandise? It feels like other countries don't have that culture of niche/random branded ephemera.
Maybe it's a function of capitalism, where many Americans have nostalgia that is directly tied to physical things. We like to mark a memory of a trip, a favorite restaurant etc with a tangible thing we can wear or use. We also have deep nostalgia and desire for things we used to have or want, but couldn’t have for whatever reason. When it comes to merch in other countries, the vermouth/liquor promotional items from Italy always stand out to me. I particularly love the ceramic ashtrays because they have a super high quality feel to them.
What is your background in vintage/fashion? How did Intramural come about?
I don't have a background in fashion other than being a guy who spent A LOT of time on blogs and eBay in his younger days. Intramural came from a lifetime of hunting/collecting and desire to create a space to share it.
Can you remember your first great vintage find? Either personal or professional.
My earliest memory of thrifting is going with my older brother to $1 Sunday sale in the parking lot of this vintage store in Los Angeles called Jet Rag. There were never any really crazy finds here, but I did find a Grand Royal (The Beastie Boys’ record label and magazine) piece there. As the classic older sibling trope goes, he took it for himself, which I was okay with because he was the one who put me on to them in the first place.
Is there anything you're still on the hunt for? The 'white whale'?
I’m on the hunt for a lot of things, but one that has eluded me for many years and has sentimental value is a t-shirt from Lauryn Hill’s 1999 tour in burgundy. My older sister took me to the show at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim arena. It was the first concert I ever went to, so it holds a special place for me. I lost the shirt a few years later and have been looking for it in my size ever since.
Can you explain the inspiration behind 'Music to clean to'? (a series of playlists curated by Bijan on the Intramural website). What makes a great cleaning tune?
I’m inspired by images of artists and creatives in their living and working spaces. What things do they collect? What books are on their shelves? What furniture do they have? All these things shed light on what inspires them and their craft. I started to wonder what they listen to while dusting their shelves and tidying up these objects of inspiration, so I thought it would be fun to have an on-going series of playlists by friends in different creative spaces sharing what they listen to while cleaning.
Personally, when doing more deep cleaning tasks like vacuuming and mopping, I like a tune that is catchy and familiar, something that will energise. For organizing or dusting objects/books, I like a more ambient tune lately because it allows the space to have a moment to appreciate the items we collected in our apartment.
Are there any modern institutions making great contemporary merchandise?
Pound for pound, I think Zabar’s in UWS reigns supreme. Their catalog has a seemingly endless amount of merch at very affordable prices. Their chocolate babka is quite excellent too!
Finally... what's your secret?
I don’t know if I have any secrets, other than there aren’t any secrets. Just time and consistency. Buy stuff you are into, not what’s trending. Stay open to learning new things. When you put in your 10,000 hours, over time you will keep learning and building relationships with other dealers, which will help in finding new (old) things that excite you.