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Frozen in Time: Inside Bangkok's First Ever Department Store

Built in the 1960s, Bangkok's Nightingale-Olympic store remains unchanged today, preserved in its retro state – as photographer Phil Dunlop observes in this weird and wonderful series

The Nightingale-Olympic department store is a peculiar anomaly in Bangkok’s lustrous, tech-fluent cityscape. Constructed in 1966, it remains – madly and somewhat mightily – untouched, refusing to modernise its distinctive Brutalist façade, sun-bleached signage and novel interiors. “The store is trapped in a timewarp, with no desire to change for the outside world,” explains photographer Phil Dunlop, who captured the shop in all of its bizarre, nostalgic glory especially for AnOther. “If you can imagine, it was ahead of its time when it was built, when all that surrounded it were shop houses which were completely different to Nightingale-Olympic’s Brutalist aesthetic,” he adds. 

No corner of the space escaped the gaze of Dunlop’s inquisitive lens, as he navigated his way through experimental ephemera (including redundant fitness contraptions, vibrating pillows and the rather ingenious ‘Sauna in a Suit’) and, indeed, its long-serving sales assistants, dressed in hot-pink polo shirts. “I was fascinated by the ladies that work there and the people who shop there. I can’t imagine how it survives in today’s economic climate. There was nobody in the store when I went there, but every station was manned by a shop assistant waiting to serve. They were all women and no one spoke English,” he continues. “I was told though that they are famous for their beauty counter and lingerie department. They seemed very proud of their imported bras and briefs in particular, they expected you to feel the same.” 

Below, Dunlop describes and showcases his favourite images from the series... 

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Photography by Phil Dunlop

“I immediately noticed the old advertisements in the shop windows and the mannequins dressed as if art directed by the showrunners of Mad Men when I approached the main doors. I was totally taken aback by the ageing colours and dust, dust everywhere. Ten seconds after entering the department store I had already started to take pictures. 20 seconds later, I was told to stop. No photographs were explicitly allowed in the store.” 

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Photography by Phil Dunlop

“At first, the shop assistants really didn’t like having their pictures taken. The store is not about self-promotion and they are not fans of the spotlight.” 

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Photography by Phil Dunlop

“The first floor is an arrangement of beauty products, clothing and vintage sports goods. The tennis rackets they sold were the ones made out of wood and the clothing they stocked were the type from the era of Borg vs McEnroe.”

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Photography by Phil Dunlop

“Sealed in original plastic packaging as if they were new, the products were sadly all tarnished from yellow stains and where the sun has discoloured them over the years.”

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Photography by Phil Dunlop

“The shop assistant upstairs told us they never used to put price tags (which were hefty) on these items, and only did so randomly because many people had asked about the prices. One of the strangest items I found was an item called ‘Vibra Bed’. It apparently was a device that converted your own bed into a vibrator in seconds. The second oddest item was called ‘Sauna in a Suit’ – I think the name is self-explanatory on that one.”

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Photography by Phil Dunlop

“I love this shot of the old Roulette and Monopoly board games. Its visual appearance completely sums up the age and the feeling of the store.”