The Private Museum of Classic Fashion
From one of the uppermost floors of the rippling Gehry tower in downtown Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty looks like a dime store figurine and the New York harbor at sunset resembles a vintage postcard. People are motes, and we are so far from the Earth’s surface that time seems to bend, too. Or at least it feels that way. Judging from the racks of clothing that crowd David Casavant’s apartment, we’re both about 10 years behind contemporary street style and at its cutting edge. This modern aerie is both Casavant’s home and the home of the David Casavant Archive, the largest and most prestigious private collection of cult menswear design from the late 20th and early 21st centuries in the world. It is perhaps the most important apartment in fashion today.
Casavant, 26, began collecting menswear as a teenager in Signal Mountain, a town of 7,500 in southeastern Tennessee. His grandfather, A.R. Casavant was a legendary marching band leader—he pioneered the “Precision Drill” style in the ’50s—and his father, Richard, is a well-known professor. The Casavant family was one of the most prominent in the Walden Ridge area where Signal Mountain is located, and they supported their son’s rather unique passion. “I was probably the only kid in the state who knew who Raf Simons was,” Casavant says.
His collection would not exist without the acquisitional powers enabled by eBay (any more than eBay could exist without the obsessive eyes of collectors like Casavant). Casavant left Tennessee as soon as he could, studying design at London’s Central St. Martin before a professor dismissively informed him he should be a stylist, not a designer. Upon reflection, Casavant realized she was right. “I was like, ‘Fuck yeah, I’m a stylist!’” In 2012, he moved to New York and began assisting well-known stylists like Carine Roitfield. He brought his clothes with him.
Today, as he threads his way through the scores of laden garment racks that occupy his home, Casavant is still palpably excited by the clothes. In the kitchen/living room, there are four racks completely devoted to Simons, the Belgian designer whose work is both deeply personal and very rare. They are organized chronologically from ’93 to the early 2000s. “Those years were the biggest gap in the market,” explains Casavant. Simons, along with Helmut Lang, form the core of the Archive.
In an ascetic uniform of gray and black Nike clothing, Casavant parts a sea of camouflage parka jackets to reveal his piece de resistance: a Raf Simons Autumn 2001 camo-bomber. To menswear enthusiasts, the orange-lined jacket with New Order patches sewn onto the camouflage pattern needs no introduction. Kanye West borrowed this very jacket and wore it continuously and conspicuously at Paris Fashion Week in 2015, thus cementing his membership in an elite cadre of menswear mystics and turning Casavant into something of a Svengali at the crossroads of menswear and music. Next to Kanye’s bomber, in a smaller size naturally, is yet another of these rare jackets. This one Rihanna once wore and, next to that, yet another worn by Travis Scott. Casavant clients range from West and Scott to Lorde, Adele, and Fergie.
But the jackets aren’t his favorites pieces for the celebrity skin against which they rubbed. “Raf didn’t even design these jackets. All he did was buy a military surplus bomber and sew his own patches on it,” Casavant explains. “By buying his pieces and then loaning them out to other people for their own interpretation, I’m doing the same thing.”
Casavant is not just a collector but a creator as well. Like Simons or Duchamp, his medium is ready-made. The David Casavant Archive is original, not simply because it is the largest treasury of rare material but because, through perspicacious curation and by a near religious devotion, Casavant has created something that is more than the sum of its parts. The power, that is, isn’t in the pieces alone but is derived rather from the extraordinary collection of them.
Casavant, who is often accompanied by a slight man with big eyes and long hair named Dominik Halas, who serves as his factotum, is like the Albert C. Barnes of menswear. Just like that famously prickly and prophetic art collector, Casavant cottoned on early to a group of artists not yet lauded. Like Barnes, Casavant built a nonpareil collection. Like Barnes, he wants to be surrounded by his art. That’s why it’s in his home. And just like Barnes, Casavant will never let his collection be dismantled piecemeal by the sale of its constituent works. “I will never sell,” he says, “because if I did, I would just spend the money buying more clothing. So why bother?”
Casavant leads me to another room so full of garment racks one must squirrel between them, Frogger-like. Stacks of fashion magazines fill the shelves—Love, Garage, Office. Shoes, hats, and framed photographs of press coverage hang on the wall.
“This is my wall of fame,” says Casavant, pointing to a section where paparazzi shots of celebrities wearing clothes from his collection are presented next to editorial fashion spreads. He shows me the closet, whose racks are so full of clothing they seem like one solid, albeit variegated, mass. A wardrobe is devoted solely to ratty old T-shirts in various states of decay. “You’d be surprised how popular the selection of gross vintage T-shirts is,” laughs Casavant.
The room itself, Casavant calculates, is worth at least $20 million. (He insures the clothing not simply on its estimated value but on the potential earnings that would be lost should they be damaged.) But among the priceless Raf Simons tank tops, Helmut Lang overcoats, and Gucci snakeskin bell bottoms, he’s sneakily introduced red herrings, little shouts among the racks about the emperor and his clothes.
Take, for example, a pair of cheap plastic crowns stacked next to stack of fedoras. “Because they’re in a room with Raf and Helmut, who are considered great, people begin to question, ‘Oh, are those crowns Saint Laurent?’” They’re not, says Casavant, they’re a pair of 50-cent baubles he picked up to wear, he says, when he wants to “feel royal.” But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t also have Saint Laurent crowns, too. “Domnik,” he calls, “where is my tiara?”
After a few minutes of rummaging, Casavant pulls out a small black box with Saint Laurent written on the top. He opens the box, pulls out a diamond tiara. “These are definitely not real diamonds,” he says, looking at the rocks as they sparkle in the closet light. “It was, what, $1,500?” From the other room Dominik answers, “Yeah, and I think there are only six in North America.” Casavant smirks and, carefully placing the piece back in its box and back in the drawer, steps out of the closet and back among his racks.