Heidi Klum famously intoned, “Fashion, one day you’re in, the next you’re out.” However, sometimes you might also make a comeback.
For fashion houses with a long and storied history, generations of pieces from past collections live in their archives. These archives tell a history of where the brand came from and are often a reference for designers to remember the brand DNA and create updated versions of pieces.
Lately, fashion brands have found a different use for archival fashion pieces, reissuing them for sale and featuring them in runway shows.
Storied American brand Coach recently announced that for the unveiling of its spring 2021 collection (which will take place digitally on September 22), new pieces by creative director Stuart Vevers will be paired with some of the brand’s past collections, and other items from the brand’s archives.
This is not only seen as a more sustainable approach to fashion—as it is encouraging consumers to shop vintage and invest in pieces that have a long closet life—but also as a commentary on fashion’s obsession with newness. Coach did not respond to comment for this article.
This follows Balmain’s recent cruise collection show, where work by every creative director of the brand from namesake founder Pierre Balmain himself to current creative director Olivier Rousteing was shown without a single new article of clothing being presented.
Every piece came from the brand’s archives, and as the fashion world was looking for something to celebrate in a post-lockdown world this collection was met with applause and praise.
New York-based Rebecca Minkoff founded her brand in 2005, since becoming well-known for both her handbags and ready-to-wear. After 15 years in business, archival collections have become a key component of her business.
The brand’s e-commerce is known for having successful archive sales featuring a curated edit of past seasons in limited quantities and sizes at up to 75 percent. Minkoff is debuting her latest season collection at New York Fashion Week next week, and archival inspiration is expected.
“Based on the demand of some of our classic styles, we reissue them to offer our customers what they're looking for from Rebecca Minkoff,” Minkoff told The Daily Beast. “We make updates to the fabrication, hardware and sizing to keep the offering fresh but maintain the essence of the original pieces they love from the brand.”
One of the things that coronavirus brought to the attention of the fashion industry was that the constant cycle of putting out products and creating something new had oversaturated the system and burned out fashion industry professionals.
Archival sales and collections are seen as a way to counteract this while giving customers what they want and giving designers a break from needing 50 new ideas a season, a portion of which will never even make it to the sales floor.
NYC-based men’s handmade goods retailer Freemans Sporting Club won’t be presenting on the New York Fashion Week calendar this season, but recently opted to give its fans some of their classics to salivate over and purchase. Last week, the brand wrapped a successful archival sale.
“I think the archival sales are part of a momentum to slow fashion down, which I fully support,” said Nikko Lencek-Inagaki, head of design for Freemans Sporting Club. “I won’t argue that fashion thrives on newness, but it’s been accelerated to this inane pace and we’ve all been gaslit into thinking that enormous collections multiple times a year with side exclusives for each wholesale partner are necessary.
“This is pure poison for creativity, style, small businesses, and certainly our big beautiful planet Earth. I see archival sales as part of the flow towards value, thoughtful innovation, style, and meaningful making.”
The market for archival fashion is growing. Julie Ann Clauss, founder of fashion archiving and storage firm The Wardrobe, has made the collection and sale of archival fashion pieces her life’s work. Clauss sees fashion brand’s archives as sacred to a fashion house’s essence.
“Many designers are obviously inspired by their house’s archives, and reference and update looks from the archives for the current runway,” Clauss said. “Archives are key for a designer to keep the ethos of a house and understand the codes or signature elements of a house’s look. By that example, I mean a designer who takes over a very established, older house. [Archives] are also important for younger brands because keeping elements from season to season helps define who they are as a brand.”
She added that, “It’s very important for houses to maintain their archives and think in that aspect archives have a future in fashion. But fashion thrives on the new, so we’ll always need to have a new idea or point of view—even if it’s mixed with an archival reference—for something to actually be fashion.”
As sustainability continues be a dominant buzzword in the fashion industry, archival fashion stands to see more growth.
“Archival fashion ties into the sustainable movement because there is so much great fashion from the past that people are re-discovering and appreciating,” Clauss said. “There’s no reason we can’t incorporate vintage pieces with current season—it’s much more sustainable than constantly buying an entirely new wardrobe you intend to dispose of after six months—especially if that wardrobe is coming from a fast-fashion chain.”
According to Clauss, the current market for resale, including pieces that would be considered archival pieces, is well in the billions.
The stigma of owning what would be considered dated fashion is gone as people are more invested in personal style than newness. As fashion designers continue to look for answers to sustainability and slowing down the pace of the fashion industry, archival fashion collections have a glowing future.