A Hunt Through Archival Fashion
Fashion archives are experiencing a resurgence, now more than ever. The idea of documenting contemporary fashion’s finest moments by sourcing, researching and collecting rare statement pieces are the documents of their own histories, while keeping their functionalities intact as well.
Fans and contemporary fashion designers are increasingly drawing inspirations from the past to set trends for the future, and their archival knowledge and collections are growing every waking minute.
Fashion archives work to preserve and consign certain pieces to positions of significance in fashion history, all the while functioning as a collection of design ascendancy and influential milestones.
One such example is ENDYMA. This interdisciplinary project is a historical garment archive, a research endeavour as well as an e-commerce outlet. The platform holds the most complete & largest worldwide archive collection of Helmut Lang designs, spanning from 1990's to 2000's. It also displays the work of many other designers and brands such as Raf Simons, Burberry Prorsum and CoSTUME NATIONAL.
ENDYMA reaches out to fashion cognoscenti, creators, researchers & collectors who recognize that the value of good design is not dictated by time. The project aspires to create an accessible space where everyone can discover the intricacies that make certain garments timeless works of design.
Apart from these independent archives, many high-fashion brands also appoint professional archivists who work in tandem with their respective creative teams to collaborate on everything from house codes to pattern-making.
Archiving has proven to be a powerful asset in determining a brand’s DNA, and serves as a reference for future seasons while maintaining strategic value. In ensures a brand has their body of work on hand and in good condition should they wish to use it for exhibitions, collection references, advertising, celebrity dressing and more. It acts as a physical footprint of how far a label has come.
An expensive initiative that can cost from as little as $10,000 a year to almost a six or seven figure sum, archiving requires ideal environmental conditions as well. With no daylight, 45-50% humidity, and a temperature range of 18-20oC, for some brands with a vast heritage collection, archiving may become as costly as running a museum!
To further understand the extent of the concept, we rounded up a few brands and haute couture design houses, who archive their collections.
Yves Saint Laurent:
Being one of the first designers to understand and realise the value and essence of maintaining fashion archives, Yves Saint Laurent has been preserving their couture pieces from the very beginning. It is known that the legendary designer would fight with some clients who wanted to purchase or keep certain exclusive pieces!
A grand mansion at Number 5 Avenue Marceau, near the intersection of the chic Avenue Montaigne on the north bank of the Seine, is home to the Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent, which has perpetuated its mission statement of preserving and promoting Saint Laurent’s body of work, since the couture house closed its doors in 2002.
The sprawling archive houses 5,000 garments from 81 collections spanning from the years 1962 to 2002. The archive also includes about 1500 shoe designs that are stored in there, as well. Four fashion conservationists are employed by the foundation to incessantly restore garments and develop new ways of exhibiting them that prevent damaging the delicate nature of the clothes.
Some rare pieces that can be found are the 'Gazar Capes', embellished with hundreds of hours worth of hand-embroidered bougainvillea flowers from the SS 1989 Haute Couture collection; Intricately embellished 'Sunflower' and 'Iris' jackets from SS 1988 Haute Couture tribute to Vincent Van Gogh collection, famously modeled by an 18-year old Naomi Campbell on the runway are some of the most expensive pieces Saint Laurent has ever created that are displayed along with several other iconic pieces from impeccable collections.
Dior's archive was first created when the brand began preparing for its 40th anniversary exhibition, which took place at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris in 1987.
Located off Avenue Montaigne, the archive follows the International Council of Museum’s strict guidelines on preservation climate control with the exact required temperatures, humidity and light.
The head archivist at Christian Dior, Soizic Pfaff, has been building the most comprehensive archive of the brand, including shoes, hats, dresses, original swatches and even sketches by Monsieur Dior himself. The total garments in the archives are more than 4,000. Additionally, the archive also houses press releases dating back to the brand's very first collection.
Closed off for the general public at large, it exists mainly for Dior designers to reference, study and view early designs from the label's illustrious past. The pieces are occasionally called up for exhibitions such as the recent Christian Dior, Couturier Du Rêve exhibition at The Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, that celebrated House of Dior's 70th anniversary. The exhibition presented a collection of over 300 haute couture dresses showcasing “a unifying thread of emotions, life stories, affinities, inspirations, creations and legacies” for the world to see once again.
American apparel brand Gap Inc. recently delved into the archival community as well. Hiring a certified archivist , Olivia Mueller, the long standing retailer has over 50 years in the industry and has now begun maintaining an archive of all their standout pieces and designs.
The role of an archivist helps the designers ride the nostalgic wave into future by guiding and referencing certain pieces from the past to inspire upcoming collections. for referencing and get inspired for coming collections. Gap’s archives are segregated into two main sections: One for broad creativity and another for “heritage” items, where one can find the most iconic pieces representing a moment in Gap’s history.
With digital libraries being so meticulously catalogued, an archive's physical collection has to be organised with even greater care. As such, it's vital that archivists maintain a record of who visits the space. Trips to the Gap, Inc. archive are by appointment-only - often needing to be made days in advance - where Mueller acts as the guide, helping designers and employees find what they need.
The archive database also features a system wherein all the "heritage” items are uploaded with an image and links to marketing materials - ad campaigns, television spots etc.
In another attempt with similar motives, Virtual Fashion Archive, a brainchild of Superficial Studios is creating a collection of culturally significant archival garments and bringing them to life through new digital dimensions. The platform, chosen for its range of innovative construction techniques and variety of materials, provides a fascinating (and challenging) case study for virtualisation.
The newly instated initiative includes Issey Miyake, Thierry Mugler and Claire McCardell’s pieces as part of their inaugural collection. Head on over to their Instagram page to get a more detailed look at the pieces.
Although archival fashion is at a fairly nascent stage, another being set into motion is Digitising fashion archives. Google's new initiative 'We Wear Culture' is a platform attempting to digitise and transform the archive system by highlighting the stories behind the couture and designs we wear.
Archives not only preserve iconic pieces but are a consolidated way of remembering aesthetics of different generations as well as curating significant cultural content that redefined fashion for an entire era. Only time will tell the true potential for archival fashion, but it is sure to be enrapturing.