Fashion archives are culture: why not open them up to everyone?

Brands open museums and archives where they preserve their physical and creative memory. Places that present themselves as spaces of dialogue between past and future, where one can study the evolution of costume and understand that fashion is culture. But all too often, they remain almost inaccessible, all too exclusive. Why not open them up to everyone?

by Domenico Casoria


It would be difficult to draw an exhaustive map of the places where fashion archives preserve the heritage of brands. It would be difficult, especially because we are talking about such different heritages that would not be able to fit under the same roof, in the same matrix. So, how do you preserve a brand’s memory? How can their impactful cultural and customary value be recognised? Finally: why not open them up to everyone?

Gucci’s choice

Over the last few decades, every fashion label and brand has equipped itself with a private archive or decided to open its own museum to provide access to its history. In 2021, Gucci inaugurated its new archive in Florence, thanks to the renovation desired and conceived by Alessandro Michele. Located in Palazzo Settimanni, it is one of the best organised and was conceived as a space for dialogue between past and future. A ‘sanctum sanctorum’ of the company that bears the traces of a history that has been going on for more than a hundred years.

Five levels high, themed rooms, and a journey that starts with porcelain and household objects, passes through collections of handbags, small leather goods, vintage belts and stops at jewellery. Then it moves on to luggage, arriving at textile creations – from scarves to dresses – and footwear. Not a place standing still in time but a study centre for dialogue with the contemporary. Michele conceived it together with Valerie Steele, director and museum curator of the Fashion Institute of Technology. The only flaw? It cannot be visited by everyone.

Dior, for example

Gucci has also opted for a museum, the Gucci Garden in Florence, which, in addition to a boutique and recreational spaces, hosts a number of exhibitions. So did Dior, which in 2022 opened Galerie Dior at 30 Avenue Montaigne, where Christian Dior presented the New Look that would later revolutionise the world of women’s fashion. The Galerie is a museum open to all and dedicated to the history of the Maison. Ten thousand square metres are divided into exhibition rooms displaying archive pieces, miniature reproductions of dresses that made the brand iconic, objects and sketches. Not just a museum, then: an immersive experience in the world of Dior.


On the other hand, Prada has dedicated several spaces in the Milan and Valvigna offices to the archives, which hold around 53,000 garments from the group’s brand collections. In the collections archive, the subdivision is by product category, brand and season: knitwear, jersey, women’s and men’s suits, outerwear, skirts, trousers, ties, clothing accessories and underwear. The catwalk archive has held Prada women’s, Prada men’s, and Miu Miu looks since 1990. Baggage that does not end with the clothes. The shoe archive has 67,000 models – all with a barcode indicating their details – while the leather goods archive has over 60,000 pieces, including bags and travel items.

Why not open them up to everyone?

These are just a few examples. Significant, however, of a considerable existing heritage. The fundamental question remains, therefore, one. If fashion is preserved in museums and archives, if it represents an obvious cultural factor, wouldn’t it be better to open them up to everyone, these archives? We have the answer: it is a win-win for everyone.

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