How designers use the archives: two examples explain it all

It goes something like this: a brand enlists a new designer, and ‘the first chapter of the new saga starts in the archives. To understand who it really is, we will have to wait for the following collection. Why does this happen? Two recent examples explain it to us. Those of Sean McGirr for Alexander McQueen and Adrian Appiolaza for Moschino

by Domenico Casoria

Have you ever noticed that the first collection of a new creative director is always archival? Take note. When a brand appoints a new designer, expectations are high, and the reviews after the first collection are always the same. “The first chapter of the new saga starts from the archives. To understand who he really is, we will have to wait for the next collection”. It is as if being able to decipher a brand’s archive were a simple matter. Here, then, it is worth giving two examples to understand how designers use their brand archives.

Two examples explain everything

The degree of difficulty of this act certainly depends on several factors. First, the size of the archive. Then, there is a vastness in terms of references and a certain personal attitude towards the study of the creative and evolutionary foundations of a brand. Two very recent examples explain what we are saying well. During the last women’s fashion week, in fact, we witnessed two debuts: that of Sean McGirr for Alexander McQueen and that of Adrian Appiolaza for Moschino.

Their two collections were strongly influenced by the archives, with one distinction. While McGirr tried to put his own spin on it – attracting some criticism, especially in the (almost natural) comparison with the brand’s founder – Appiolaza decided to indulge in the Maison’s codes. The result was a collection that seemed to have come out of the hands of Franco Moschino. Where, then, is the boundary? It is clear that to fully understand a brand, you have to delve into its innards. But that is not enough. You also have to peer into the folds and know the zeitgeist that led to the creation of that heritage, especially if we are talking about brands that have expressed a multitude of references.

Example 1: Sean McGirr

For autumn/winter 2024, McGirr was inspired by The Birds, the collection presented by Alexander McQueen in 1995. McQueen had started with ornithology and Alfred Hitchcock’s films, but without forgetting the method: telling his inner world, poignant, always on edge, theatrical, strident, but profoundly realistic. McGirr’s re-edition did not please the critics, who described it as ‘cold, aseptic and only partly McQueen’, so much so as to cast doubt on the choice.

Now, it is clear that in addition to citing an archive, one must also change the narrative capacity of those who founded that brand. But this discourse has an underlying problem. The choice of creative directors is increasingly made in a closed box when at least a point of contact with the archive should be found. In other words, whoever arrives should at least share the same emotional and cultural background as that brand, in addition to technical skills that are not secondary.

Example 2: Adrian Appiolaza

The comparison is, however, always just around the corner. But that angle can be smoothed, as Appiolaza tried to do at Moschino. Appiolaza only had a month to put the show together. The only creative pool he could focus on was the archive; in the end, it proved successful. For his Collection 0, the designer brought some of the brand’s iconic pieces to the catwalk (in a surgical manner) without reinterpreting them because he realised that Franco’s characteristic value system – ironic/ironic/arrogant at times – would still work today just as it was. The same is true for Collection 01, presented for spring/summer 2025. Pieces from the archives are revisited in an ironic, not caricatured key. This time, with a few personal additions. It is not a nostalgic homage but a game of counterweights between the past and the future. Why change something that stands by its very nature?

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