Past and present: the archives of fashion, the future of shopping

Looking at the collections from the near or distant past. Presenting again some models which were stored in the warehouse. In a nutshell: to dig pieces up and revive them out of archives. The fashion system faces its past in a new way to find its way to the future. True or false?

 “A steady cycle of creations and new models has saturated the fashion system: the pandemic has shed light on that and made it clear”. As we read this sentence slowly, thoroughly analysing each single word, we realize it is not simply a way of commenting any trends underway: it rather looks like a verdict. It has been reported by the article, which was published a few months ago, turns out to be extremely topical right now as well.

Starting from the headline, it sounds immediately challenging: Are Archival Pieces the Future of Fashion? Such rhetorical question spotlights the topic: it is well worth analysing it more closely. For the records, the question arises out of what we have seen during the latest fashion shows (still digital, for the time being). This is the gist of the story: will fashion archives inspire and stimulate the (next) future of shopping?

The archives of fashion

Looking at the collections of the past, either still close or far distant. Presenting again some models which, even due to the pandemic, were stored in the warehouse. In other words: to dig pieces up and revive them out of archives. Such inclination, which is coming out on top, is going beyond, then, the traditional (and weary) dimension of vintage. Furthermore, this trend requires a deeper analysis of a new, very pragmatic, side of the concept of circularity: not only in terms of materials and products, but also in terms of creative tips and ideas.

A few examples

These words are not just theoretical but are embedded in actual situations. For example, like we write right here, Gucci opted for it while presenting Aria, the first collection to celebrate its hundredth anniversary, and conjuring up a few creative choices by Tom Ford. Likewise, Coach, in September 2020, as reported by regarding summer 2021, which is getting closer at this point, the brand announced that “the new pieces created by Stuart Vevers would be combined with some models taken from the past collections”.

Balmain have gone further ahead with the experiment as they presented a cruise collection showing on the catwalk “the work of every fashion designer of the brand, from founder Pierre Balmain to current creative director Olivier Rousteing”: most importantly, “not even a single new item of clothing” was included in the collection. Rebecca Minkoff, a US brand founded in 2005, has progressively explored, even before, such creative and marketing modus operandi. As a result, in 2020, continued, archive collections became a structural asset of the brand’s business activity.

Is it a way of holding back obsession with new creations?

According to a cynical interpretation, one can see this process as a way of expressing a utilitarian necessity: to rely on one’s own archives (in other words, the fashion brand’s heritage) to avoid, while dealing with the current situation, a great deal affected by difficulties and instability, running too many risks in terms of creativity. The aim, in practice, is to reassure both themselves and the buyers they have been targeting. Furthermore, from a strategic point of view, we can deem such attitude as “more sustainable – commented the US newspaper – because it encourages buyers to purchase some items we would once consider as vintage and, therefore, invest in longer-lasting articles”.

In addition, it also works to “hold back obsession with new creations in the whole industry. Archive collections, then, can successfully address this effect. They provide customers with what they demand and allow designers to take a break so they don’t feel continually pressured to come up with 50 new suggestions every season. Some of these new creations will never reach the stores.”

Not to mention, consequently, customer loyalty effect. In other words: reading into the archive of a fashion brand implies reviving its own history.

Is it true?

“Taking items of clothing from the past and adding them to the current season collections is fully appropriate – wrapped up Julie Ann Clauss, founder of The Wardrobe –: it is much more sustainable than a completely new wardrobe we should set up every time and subsequently discard just six months later, especially if that wardrobe is taken from a fast fashion chain”. So, apparently, real innovation seems to be embedded in the past of fashion. Is it true? Is it going to be a long-lasting trend? We are supposed to find an answer to these questions in the (next) future.

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