WORDS BY STEPHEN YU
What is archive clothing?
At its most superficial, it’s owning an exceedingly rare piece of designer clothing to stunt in. At its most obsessive, it means becoming an archivist of your favorite designer, researching, collecting and reselling their rarest pieces out of sheer love, and maybe a little bit of one-upmanship. Strictly speaking, archival fashion is any piece of clothing taken from a designer’s past body of work, but in the last few years it has come to describe specific pieces from historically significant menswear collections. Archive clothing is essentially the obsessiveness of stamp collecting, sneakerhead culture, or Pokemon cards but applied to fashion. But unlike the people you find in the lineup outside Supreme or Palace, archival fashion collectors are more interested in the old rather than the new. As the entry point into the world of streetwear and high-fashion has become so accessible to many, archive clothing is seen as the last bastion of authenticity in fashion – no one owns a piece of archive fashion without dedicating time and energy researching and hunting for it meaning it requires more than just money to become an archival fashion collector.
Its rise in popularity can be traced back to the start of hip-hop’s love affair with fashion, particularly Kanye West – his Yeezy collections were inspired by vintage Raf Simons pieces he discovered in Japan – who alongside A$AP Mob helped introduce some of the nineties most influential designers to the younger generation.
What are the key archival fashion brands?
In reality, what signals that a brand is a ‘key archival fashion brand’ is completely dependent on your tastes and interests. While techwear ninjas may lust after Massimo Osti designed Stone Island or early Acronym pieces, ‘Lo Heads are probably more interested in Polo Ralph Lauren Snow Beach. Though punk collectors search far and wide for Vivienne Westwood’s ‘Seditionaries’ collection, forum members of StyleZeitgeist are more likely to drop serious dollars on Carol Christian Poell or the pre-Nike legal action Rick Owens Geobaskets. Basically, each fashion tribe has its own key designers.
But, what people generally agree on as the ‘key archival brands’ are a small selection of designers which almost all contemporary designers seem to unanimously cite as inspiration, some paying direct homage to in their own designs. This includes late nineties and early noughties menswear designers such as Helmut Lang, Martin Margiela, Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane, alongside the first wave of Japanese brands to show in Paris such as Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake. One thing that unites many of these brands is that their archive pieces capture a certain time period for their designers, whether a particularly innovative collection as with Prada Sport, or the final moments before a departure as with Alexander McQueen. For others, their archives tell the origin stories of entire movements, like how the birth of streetwear is captured through nineties Supreme and Ura-Harajuku brands like Undercover and A Bathing Ape.
What are archive pieces?
While technically all vintage designer clothing could be considered an ‘archive piece’, the term has come to define something more specific than just any piece from a designer’s archive. Rather, an archive piece is usually one of a designer’s ‘greatest hits’ from their back catalog, usually a particularly rare or sought after garment from one of their seminal or career-defining collections.
For example, the jacket Kanye West took on extended loan from David Casavant was no normal jacket – rather it was the Raf Simons F/W 2001 ‘Riot! Riot! Riot!’ Camo bomber, one of Raf’s most iconic archive pieces. The seemingly simple designs of Helmut Lang which are in fact ‘holy grail’ items for menswear collectors worldwide? The A/W1997 bulletproof vest or S/S 2004 bondage bomber. An archive piece is never just a piece of clothing; just as important are the year, season and collection they belong to.
ARCHIVAL FASHION ON FARFETCH
Raf Simons AW2003 ‘Closer’ collection was named after Joy Division's final album, and featured selected album artwork graphics in collaboration with the man behind them – legendary British graphic designer Peter Saville. You’ve probably seen the ‘Unknown Pleasures’ artwork everywhere since, but it all began here. Though not as lusted after as those with the ‘Power, Corruption, Lies’ graphic, this ‘Atmosphere’ parka is equally as rare as each piece was hand-painted and produced in extremely limited numbers.
Though functionality, utilitarianism and minimalism are common themes in menswear today, Helmut Lang was the first to do it. Often copied but never bettered, Lang was the first to incorporate technical fabrics alongside military and workwear inspired functionality into his designs. These minimal trousers from his most prolific time period turn functional strapping and bondage style wraps into ornamental detailings.
Maison Martin Margiela
Prior to Margiela, fashion was considered an aesthetic art form rather than a conceptual one, but he would soon flip that on its head. Margiela pioneered deconstruction techniques and oversized silhouettes as well as reimagining the catwalk as a place of spectacle with his 1989 Pari runway show. After leaving his namesake brand in 2009, he left behind a legacy and archive that still feels timeless to this day. Though these Tabi boots are an archive reissue, their design remains unchanged from the original.
In the nineties Neil Barret designed the precursor to modern day athleisure when he applied sportswear fabrics to tailoring. Combining Prada’s minimalist aesthetic with innovative fabrics like Gore-Tex and the now iconic ‘Linea Rossa’ branding – a streak of red at the hem – the Prada Sport collection seemed prophetic of the modern fashion world’s embrace of all things sportswear. With the return of Linea Rossa, these sneakers capture the essence of the original Prada Sport line and were a street staple in cities like London and New York in the early noughties.
Hedi Slimane helped usher in a new era of menswear during his time at Dior Homme in the early noughties when he introduced his razor-thin rock n roll androgynous aesthetic to fashion. Inspired by the underground music scenes of London and Berlin, his work could be seen as a continuation of Raf Simons’ love for youth subculture. The tailoring and ready-to-wear was cut slimmer than anything anyone had seen before, famously leading the then overweight Karl Lagerfeld to lose 92 pounds in order to squeeze into it. If you’ve ever worn a pair of skinny jeans or a slim suit, you have Hedi to thank.
Issey Miyake is a Japanese designer who effortlessly fuses tradition and innovation to create pieces like the uncreasable paper suit, or modern garments made with ancient kimono fabrics. Since 1994, Issey Miyake ceased to be involved in his menswear label which makes anything released before then even more covetable. This bomber jacket comes from his now discontinued Sport Line, and what is particularly interesting about this piece is that it features text from the internal care label printed on the outside. Feels kind of like a precursor to Virgil Abloh’s trademark use of Helvetica text on the outside of his designs.
Jean Paul Gaultier
With SS20 haute couture collection being the last from fashion’s enfant terrible, Jean Paul Gaultier leaves behind 50 years of redefining gender, body shape and sexuality in fashion. A relative newcomer to archival fashion collectors, interest in JPG spiked after rapper Lil Uzi Vert started wearing his pieces. His collaboration with Supreme revisited pieces from the Jean Paul Gaultier archive and as a meeting of two of the biggest names in fashion and streetwear, it ticks all the right boxes for any archive collector.
When Yohji Yamamato presented his first menswear collection in Paris, his unfinished, tattered, raw hemmed and seemingly thrown together designs shocked the fashion industry. His trademark loose flowing silhouettes and all black colorways have now gained cult status amongst artists and creative urbanites. It’s one of the reasons why Yohji’s intermittent use of color in his collections created some of the more standout pieces amongst his archive, as with these floral print trousers.
A talented tailor prior to becoming a fashion designer, Lee Alexander McQueen combined technical prowess with a knack for the theatrical. Not only were his designs immaculately cut, but his runway shows were awe inspiring in concept and experience. The now iconic skull motif is something seen throughout the Alexander Mcqueen archive. His use of skulls was first pioneered in his graduate show which focused on Jack the Ripper, and resurfaced in his S/S2003 collection. The juxtaposition of glamour with death was a common theme for the late British designer, as evidenced in his must-have skull scarves.
Versace was one of the first designers to link fashion with the music industry, when he dressed artists like Elton John and Cher. The brand became synonymous with the opulence of the eighties with their use of Greco-Roman mythological symbols like Medusa heads. This piece is from Gianni Versace’s time at the label.