Text by: Riccardo Slavik
Creativity in the world of fashion, in our day and age, has taken new and unexpected routes, when it hasn’t been abandoned altogether.
From taking inspiration from obscure Tumblr pages and Instagram celebrities to scouring vintage markets or finding ‘inspiration’ in other designers’ past collections, the fashion system has created a race to the bottom line of putting out a product that will sell and keep the company afloat more than an endless festival of creation. And with boutique and curated vintage shops scoring the world for elusive and iconic fashion pieces and global copycatting not only from fast fashion but other designers as well, it’s no wonder many companies find looking into their archives a very practical and simple solution to the never ending cycle of ‘creative’ output.
At the forefront of the new approaches to creativity is certainly Helmut Lang with its curatorial Editor In Chief figure and ‘designer in residence collections’ and artist collaboration. This reinterpreted output though is kept close to the brand’s DNA by capsule collection of re-editions, 15 pieces from the archives meticulously recreated and chosen from the most iconic items in the minimalist designer’s influential oeuvre. With iconic t-shirts and some denim the price range is on the affordable side, or at least what passes for affordable nowadays, it’s a clever move, since the prices of the original vintage pieces haven’t gotten out of control yet. Mixing an outside designer’s vision, vintage pieces and artist collaborations seems like an intelligent solution to make a cult label relevant for a younger generation, especially one whose founder practically invented the artist-designer collaboration, used works of art as campaign images without showing any actual fashion and generally revolutionized the way fashion was shown, presented and sold. Another brand with an interesting relationship with its storied archives is Burberry.
The brand, given a much needed injection of cool street cred by its collaboration with Gosha Rubchinskyi, decided to show again its infamous Nova Check print on its catwalk after they had to distance themselves from it in the early 2000s when it became a symbol of the much demonized working class ‘chavs’ and terrace hooligans. The distinctive pattern was so closely associated with the working classes and criminality that many pubs refused entry to Burberry-wearing costumers and the brand had to abandon its most recognizable print for quite a while. The classic check cap which was taken off the shelves and retired more than 10 years ago made its proud comeback on a Burberry runway last winter, in a ready-for-sale, Northern-England-90s-streetwear influenced collection that gave more than a nod to the Gosha collaboration. It’s not a big surprise that in a moment in which fashion seems to celebrate youth and a vague nostalgia for working class bad taste, bringing back a print that went from symbolizing a certain old fashioned snobbishness to becoming the epitome of ‘chav’ youth is not only not that revolutionary but has actually re-started a craze for the brand. After all, once the very idea of the ‘trend’ is by all means dead, nothing sells like the established and recognizable, and nothing is more so that an iconic pattern given a nostalgic undertone by the fact that the brand has not used it in a decade. The trend was kept up in the brand’s February capsule collection, which rolled out reworkings of 80s and 90s archive pieces and reinterpreted old logos.
And speaking of nostalgia and recognition, nothing felt as sweetly nostalgic and fabulously 90s as the Versace Tribute Collection. Going full-on archive for the first time since her bother’s death Donatella Versace brought back some of the most iconic prints and reworked a number of Gianni’s seminal creations, tweaking the proportions here and there but without altering his original concepts. The vibrant colors, baroque prints and pop-art references made for a visually stimulating show and gave younger generations a chance to witness the full-on glamazonian experience that was a Gianni Versace show.
Much as I have always greatly respected Donatella’s vision and her desire to keep the brand in the family while trying to push it into the future, many Versace fans thought it was about time some of the most iconic prints and designs from its heyday were made available for the younger generations. As I was telling some friends last week ( before she showed the brand’s FW18 collection, btw) the Tribute collection was a way to open up the archives and give Donatella and the brand the freedom to dig into Gianni’s iconic archive and bring back fabrics, designs and shapes from the archives, reworked or otherwise. The brand’s FW18 show seemed to forge such a path forward with its clever clash of 90s denim, patchwork tartans straight out of Clueless ( and its own 1991 and ’92 collections) and a reworking of the house’s Futurism inspired print and fringe motifs. The repurposing and mix-matching of pieces and prints from a moment from Gianni Versace’s oeuvre that isn’t so iconically represented was a clever and ironic ploy to push the 90s nostalgia trend while showing an aesthetic that is eventually rooted in the present, though the present might itself be lost in the past.
Re-issuing archive pieces is also a way to engage a younger, visually literate ( but sometimes historically ignorant) generation, and reclaiming ownership of certain ideas and designs. If other designers are going to ‘be inspired’ by your vintage pieces you might as well put them on the market yourself. Archives are also a way to create a series of season-less replenishable products which might create sales and buzz and further establish a brand’s image and history.
It also resonates with younger generations and their distate for the one-directional concept of trends. “Generation Z don’t like having trends dictated to them and consumers are generally a lot more responsive to the idea of mixing and matching,” says trend forecaster Victoria Buchanan.
For once not at the forefront of a fashion trend, even the iconoclastic Miuccia Prada went fishing around in her archives for her FW18 menswear show, relaunching the once much sought after Prada Sport label, reworking some of its most memorable prints on womenswear and sporstwear staples. The classic Prada nylon was reimagined through collaborations with Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, Konstantin Grcic, Herzog & de Meuron, and Rem Koolhaas. The resulting mix of prints, oversize proportions and flashes of the familiar nylon and vintage sportswear was an exercise in giving a patina of the new to a very classic Prada concept. While not being technically archive re-issues many of the pieces resonated with a vague futuristic nostalgia, new enough not to seem boring, but with the familiar coziness of an old friend, though maybe not necessarily a friend you really wanted to see again. As proof that the trend isn’t disappearing any time soon even the brainy, usually forward thinking Miuccia has succumbed to repeating the same silhouette, albeit in neon, for her FW 18 outing and has shown other te-issues, like the iconic ‘flames’ sandals.
Nostalgia is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past.’ The word has its roots in Greek – nostos, meaning ‘to return home’ and algos, ‘pain’. It is the fact that we cannot recover the past, that we cannot ‘go back home’ which makes up the power of its appeal. Of course, added to the mix is the fact that it’s not the past as we actually experienced it but as we imagine it now, idealized and edited in memory. Social media is ideally suited to creating and sharing nostalgia, which, paired with their being the last generation to live their childhood without technology makes Millennials the most nostalgic generation yet, and the perfect targets for nostalgia marketing and archive re-issues. That, I guess, is the bottom line in the current trend for brands to go back to their roots, look back at their vintage campaigns and generally indulge in looking backwards, as a whole generation chooses a #throwbackthursday over a ‘looking forward to’. Fashion, is, or at least should be, a mirror of its times, and in a world that’s washed in nostalgia, reruns, and remakes in every corner of pop culture, from marketing to movies, there seems no other way to look but back. In times that are politically and economically uncertain and depressing ( when not quite simply terrifying) a copious sprinkling of nostalgia appears to be, at least for the moment, both profitable and unavoidable.