The weight of the archive

Text by Marino Bombini

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In the high octane game, which fashion is now dangerously playing (see the exclusive locations where glorious brands set their “intermediate” collections for a classic the-bigger-the-better show contest), questions about who deserves heading prestigious houses seem settled behind the curtain. But as real as it happened to georgian designer Demna Gvasalia (the most chitchatted name of a few filling pedigree vacancies at last FW17 in March) the subject is going very likely to be the talk of the town once again.

What made these coveted postions become a sort of high-stakes chess game, so fascinating and yet so scary for all the people involved in it?

There’s a word far trickier than the aforemetioned questions that can or cannot make the path to accomplishment a smooth one: archive.

It’s quite obvious that, when in charge, nominated designers have to necessarily cross this roadway if only for a minute, but once they do archive will never leave them alone.

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Half curse half blessing, the heritage a fashion house represents is never ignored, either by press or by customers, not to metion the economic ownerships, whose expectations are merely based on a successful past, that they really really want back.

Those specific designers then are forced, for one reason or another, to bear this golden burden, and to learn its secret deeply in order to choose whether to revive it slavishly or creatively.

Business for historic fashion houses used to be rewarding though small at the beginning, especially in the extreme luxury branch, but in recent decades their economy has changed a lot, and the allure of fashion names could be translated in a huge amount of money, billions of dollars. In fact formerly tiny family-owned businesses are now part of bigger conglomerates, whose purpose (sad but true) is primarily to make money. It means that for these financial groups a noble archive feeds more their attractive investment strategies than a modern development of old maisons de la mode. The legacy of an illustrious archive (as heavy as it embodies the propeller for research, with all its references and influences) might no longer be just the gate to the central palace in the fashion evolutionary garden, but also the key to swell the coffers. Because, giving the general instability in which businesses are crawling in a very crowded sea, this economy based on branded merchandise logic profit seems to spend money on established and renown names rather than support a risky new adventure. The long wave of a golden past is undeniably a well nourished cash cow that luxury groups want to milk till the last drop.

Aware of this Yohji Yamamoto sturdily said: «At this time we have no choice. If I’m forced to stop, if I fall down, I don’t want anyone to continue my brand».

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A statement that throws the spotlight on how hard is to find the right balance between the past and the present. The past, the archive, the thoroughbred certificate engraved in gold. And the present, the riddle to solve, the do-money-or-nothing dogma.

Under this sky romanticizing fashion has become quite unsafe, and events are unfortunately happening so technologically fast, with no time for pain and sorrow, as well as mistakes in dealing with notorious archives.

No surprise then we might hear «I understand people who give up in fashion», the firm words from Raf Simons, former directeur creatif at Dior house.

Note: All crinoline photographs courtesy of the V&A Museum.

* Any opinions expressed in this report are solely those of the author.

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