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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 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.