Back in Business: Archival Fashion From the Vault Is the New Obsession

In with the old, archival fashion is more than just clothes.
Image Credit: Gucci

Remake—a term most cinephiles have a love-hate relationship with. The same applies to fashionphiles. Whenever we receive press announcements, we get mixed feelings when stumbling upon words like “revival” or “relaunch”. While we adore period pieces, there’s a part of us that yearn for novelty in fashion.

Fashion is indeed a mirror of the times we live in, but the magnetic force of the past is sometimes too hard to overlook and too strong to resist. Let’s turn back time; we’re pulling out the Dior saddle bag, Margiela’s Tabi and Westwood’s Saturns from the time capsule. These designs that once made waves have the new generation in a chokehold. Gone are the days when the glitterati would avoid wearing something from past seasons or getting their hands on second-hand luxury goods. Pre-loved and off-season have never been more sought-after and celebrated as they are now.

Archival fashion can be any number from a designer’s past oeuvre for runway collections that are no longer in production. Oftentimes, these coveted pieces could carry a higher price tag for their historical significance. Raf Simon’s Riot! sweater, for example, reentered the market with a skyrocketed value as it was considered a wearable art by collectors. Before giant companies acquired luxury labels, fashion houses had a leaner production catering to a smaller group of audience, hence the limited releases with better craftsmanship. This means looking for archival pieces requires extensive effort. Archivists would spend months, years even, to track down these precious pieces. Creations by designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier and Raf Simons were some of the most sought-after in the high fashion sphere. A handful of them would also hunt strenuously for cult favourites like Helmut Lang, Ann Demeulemeester, and Rick Owens.

While the shift of consumption patterns has changed, the behaviour remains. About a decade ago, the “hypebeast”’ would queue for the latest Supreme drops. Now, they are swarming vintage consignment shops or bidding on eBay for rare finds. With more people turning their backs on ultrafast fashion, the days of hyped trends are numbered. This leads to the propensity for sustainable consumption, looking to invest in garments of higher quality that withstand the test of time. “The thought of you being the only one owning a rare and unique piece makes [the process] very exciting. It’s akin to owning an item in the museum,” shared Razeq Jeffry on the appeal of acquiring these collectables. He’s an archival fashion collector and owner of Archive Gems, where archive pieces are available for sale or rent.

Image Credit: Balenciaga


It’s no surprise that marketing agencies and brands are picking up on the inclination of nostalgia-induced purchasing behaviours amongst consumers. They are actively looking inwardly, rediscovering archival designs that evoke nostalgic feelings by either fusing them with modern design elements—like Gucci with an elongated Jackie bag on the Spring Summer ‘24 runway—or reviving them like Balenciaga’s recent Closet Campaign, following the resurgence of Le City bag that was first launched in 2000. As brands rode the nostalgia train, some luxe brands like Chloé, Alexander McQueen, and Courrèges partnered with Vestiaire Collective, while luxury group Kering took a 5% stake in the reselling platform.

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Endorsements aside, the celebrity It Girl effect also contributed to the surge. The clothes they wear to walk the dogs or the red carpet make headlines, which brands would then cash in with. Take Kim Kardashian’s appearance at the Met Gala 2023, for example. She made headlines wearing Marilyn Monroe’s iconic “Happy Birthday, Mr President” dress. Celebrities, of all people, have access to the front-row seat of the phenomenon. Wearing a rare piece, whether like Kardashian or Lily-Rose Depp in vintage Galliano while shopping at Erewhon, establishes their taste and preferences, in turn landing them more opportunities. Power duo Zendaya and stylist Law Roach is another stunning example. A celebrity in an archive garment could easily be a marketing tactic as it triggers discussions, although the outcome is not guaranteed. But we all know there’s no such thing as bad PR. 

Brand involvement in hiking the exposure and appeal of archival pieces also includes launching educational initiatives. Gucci Vault, for example, is the brand’s experimental online-only initiative launched in 2021 that calls attention to archive sales. It was later extended to physical, vintage-only pop-ups in Japan due to its popularity. In 2023, Gucci also launched itinerant archival exhibitions in major cities that invited the public to peek into the 102-year-long history of the house. Valentino too, partnered with fashion incubator 1 Granary, showcasing Valentino vintage looks to fashion and art schools in various cities, thus allowing the young talents of tomorrow to learn more about the brand’s history. That said, having consumers who are more exposed and educated could also be one of the many reasons why archival fashion is high in demand now.


There was a time when you either made these archival pieces your possession, or you’d have to find them in museums like the MET. Social media breaks these limitations; anyone with Internet access can now view any archival pieces online. Jeffry too, shared that he got into the community through YouTube. Even as an amateur, influencers and content creators like Alexander Fury who is backed with enlightening fashion knowledge are just a click away, saving you the hassle of rummaging through history records.

Just take a look at the #archivefashion on TikTok, which at press time is getting 1.5 billion views. Social media is the new search engine, ushering the once microscale community into a subculture of its own with members who understand and appreciate archival fashion. Not only do the new generation of archival fashion fanatics have more access to this information compared to their predecessors, but they now also have a larger community to share and exchange information with. Even designers are benefitting from it. Anna Sui, for instance, put it out on Twitter that she wanted to purchase a fur-lined dress from her 1998 Fall collection that she did not own. While the owner of the dress, a vintage sourcer, had no intention of selling it, not even to the designer herself, Sui later reissued the dress and it’s now available to everyone.

Image Credit: Prada

Becoming a collector is a slow-burning passion that takes effort and time to learn, recognise, and source the right pieces—hence the vintage sourcer’s response to Sui was justifiable. Jeffry walked us through the process as a Kuala Lumpur-based sourcer: “I’d do my research and purchase from online platforms like Yahoo Auctions and Mercari Japan, to name a few. That normally takes about two weeks to arrive.”

As a purveyor, Jeffry would either share his findings on his social media account for sale or loan. Online platforms are the perfect spots for people in cities that are new to archival fashion, such as Kuala Lumpur. Alternatively, Jeffry would also look out for these gems in thrift stores or existing collectors within the vicinity, but these options are less preferred as it is comparably more challenging.

That being said, the horizon is broadened as young collectors these days are exposed to various fashion houses from all over the world—especially Asian brands such as Japanese or Korean archival brands. They are no longer limited to collecting archive pieces from big-shot heritage houses like Dior or Chanel. “The US and Europe collectors, for example, have a growing interest in names like Number Nine, Junya Watanabe, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and more. Asian collectors, on the other hand, prefer pieces from Maison Margiela, Raf Simons, Carol Christian Poell, and Vivienne Westwood. From my observation, the diehard archive-loving community is evolving. We are seeing names like Ifsixwasnine, Kmrii and Le Grande Bleu (L.G.B) being mentioned more frequently than ever.” Jeffry concluded that social media increased the visibility of lesser-known brands. Now, not only can brands reach a wider audience, but consumers too, have more options that are less mainstream.

It’s natural for fashion enthusiasts to keep their eyes peeled on one-of-a-kind items, especially those not mass-produced and attached to cultural elements, whether tangible or intangible. Some would argue that the surge, especially on social media, is “ruining” the domain. But with influences that come like rushing water, the interest in archive fashion is here to stay. Quoting Christelle, a curator from My Runway Archive in an interview with Hunger, “Everything being released now is more or less a replica of an earlier design, and who wants the replica when you can have the original?”