Friday, February 09, 2018

Move over, artisanal. Is archival the new “it” word?

Every once in a while, I pass a young woman on the street wearing a bouclé wool coat that looks like it came straight out of 1967. I ought to know, as I had one – in kelly green, with frog closures – that I wore from my senior year in high school through the first year or so of college. Somewhere along the line, I toned things down with a charcoal grey regular-old-wool coat with silver buttons. And by the time I was spending an abortive year in grad school in New York, I had toned things further down – and sophisticated them up – with a black, double-breasted longish winter coat – standard never in style, never out of style look and feel.

That coat is long gone – it wouldn’t fit, that’s for sure – but for the most part, that’s been my dress coat look since the early 1970’s. The colors changed a bit, but with one excursion into bright red (a very nice Calvin Klein coat that I inexplicably let my mother convince me to buy because when she was in her mid-twenties, she’d wanted a red coat…), they were along the black-grey-blue spectrum.

When I worked full time, I wore a dress coat to work every day in the winter, so these things did wear out over time. But my current coat is one that I’ve had for 16+ years: a lovely black part-cashmere coat that I got on sale at Lord & Taylor when I worked for Genuity. Since I tend to wear it once or twice a year, it may well turn into a lifer. (It’s long: if I shrink a couple of inches, I’ll need to have it altered.)

Anyway, the long and the short of my coats, and my wardrobe in general, is that I tend to stick with the same styles, and I tend to hang onto clothing for a good long time.

I have two sweaters that are 30+ years old, and a couple that are in their twenties. I still have a pair of khaki LL Bean cropped chinos from 2001. I can date them because there’s a picture of me and my sisters all wearing the same chinos, and matching plaid shirts (in different colors) that each of us had independently ordered. The picture was taken at Kath’s in Hull, where she then lived, at a family gathering shortly after my mother died. That’s how I know it was 2001. And just by accident, we all showed up in the same outfit. And, yes, I still have the light purple and white plaid shirt.

My clothing, while dated, is not really that dated. It’s classic.

But it turns out that dated items – oh, that bouclé coat – have been coming back with a vengeance.

A couple of years back, it was ponchos. (OMG. What’s worse than a poncho? Oh, a macramé poncho.) Then it was hippie-style peasant shirts. Not that they would fit the current edition of my body, but would that I had hung on to a few of those from my way back. No worries, however, I went out and got me a few of the new edition versions. With one exception – black with white embroidery – I’m not that wild about the peasant shirts I’ve acquired so far. What I wouldn’t give for that filmy off-white one with the drawstring neck and the green and black embroidery. And that Greek shirt I got at the market in Athens? I pine for that, even though I stupidly got one in light yellow and white stripes rather than blue and white. (What was I thinking?)

Then there are the Vacarro ribbed turtlenecks from the 1970’s. I had a whole bunch of those. I still have plenty of ribbed turtlenecks, but they’re no longer Vacarros. (I’d be happy to own one again, but I don’t need yet another ribbed turtleneck, thank you.)

And if I ever buy another dress, I’ve got an eye on a Diane Von Furstenberg. Like the ones I had in the 1970’s, sharing closet space with my Vacarro turtlenecks.

In any case, vintage clothing is apparently the rage. And it can be gotten on high-end consignment sites like RealReal. Sure, most of what’s consigned is more recent, but there are classics from the good old days. And brands – both high-fashion and midmarket – are coming out with “replicas of decades-old pieces.”

It extends to both menswear and women’s wear, whether it’s a reissued Helmut Lang denim jacket from 2004 or Gucci bags pulled from the ’70s. Prada built its 2018 collection around nylon, a fabric it hasn’t celebrated on runways in decades. Reverence for fashion’s good ol’ days might sound strange for an industry that prides itself on looking to the future, but the inspiration for retailers, designers, and consumers is, at the moment, coming from the past. (Source: Bloomberg)

Not that there’s any likelihood that this little old devil will ever wear Prada, I will observe that anyone bringing back nylon as a fabric of choice never wore a nylon dress for Easter, First Holy Communion, or their Uncle Jack’s wedding. Just sayin’.

But it’s not vintage that’s the thing. It’s archival.

“ ‘Archival’ is the buzzword that everyone is using,” says Kristen Dempsey, the newly minted brand director of Heroine, which debuted in October as the women’s counterpart to the men’s peer-to-peer site Grailed. “Vintage has been a cool thing for the past 20 years, but archival is less ambiguous and more about specific designer pieces from specific collections.”

Well, one woman’s vintage is another’s archival.

And is it just me or is archival to fashion as artisanal is to cheese? Can we set to see it start popping up everywhere?

Ah, well, guess I’ll head over to my closet and curate my collection.

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