He also noted that “you can share a lot more in a museum. You can show your drawings, your films. Usually, we as designers determine how long someone spends looking at your collection, whether the show is 10 or 15 minutes. With a museum, you can look at clothes as long as you like.”
Brands continue to ramp up investments in their own archives and patrimony, recognizing it as a rich asset for present — and future — creative directors. Archives also represent a key tool for recounting a brand’s story, especially in fast-growing markets like China, where consumers are hungry for heritage.
Balmain, which plans to mount an exhibition in Beijing next year, already counts some 1,100 dresses and more than 22,000 sketches in its archives, in addition to photographs and even original press releases.
Recent acquisitions include a striking drawing from 1942, when Pierre Balmain was working with Christian Dior at Paris couture house Lucien Lelong. It telegraphs Balmain’s background studying architecture, and foreshadows the strong shoulders that catapulted the brand in recent years.
“We always have to remember where we came from, and we owe so much to our founder,” stressed Alain Hivelin, Balmain’s chief executive officer and majority owner. “Marketing is fantastic, but marketing would not be possible if you did not have something real to recount.”
Chloé hired an archivist this past summer, charging her with gathering treasures from its warehouse designed by Karl Lagerfeld, purchasing portfolios of runway images from the Seventies and collecting drawings, videos and vintage garments, restoring them when necessary.
Such items will be needed when the brand fetes its 60th anniversary next year with a retrospective exhibition. But the main idea behind this long-term project, according to Chloé, is to reconnect the brand with its heritage and confirm its place in Parisian fashion history as an innovator in creating luxury ready-to-wear.
Meanwhile, Roger Vivier snapped up the lion’s share of top lots at an auction of the shoemaker’s private collection in late November. Together with the French Footwear Association and the government, it acquired 80 percent of the roughly 340 lots to prevent the treasures from being scattered among collectors. Many items will now return to the Musée Romans, which has a Roger Vivier room and chapel.
Curators agreed that archives were often deemed a burden to fashion houses until the Eighties, when Diana Vreeland, then a special consultant to the Costume Institute, thought to do an exhibition on Yves Saint Laurent, which turned into a blockbuster.
According to Koda, Saint Laurent recognized the value of maintaining an archive of his life’s work. “Since then, many design houses have begun to keep and actively seek past examples of their most important works. This is helpful in preserving objects which had not been especially valued after they had passed their moment of fashionability,” he explained.
Permanent museums for brands are the latest expression of the trend.
The new Gucci Museo in Florence, christened at the tail end of Milan Fashion Week in September, sits on Piazza della Signoria, across which eight million people transit every year. Patrizio di Marco, president and ceo of Gucci, said the site is already often at capacity on weekends.
“The café restaurant is fully booked for most of the main meal times, and the bookstore is attracting a lot of interest, probably because Florence does not really have another location like it,” he says. “We are very proud of our heritage and traditions, which include a passion for innovation. I think the museum provides a place for us to showcase those attributes and values — values which are more important than ever in a world where our customers are placing a greater and greater emphasis on quality and integrity.”