In the year marking the house’s 100th anniversary, Gucci has unveiled its new Archivio in a Renaissance palace in Florence. To challenge the stillness usually associated with this kind of repository, we invited Desire Marea, a multi-disciplinary artist from South Africa, to perform the archive; and three new-generation designers that are part of the Gucci Vault platform—Collina Strada, Bianca Saunders, and Cormio—to play the curator’s role, bridging the past to the contemporary.
PHOTOGRAPHY: JIM C. NEDD
INTERVIEW: ANASTASIIA FEDOROVA
ANASTASIIA FEDOROVAFor this story, you’ve curated pieces from the Gucci Archive together with items from your own collections. I wanted to start by asking you about your relationship to the archive in your creative design practice.
HILLARY TAYMOUR (COLLINASTRADA)We have a really big archive with our collections because we’ve been doing ready-to-wear since 2012, and bags since 2008. We recently used the archive to style the Met Gala performances, and the Met bought a piece for their own archive. For us, engaging with our archive on a daily basis is a very natural thing.
BIANCA SAUNDERSI definitely use my archive while designing the new season collections. I see my practice as a continuum, with each collection having a rolling effect on the next. It helps me visualize how far I’ve developed as a designer.
JEZABELLE CORMIOMy instinct is always to get rid of my archive, to destroy things that happened in the past and make a clean slate. I find it challenging to store everything, and also find myself to be oddly competitive with my last self. But despite the challenges, I have yet to throw anything away. So eventually I will have an archive regardless.
AFI think it’s a very valid feeling, because as a maker, you need to create space for new ideas. I’m interested what the key reasons are for keeping archives of your work—inspiration, preservation, future history?
JCTo me, it’s documentation so that I don’t forget. It’s proof that I did something. For example, I made a men’s wear collection once in my Masters year—aside from that, I have no proof that I can do menswear. It feels like a good way of establishing a connection with your ideas and re-appropriating the ideas you’ve had at a certain point in time.
BSIt’s quite important to look back in order to go forward. Every season, for me, is so short compared to when I was studying fashion, when I could spend a whole year on a collection. So it is great to come back to the archive, and rediscover existing pieces and possibly improve them for a more commercial context.
HTFor me, the archive is more about history. For example, we use all the old fabrics again—knowing how it was used before is essential to understand if and how we can repurpose it in a good way. It’s also vital for keeping track of everything and having access to it for today’s and future possibilities.
AFAnd what is your relationship to the idea of archive more broadly? Do you ever rely on other people’s archives or institutional archives, or libraries? Or do you collect something in your personal life? Have you ever looked into the idea of an archive as a creative strategy?
BSYes, I definitely approach it as a creative strategy. I buy vintage pieces to study the details and construction of the garments, and end up using this research for two or three seasons. I’m also a massive hoarder. My studio is packed. We keep everything.
JCI do consult archives from old fabric manufacturers. There’s this one called Archivio Ratti on Lake Como, and they have an interesting online archive as well. It’s located in a beautiful villa on the lake. The Momu Library is another great archive, which used to be on the floor below the school where I studied, the Royal Academy. It’s wild to think that all this immense collection was just beneath us the whole time. We used it to watch old Margiela shows, or make crazy requests to the librarians. I’m not the kind of person who goes in knowing exactly what they need. So when I start, I just try to fall into a kind of rabbit hole.
HTYeah, I also do a lot of archival research. At Parsons, I spent days looking through all the runway collections from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Everything comes back around in its time. Like right now, it’s Y2K fashion. And I don’t really have to find archives for that, because I lived through it!
AFIt’s interesting what you just said about the fashion from the 2000s and not needing an archive for it. I wonder how more or less relevant archives are going to be if most things are available online.
JCToday it’s the forgotten things that have the most value, things that are not rehashed or revisited frequently. Everything that’s already been on Instagram, is no longer coveted. While all the material in a book that hasn’t been photographed or scanned or published on social media has more potential to have an impact, because we just haven’t seen it yet.
AFI love the idea that the more unseen something is, the more valuable it becomes. But I think this idea can also be controversial. I do a lot of work with archives dedicated to LGBTQI+ and queer creativity, and there is often history which ends up being poorly preserved and documented. The institutional idea of the archive is usually very white, male, straight, and conservative. Do you think there is a political need to reinvent and decolonize the idea of the archive? Like for you Bianca, is it part of creating more representation for the black community?
BSYes, definitely. I use my own family archive photos from late ’80s and early ’90s as reference for silhouette and movement. When I think about how I design, it’s all about observing movement within men in a way. These subtle details become a foundation for my own archive.
AFI am very interested in gender in your work, and gender in relation to archiving, specifically because both archiving and the general fashion system often requires gender categorisation: womenswear, menswear, body types, and all the categories which come with that which are often not very fluid. How do you approach gender and these systems in your work?
BSMy brand is a study of masculinity, and thinking of it as a menswear brand is how I prefer to design. But sometimes when I receive things, I try it on to see if it looks good on me. I always have to make sure that I can wear my own clothes. I think that’s what’s influenced more women to wear it. Being at the forefront of the brand, as a woman, has been an interesting experience.
HTI really don’t believe in gender and defining in that way. We show on the women’s wear schedule but we have people of all genders, and I even hate the use of the word. I don’t think it should exist in 2021. I don’t think we need to identify in that way anymore, and I don’t think that, in the archives, we’re going to look back and be like, “this dress was for a woman.” I don’t think that’s going to be a thing, so I don’t even think we should address that in an archival approach, because hopefully gender will be eliminated by then.
JCI know what you mean but in Italy, it would be very hard to apply the concept that gender doesn’t exist. The way that I express femininity in my clothes is a little bit vindictive—I kind of identify with the girl from Legally Blonde! I feel like femininity and certain aspects of dress up for girls, almost like role play, can actually empower girls in a world that is so patriarchal. When people ask, “Who’s your customer?,” I think of young professionals who don’t identify with that sleek woman, the gallerist girl, who are not afraid to intellectualize cuteness and sexiness. Obviously, it doesn’t have to be CIS girls. It can just be anybody who identifies with this state of mind.
AFAnd do you think you create representation for broader issues and communities through archives of your work? That you enable something to be visible, celebrated, and remembered?
BSPersonally, I would definitely say so. Since the very start, my brand has been about representing my world and people within it. I feel that people that are buying into my brand are interested in being seen and feeling empowered through the clothes they wear. And that applies to my early work as well, because a lot of it was about interviewing people and documenting what they had to say, which then translated into my collections.
JCSomething that is very important to me, is how the craft in Italy is rarefying. It’s becoming extinct, in a sense, through time. Very often, when I start working with a new supplier, like a new embroiderer for example, we end up talking about their golden years—the ’80s or ’90s. More and more manufacturers are closing down every year, and even those which are still active have substantially reduced their capacity of production. Through my choice of materials and collaborator, I try to complement that.
HTOur whole platform is about social impact, with a focus on environmental issues—the biggest, most important challenge being faced today.
AFI actually wanted to ask you about sustainability. All three of you are involved in Gucci Vault, a new platform that plays around with the archive by presenting and selling historical pieces alongside creations of new designers, and engages ideas of circular fashion. How do you think the idea of the archive relates to the topic of sustainability? And how do you integrate sustainability practices into your work?
JCI prefer not to dilute the message of what I care about the most—the craft and the tradition that we maintain. At the same time, my materials are sourced consciously. We’ve made and keep making plenty of collections using deadstock fabrics, sustainably sourced or up cycled yarn, et cetera. What I think has the greatest impact is that we maintain work locally, so that there is life in the economy behind the brand.
BSI think that quantity is important— to not make too much of something. Also making pieces that are timeless. That’s probably where my main focus is, how good design leads to sustainability—making things that actually last long. And making sure I’m collaborating with the right people.
JCI agree with Bianca. What’s really important is the specifics, the quantities that we produce, and how we produce them. I think it’s very important to look at how we grow, or how we intend to grow and expand. I have to say that if you talk about sustainability in a way that’s too broad, it can overshadow the voice of emerging talents. This conversation about archive, on the other hand, is extremely refreshing.
HTI disagree. I think as emerging talents, sustainability is really the only thing that we can actually do! And if we’re going to put products on this planet with what’s going on with global warming, it’s our duty to do the best that we can. At Collina Strada, we have a project where we are repurposing thousands of t-shirts sourced from Ghana’s Kantamanto Market, highlighting the fact that over 15m items of clothing from the US pass through the market every week for recycling, but about 40% leaves as waste, often ending up in Ghana’s landfill, open dump sites, or the ocean. We also are mindful of every production process. For example we work with a fabrication called rose silk that’s made from the excess rose industry bushes. And we produce our collections with three family-owned factories in New York City, so we can take the train to see them and not ship as much clothing around the world. These are just some things that we do. Until the billionaires come and bail the planet out, it’s our responsibility to create clothes in a sustainable way. It’s super important and hugely impactful.
In 2021, Gucci has inaugurated its new archive within the frame of Palazzo Settimanni, a 15th century building in Florence, marking another major milestone in the House’s 100th anniversary celebrations.
Vault is the online concept store created by Gucci from the vision of Creative Director Alessandro Michele, showcasing restored and customised archive pieces alongside the creations of emerging designers. Currently featured designers include Collina Strada, Cormio and Bianca Saunders alongside Ahluwalia, Shanel Campbell, Stefan Cooke, Charles de Vilmorin, JORDANLUCA, YUEQI QI, Rave Review, Gui Rosa, Boramy Viguier, and Rui Zhou.
Anastasiia Fedorova is a writer and curator based in London.