Newness is a precious ingredient in fashion’s crowded and competitive marketplace. But some houses are finding that select morsels from the past can be equally enticing to women on the hunt for the unusual from their favorite labels. Vintage re-editions offer such clients something special and rare: a dress with both a past and a future. Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Jil Sander and Emilio Pucci are among those presenting such looks, which range from relatively recent styles tweaked for modern times to meticulously faithful replicas.
Two of the earliest adopters of the replica trend were Miuccia Prada, who created a one-time-only group of vintage re-editions when she opened Prada’s Epicenter in New York’s SoHo in 2001, and Martin Margiela, who in 2003 introduced Replicas—line-for-line copies of clothes sourced from thrift shops. For spring, look for a silk georgette tulip skirt from Berlin in 1985.
“It’s absolutely antifashion, which makes it fashion,” says Balenciaga’s Nicolas Ghesquière, savoring one of the industry’s succulent oxymorons as if it were a butterscotch. His Edition line also helped set the trend in motion. “There’s something very confident about those lines, because [the clothes] existed before, and they will exist again. It’s clean, new, never-worn vintage. It makes you more secure, because you have the feeling this is a classic. It’s something that is not related to a season.”
The impetus for Edition, introduced in 2004, came when Ghesquière was preparing for a Balenciaga retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and he plunged into an archive containing more than 500 outfits and scores of accessories, from groovy bottom-hinged sunglasses to chunky crystal chokers. “When I looked at those pieces, I thought, My God, they’re so timeless,” he recalls. “It’s really a treasure.”
For the current spring season, Ghesquière selected 26 looks from couture collections spanning the years 1932 to 1967, replicating them with exacting attention to fabrics and construction. One of the gems is an ingeniously simple strapless column gown from 1962 gathered at the bosom like a bath towel. Every season Ghesquière lets instinct guide him: “I just go there as if I were going to the most beautiful vintage store, and I pick what I think is right for the moment.”
Last fall Jil Sander’s Raf Simons quietly introduced an Iconic Items collection into Sander boutiques, bringing back coats, pants, skirts and other pieces that exemplify the tailor-made quality of the label, which Jil Sander founded in Hamburg, Germany, in 1973. “Ms. Sander was strictly against archiving the past,” the Belgian designer explains in his no-nonsense way. “She only wanted to look forward, something I share with her. So the selection was made based on photos and not real garments. But all the paper patterns were kept.”