LONDON — Fashion is having a flashback as retailers plunder brands’ archives and luxury giants revitalize their greatest hits — the Fendi Baguette, the Dior Saddle Bag, the Prada flame and banana prints, to name a few — and mine the past for future profits.
Versace continues to pump out pieces from its successful Tribute collection, an explosion of Nineties gold baroque prints and flashy hardware that debuted in Milan last year on supermodels including Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Carla Bruni and Claudia Schiffer.
Prada’s flame print has been licking its way across limited-edition tops and shoes, while Mr Porter revived the brand’s quirky bowling shirts in April. The Helmut Lang brand is reintroducing replicas of the original jeans the designer pioneered when he still helmed the brand, while Maison Alaïa is offering reeditions of designs from 1988, 1989 and 1993 on the brand’s web site.
Then there’s Marc Jacobs who, as reported, is this month set to deliver a full-on grunge collection for resort that harks back to his spring 1993 outing for Perry Ellis. Those seminal designs, which famously got him and his partner Robert Duffy fired, cemented Jacobs’ position as a maverick.Fine jewelry and sneaker brands are getting in on the action, too: Last year, Cartier created a new iteration of its 1984 Panthère watch on Net-a-porter, with the first one selling out within two minutes of the launch via WhatsApp. In August, the new Panthère watch returned to Net permanently, alongside other Cartier stalwarts including the Tank, Ballon Bleu and Baignoire.
Last month, Fila signed a lifetime deal with NBA Hall of Fame player Grant Hill, who had previously been an ambassador for the brand more than two decades ago. The company has since unveiled an exclusive line of products inspired by the athlete including two special-edition footwear styles that nod to Hill’s recent Hall of Fame induction as well as a line of tracksuits, hoodies, T-shirts and long-sleeved shirts. Last year, Nike celebrated the 45-year anniversary of one of its icons, the Cortez running shoe, with a variety of projects such as having Nordstrom’s Olivia Kim put her own spin on the style.
Why now? There’s a young generation of designers and consumers that can’t resist looking back — witness the revival of Eighties and Nineties streetwear and sneakers — and then there’s fashion’s obsession with spinning narratives around products. There’s also comfort to be found in the classics and in collections that recall better times.
Some brands don’t need to look back far to find success. Carryover styles represent 70 percent of Gucci’s sales across the board and across all age segments, according to Kering’s chief financial officer Jean-Marc Duplaix, just in case anyone was wondering about the fount of the Gucci billions.
Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, said there are multiple reasons behind the surge in icons and classics: Heritage brands need to speak to a new generation and younger names want to tell the world “I’m still here!” There’s also a big comfort factor involved for brands and consumers alike.
“With all of the global unrest, people are thinking ‘How far do we push the future?’ There is a kindness to these collections and pieces. They offer a lovely security and comfort level in uncertain times,” Downing reasoned.
Rebecca Robins, Interbrand’s global chief learning and culture officer, also believes that a storied past is something to shout about. “Whether these brands are 20 years old or 200 years old, there is something in the luxury of time and the notion of icons being built over time through reissue and constant reinvention. For Millennials, the appeal [in purchasing] lies in being part of the footfall of history. There are stories, there’s a sense of being connected to other generations.”
Luca Solca, sector head luxury goods at Exane BNP Paribas, said security — and the promise of steady revenue — is a motivator behind the revivals. “I’d compare this trend to producers launching a sequel to a blockbuster success, or making it into a series: It reduces risk. It’s not lazy, because you need to make the icons relevant again and update them to the current zeitgeist. But it’s safer, and it reinforces the brand equity and DNA.”
While the big brands may be banking on old styles, they’re promoting them with new — and aggressive — influencer, social media and brand campaigns.
According to a Launchmetrics study for WWD, there was almost no discussion of the Dior Saddle bag until it debuted at the French house’s fall 2018 show last February. At that time, the media impact value — the value of placements on all channels including paid, owned, earned media — reached $600,000. On July 19, following an influencer campaign as the bags landed online, that MIV figure spiked to $6 million.
In the year to Oct. 31, the Saddle bag notched $24.5 million in MIV, while the Gucci Dionysus, an evergreen, recorded $8.3 million. The Fendi Baguette hit $1.7 million, although that Italian icon only just made its latest comeback on the spring 2019 catwalk in September.
Silvia Venturini Fendi said the updated Baguette, which is bigger than its predecessor and has long and short removable straps, is the result of broader thinking about the brand’s history and its future.
“This year is 10 years of the Peekaboo, but it is not just reinventing the Peekaboo, it is also reinventing the Baguette. It’s really talking about icons. I think it’s nice to have both of them on the catwalk, because one is the opposite of the other, but the DNA of Fendi is there, shown on both.” She said this new baguette in particular is “meant to stay with you all your life, so according to your mood, you can change the function.”
Downing, who’s been watching the Versace Tribute collection fly off Neiman’s racks and shelves, from the printed tights and shirts to the medallion buckle booties and leather cross-body bags, said nostalgia pieces add value and speak to the staying power of old and new brands alike.
Mary Katrantzou has been marking her 10th anniversary in a variety of ways this year and has put together a collection of her favorite archive looks with Matchesfashion.com.
“At a time when the revolving door is getting swifter and quicker, doing an anniversary collection is a chance for younger brands to say ‘I’ve been here for 10 years, for 15 years!’ It’s proof they can sustain a business in an ever-changing industry,” Downing said.
Katrantzou said 10 years in business is also the right time to start bringing new customers into the fold. “You don’t realize it, and you think you are speaking to the same woman, but it is not the case. After 10 years, you are also talking to a new generation, a customer who, perhaps, didn’t know who you were 10 years ago when you started,” she said.
Katrantzou described the capsule, which includes her Lampshade skirt, the short Haphazard dress with the long train and the Typewriter dress, as “a little time machine” and said it’s been appealing to a cross-section of clients, from the new, younger customers to longstanding ones who maybe didn’t get to buy the Lampshade the first time around. “I also have clients who have been coming to me, saying ‘Oh why haven’t you done this one again? Why haven’t you done that again?’ Also, 10 years ago, we weren’t as widely distributed as we are now. But most of all, this collection was about pondering our favorite pieces and making sure there were pieces that were important, each one for different reasons.”
She and Matches decided against a limited run as they didn’t want to ramp up the prices. The reissued pieces are about 15 percent more expensive than when they first hit the shop floor. “We did a proper production run because we didn’t want the price to double. We wanted people to be able to buy the pieces. Obviously, some things have changed, like some of the fabrics. Also, we were bettering the fit and certain things in the production because we found other techniques.”
Instead of doing anniversary capsules, online players Mytheresa and Mr Porter have been mining the big brands’ archives and twisting prints and codes to suit current trends.
Earlier this year, Mytheresa delved into the Prada archives to bring back some of the Italian brand’s most recognizable prints — notably the flame and the banana — for a 20-piece capsule collection that was heavy on streetwear. The range also included accessories such as Nineties-inspired bucket hats and Prada’s flame wedge sandals, reworked in white and neon pink shades.
Tiffany Hsu, fashion buying director at Mytheresa, called the collection “nostalgia for a new generation,” adding that resurfacing archival prints is “very relevant to a younger customer who is interested in a vintage appeal — and a streetwear aesthetic. Ultimately, Prada prints never go out of style: They are bold, arty, colorful and always make a statement, and always remain relevant as a staple wardrobe piece.”
Fiona Firth, buying director at Mr Porter, said the opportunity to dig into a brand’s archive — and splice the old with the new — is a retailer’s dream.
She used Versace as an example: “There aren’t many men who are going to walk round in a silk Versace print shirt, but those prints are incredible. So, how can we actually make them more relevant to the 21st century, to the existing customer, but also to a younger audience? Do we splice it? Do we actually just make it on the collar? Do we use some on the sleeves? There are lots of different ways of doing it. So suddenly these icons become very relevant again.”
Earlier this year, Mr Porter worked with Prada, reviving its prints and bowling shirts for a capsule collection that landed in April. In October, Mr Porter teamed with Ralph Lauren on an exclusive 50th anniversary tribute collection that cut across the Polo, Purple Label and RRL collections.
The Ralph capsule, which dropped last month, focuses on signature styles: There’s a gray chalk-striped, double-breasted suit similar to the one Lauren himself likes to wear, a double-breasted military coat with the brass buttons, Navajo-inspired shirts and rugged outwear with a vintage feel.
Asked why she put such an emphasis on the Ralph Lauren archive and past styles, Firth didn’t skip a beat. “The best stuff is always the best stuff,” she said. “Good product lasts forever.”
As she builds her decade-old brand, Katrantzou has no doubt that revivals are here to stay. “A good design it should be timeless. I also think it’s nice to be able to pull from your DNA and include it, reedition it and rework it for future collections,” said the designer, adding that she’ll continue to riff on the past.
“I’m more open now about looking back, finding out natural ways of bringing certain things that were very successful back, and having an opportunity to work them and explore them. When enough time has passed, you have a new view and a new perspective on something. Moving forward doesn’t always have to mean starting from scratch.”