While many designers, retailers and distributors are realigning their plans for the future, the International Library of Fashion Research is forging ahead with plans for a physical opening — and a substantial one at that.
Launched in October as a digital operation, the library’s founder, Elise By Olsen, announced this morning that a deal with the National Museum of Norway has been struck. The library will be part of the new National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, which will span nearly 180,500 square feet in Oslo. Under the arrangement, the ILFR will continue to run as an independent institution. It will be housed in a separate building and is designed to elevate fashion’s printed culture to an instructional level.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Olsen noted how after months of isolation, people are seeking in-person activities. She said, “As a library, our premise is based on physical and tangible objects and material, and therefore it’s crucial to open a space where all of this can be browsed and grappled with by the very public…The fact that the library will be located in a remote city like Oslo and not in one of the main fashion metropolises creates a neutral ground for this to play out.”
The ILFR’s physical home is undergoing renovations that are slated to be unveiled in the spring. Its mission is to offer a free global resource for researchers, professionals and armchair style watchers alike. The library will house the archives and a study space, and it will have exhibition programming, as well as educational, editorial and curatorial activities.
The library also continues to build its permanent collection with help from some major fashion houses, media specialists and design agencies. Collector Steven Mark Klein helped to get everything in motion with his cohesive seed donation. More recently, the IFRL received donations of more than 1,000 pieces from Hermès, Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons, the design agency M/M Paris and international magazine distributor KD Presse. Contemporary books, magazines, look books, show invitations, illustrations and other printed materials are part of the collection.
Olsen, who has spent years seeking out and connecting with fashion executives and designers to further her cause, has bolstered the library’s board with four integral members: Carla Sozzani, founder of 10 Corso Cuomo and director of the Fondazione Sozzani; Steven Kolb, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America; Yoshiko Edstrom, chief executive officer of Edstrom Office, and Ina Delcourt, former head of public relations at Comme des Garçons and Hermès International have joined the board. The foursome will help to monitor the library’s permanent collection to ensure its breadth, depth and relevance.
In late July, Olsen released the 10th and final edition of her serial publication Wallet. The compact, text-heavy fashion magazine explored 10 fields of expertise. Fittingly, the finale was the archive issue titled “Heirs of History,” that examines fashion history, collecting, researching and archiving. While Wallet had a predetermined shelf life, Olsen expects the library to be the one project she works on that will not have an ending.
Norway is also home to another forward-thinking library: the Future Library, a public art project that involves collecting an original work from a well-known writer each year for a century through 2114. The manuscripts will remain unpublished until that time. One thousand trees have been planted in a forest outside of Oslo to supply paper for the anthology of books that will be printed.
Olsen said she’s busy launching a couple more institutional partnerships, enriching the collection through donations from fashion houses, publishers, practitioners and private collectors, and getting the “quite extensive exhibition program ready.”
Always onto the next project, she’s not one to ruminate about her achievements but does concede that, “I really built this from the ground up. My mentor Steven Mark Klein planted a seed by donating the first collection, and now I’m the gardener, who will grow this — organically and in its own time — further.”