There may have been no bigger moment in fashion in 2018 than Hedi Slimane’s debut at Celine. The great style schism, which seemed to explode from the second Business of Fashion first broke the news Slimane would replace Phoebe Philo after 10 years at the helm, seemed something of Shakespearian proportions in fashion circles. The shockwaves went far beyond the avant garde, and the ripple effects caused a commotion and frenzy with Philo Phanatics looking to snatch up the last of Philo’s now swan song collection; including on secondhand luxury retailers like Vestiaire Collective and The RealReal.
However, beyond the actual outrage and uproar of what Slimane’s new house codes have done to all but wipe the slate and Philo’s legacy clean, was the equally meteoric rise of digital homages dedicated in honour of her tenure. Most famous is @OldCeline, a digital shrine detailing and homage to all aspects of her 10 years tenure, which in the course of launching on September 6th has now amassed over 187k followers. To add further fuel to the fire and further proof of its potency, the handle took further cultural traction and relevance as some top fashion editors, stylists and digital street style sevants began tagging @OldCeline in their snaps. A coup d’etat in form of a tag, the handle became a weaponised gesture of protest, but also a watershed moment for a new era of nostalgia commerce.
However Philo’s digital alter is not sacred, as countless other vessels of designer homage continue to spring up on Instagram and hark to an era long gone. There is also @PhoebePhiloDiary (65k+ followers), the Galiano swooning @Diorinthe2000s (41k+ followers), the more niche @TomFordforGucci (2k followers) and @BalenciagaFiles, which has massed nearly twice the followers (265k+) as Old Celine. What is most interesting about the latter is how its popularity and following voids the notion that nostalgia commerce is not so much about rage and resistance, but that a brand can be both beloved in its past and present iteration too. While Balenciaga has had bombastic success as of late due to highly innovative creative director (Demna Gvasalia), many still treasure an era of those who he who made the rule book of the house’s heritage he now has shattered.
Beyond being an obvious a paid media paydirt for channel marketeers and professionals working for the likes of secondhand and vintage retailers (I have a theory a secondhand power player such as Vestiaire Collective may be the mastermind for some of these pages), nostalgia commerce also has no been further perpetuated by a much welcomed second coming of secondhand and pre-owned luxury. The numbers, sales, data and Vogue didn’t lie: nostalgia was big business in 2018 and the trend is gaining momentum.
A parallel byproduct of the nostalgia commerce has been further affirmation and vindication of the the global secondhand and pre-owned luxury commerce market continues to gain momentum, with the resell market looking to top $41 billion by 2022. Vintage is no longer a dirty word, and vintage has strangely become a new form of luxury and individuality in the era of globalised retail and fashion fashion. it’s crystal clear the parallel rise and relationship these social media tribes dedicated to specific designers and eras of fashion have a symbiotic relationship to secondhand retailers, and as climate concerns also reach an all-time high of anxiety, both are a welcome silver lining to fashion’s sustainability quagmire.
Then there’s the second wave of vintage vouyerists and psuedo social thrift accounts. Notable standouts include Vogue darling Gabriel Held Vintage, WWD app of choice Byronesque Vintage and personal favourite Pechuga Vintage, and new entrants seemingly enter the market by the dozens each day; most if not all using nothing more than throwback images and photos on Instagram and Direct Message inbox to facilitate commerce. This isn’t your grandmother’s thrift shop, and this second wave and moment of nostalgia commerce points furthers the notion that true luxury in today’s digitally overexposed times actually sometimes lies in the chase and sport of hunting down items from an era past (and that no one but your grandma might have).
What’s equally important to remember is the mutual burden designers in both tech and fashion now share to innovate and transform, which seems to accelerate with every passing day; even if it’s sometimes merely for the sake of being able to you’re “transformative” as nothing more than a PR-driven exercise of organisational ego. As the screams of countless and ever-multiplying talking heads and Linkedin “thought leaders” grow louder, bantering true success lies in looking forward and never looking back, nostalgia commerce seems like a fitting and given response to the fatigue which has accrued from even consumers as they feel the pace of the technology treadmill being turned up with every passing day.
The pronounced deviation and clear advantage fashion has over tech is the fact legacy is also not a dirty word. While developers and tech gurus will blast the pulpit, decry client “legacy systems” and obsess with innovation to a point of equal cult-like delusion, raiding the archives has always been a beloved right of passage and a marketing secret weapon one can always call upon to drum up sales and excitement. Riccardo Tisci used this trick as his first move as head at Burberry. Donatella Versace staged a show dedicated Versace’s SS2019 entirely as a throwback to Gianni’s inconic 90s era (complete with a 90s pack of Supers in tow). Marc Jacobs revisited and reissued the motif and pieces from the grunge collection that got him fired from Perry Ellis and made him a fashion deity. And the list goes on and on and on.
Designer worship is nothing new and the practice is old as the Silk Road. Even the most fashion forward always find themselves looking back at some point and will romanticised the past. Like any great builder or architect of design and culture, it is almost always the ambition of every designer to seek ways to be immortalised. Thanks to the clever constructs of mainstream platforms like Instagram and what is has done to amplify and evolve the constructs the modern cult of personality, it’s never been easier to also make it easier to commoditise.
Maybe the real story and success is nostaliga commerce is also a form of comfort commerce. Combined with an unstable geopolitical tremors in seemingly every corner of the world and the 24/7 news cycle more than eager to amplify even the most mundane murmur into a digital hysteria, the fantasy of times past and the wardrobes attached to it are channel. When you strip back and remove any heady analysis of modern cult of personality, consumer psychology or industry sustainability, what’s unfolding within these evergrowing social media tribes of nostalgia is in fact quite rhetorical.
That being this hyperconnected world we live in can actually be a strange, sad place, and the greatest form of rebellion and last refuge just may be that #OldCeline sweater.