What's driving high-fashion and mainstream lines to reissue their greatest hits?

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In both high-fashion and mass-market retail, there’s a growing obsession with the recent past.

Versace used its runway show in Milan last September to reissue some of its greatest hits from the early ’90s, capped by supermodels Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Helena Christensen, Carla Bruni and Naomi Campbell storming the catwalk to the sound of George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90” — all wearing looks that channeled Versace’s 1994 Metal Mesh collection.

High-fashion labels have riffed on patterns from their extensive in-house archives for as long as the archives have existed, but the recent push by mid-market and luxury brands to rerelease almost identical replicas of decades-old pieces is new.

A return to the glory days

There are two possible explanations for this trend, says Deborah Weinswig, managing director of FGRT, a retail think tank. “In a world of near-unlimited product choice, these kinds of moves underscore a brand’s heritage and can strengthen a connection with consumers by emphasizing their long-standing presence,” she says.

Struggling retailers such as J.Crew, which has rereleased the rugby shirts it introduced in 1984, and Gap, which recently introduced its Archive Reissue-Logo Remix campaign, are eager to revisit their glory days.

Prada Nylon Backpack, $1,190 at store.prada.com
Prada Nylon Backpack, $1,190 at store.prada.com

In January, Ralph Lauren relaunched its Snow Beach collection, made famous in 1993 by Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon, who wore it in the music video “Can It Be All So Simple.”

For this spring, Coach is rereleasing the Rural Free Delivery Mailbox bag, originally introduced in 1972. And Prada built its 2018 collection around nylon, a fabric it hasn’t celebrated on runways in decades.

The lack of overriding fashion trends may also “have contributed to mass-market brands raiding back catalogs for inspiration,” Weinswig says.

The original ’90s supermodels returned to the Versace runway last September. (Valerio Mezzanotti / The New York Times)
The original ’90s supermodels returned to the Versace runway last September. (Valerio Mezzanotti / The New York Times)

Fashion as an experience

“ ‘Archival’ is the buzzword that everyone is using,” says Kristen Dempsey, brand director of Heroine, a new peer-to-peer sales site for designer clothing and accessories. “Vintage has been a cool thing for the past 20 years, but archival is less ambiguous and more about specific designer pieces from specific collections.”

Today, that could mean scrolling through hundreds of purses online to find one Lady Dior handbag throwback on resale, or paying full price for a new version of something that first hit stores when you were in kindergarten.

Think of it as the millennial urge for experiences and stories over things, applied to fashion.