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Vintage styles are as good as new on the high street

French Connection last week launched a capsule collection of classic pieces from 1972, the year it was established, becoming the latest in a line of brands and retailers to revive styles from bygone years.

Whereas most brands and retailers plunder their archives to celebrate a milestone birthday, French Connection has launched its 1972 Vintage range two years ahead of its 40th anniversary. The capsule collection of four of the best-selling styles from that year includes a dolly dress and a smock. Retail prices range from £35 to £60.

Updated originals

French Connection said the collection was driven by consumer demand. “Customers kept telling us that they had amazing [French Connection] dresses from the 1970s and 1980s and they wanted more. And we thought why not? It’s fun,” a spokesman told Drapers. “We went into our archive and found original pieces. The shapes were different so we tailored them to make them more suitable for today.”

While fashion is habitually inspired by previous eras, the trend has been particularly pronounced in recent years.

Rafael Gilston, partner at brand consultancy Geek, said: “Such archives are characteristic of fashion, which continually looks backwards - especially in a recession [when] people feel comfortable looking back at something familiar.”

The first annual festival celebrating fashion and music from the 1940s to the 1980s was launched this month. Vintage at Goodwood, set up by designers Gerardine and Wayne Hemingway, hosted pop-up shops by a number of high-street stores. Department store John Lewis’s shop featured a giant sewing machine set against a vintage-inspired print and offered products including haberdashery kits, vintage jewellery and Hunter wellington boots.

Meanwhile, department store Selfridges launched a 1990s-focused concept department in January offering fashion, accessories and music. Singer Lily Allen has also announced plans to abandon music and instead open vintage clothes shop Lucy In Disguise at a location in central London in October.

Sarah Peters, senior retail analyst at market analysis firm Verdict Research, predicted the trend for vintage fashion would continue to rise, with brands tapping into their archives. “Consumers are shopping more in vintage and second-hand stores. Fashion does often look back, but there has been a change in the way people shop, with people looking for more classic styles,” she said.

In February 2009, premium retailer Jaeger celebrated its 125th anniversary with the launch of Jaeger 125 Limited Edition Collection, a capsule range of about eight pieces including day and evening dresses based on designs from the 1960s. The collection has outlasted the milestone year and was rebranded as Jaeger by Jaeger last spring.

Jaeger design director Stuart Stockdale told Drapers that the designs for the range are never just a copy of original designs. “It’s really important that we don’t just recreate a product, we need to make it relevant for today,” he said.

Meanwhile, Marks & Spencer took inspiration from its archive to mark its 125th birthday last year, with its 125 collection of womenswear, swimwear and lingerie inspired by the brand’s heritage. An M&S spokeswoman said the collection performed “extremely well”.

Next month, House of Fraser will relaunch British brand Biba in what the department store chain has described as the biggest fashion launch in its history. Founded in 1964 and bought by House of Fraser last year, the iconic womenswear brand will return to its roots with an archive-inspired range of tunic dresses and a leopard-print maxi coat.

Distinctive and decadent

House of Fraser director for womenswear and accessories Stephanie Chen told Drapers: “We wanted the first collection to be distinctive, decadent, flamboyant and unique. Although it’s not a retro collection, we drew on the heritage of Biba to ensure we remained true to its ethos. Biba embraces the mood of the original brand and is made relevant for today’s market.”

Luxury brand Gucci also plundered its archive earlier this year - although for a marketing campaign ahead of its 90th anniversary next year rather than for new product. Adverts launched in February played on the brand’s heritage with images of workers in Gucci’s Florence factory in the 1950s. The archive pictures emphasised the brand’s history and the craft that goes into its leather goods, while the strapline “Forever Now” positioned it as a company that remains relevant today and into the future.

However, a number of retailers and brands have launched sub-brands under the year they were founded, but not reworked any designs from their archives. For example, US fashion giant Gap has relaunched its UK denim offer under the 1969 banner - the year the company was founded - but all the designs are new.

Making a statement

Retailers should not allow archives to define them, according to Andy Rogers, brand director of premium chain Reiss.

The retailer launched sub-brand 1971 Reiss in May last year in an effort to broaden its customer base, with a lower price range than its mainline. The name 1971 was chosen because it worked “graphically”, rather than because of a link to the retailer’s heritage. “It could have been called a number of other names. When we started we were a young company, so we didn’t want it beholden to when we started. It’s not like we began in 1898,” said Rogers.

Reiss plans to continue producing new collections based on forward-looking ideas, he added. “For our 40th birthday next year our line will not be about referencing where we were [then]. It’s not about going back to 1971. We want to make more of a statement. It is important for us to never stand still. [We want] always to push for the next new thing.”

But for many, the next new thing is vintage. “There’s just a general trend for people to look back and feel nostalgic, and brands can tap into this as many have rich archives,” said Gilston. As brands and retailers continue to reach milestones, the industry can expect to see further collections inspired by their heritage.

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