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Joseph O’Brien

The archive manager of vintage clothing business Beyond Retro tells Ashley Cordes why every piece of clothing has a story

You work for the design consultation division of vintage retailer Beyond Retro. What exactly do you do?

We sell design direction and inspiration. Some designers are looking to source specific garments, and we do the research for them. Our archive has more than 5,000 printed fabric swatches and vintage garments, with some pieces as rare as a Victorian gothic funeral jacket, as well as more modern sports and casual collectable pieces.

How did you get involved in fashion?

I’ve always worked in vintage clothing, from retail and sourcing to picking and buying. I’m interested in art and I have a degree in hand embroidery from Manchester Metropolitan University and a Masters in drawing from Camberwell College of Arts. After graduating, I worked with womenswear designer Jessica Ogden and milliner Nasir Mazhar in embroidery, pattern-cutting, production and archive upkeeping. When I heard about the archive manager and textile consultant role at Beyond Retro, I thought it sounded like all of the jobs I’ve ever done rolled into one.

How did you become interested in vintage clothing?

The history that it carries really got me interested. I’ve always been a thrift shop addict. It’s not to say that I never buy new, but buying vintage means that clothes have a story all of their own.

Did you always know you wanted to work in fashion?

When I was a kid I actually wanted to be an Egyptologist. When I did my degree I was interested in embroidery - but not necessarily for clothing. When I started working at Jessica Ogden, it just felt natural. I definitely want to work with fashion in the foreseeable future.

What is it about the archive that provides inspiration to designers?

It’s such a huge resource with a wealth of history. So many designers use vintage as a reference. We’re able to span a timeline from the 1880s to the 1990s, which covers a vast amount of styles, eras and social history. We can buy or research particular areas for a designer or look at historical trends on a global scale.

How do you see fashion’s relationship to the past?

You’re always influenced by the past when deciding what to do with the future. It’s a bit of a cliché that everything in fashion is a reworking of the past, but it rings true. There’s so much information in the archive, and every current trend that comes around we can trace back.

Where would you like to take Beyond Retro in the future?

We moved to a bigger space last June, so we were able to grow the business and the showroom. We’re expanding at an almost unfathomable rate, and rails of clothing seem to sprout up everywhere. I want to encourage design teams to come in for consultations. People are always excited and shell-shocked by the collection we have.

Which is your favourite fashion era?

I love the humour of the 1970s and 1980s, but also 1930s and 1940s detailing in women’s and men’s wear.

What was the last item of clothing you bought?

A pair of quilted black leather mittens.

Where was the last place that you shopped?

69A in Liverpool. It’s an incredible shop that feels like a tour of the world.

Who are your style icons?

Ron Mael [of rock band Sparks], Brand Walsh [from the film The Goonies] and [US jazz musician] Jimmy Smith.

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