Backstage at Louis Vuitton Menswear Spring/Summer 2016. (Photo: Ulrich Knoblauch)
"We joke that we're the dirty secret of the fashion world," says Doug Gunn. He is the co-founder of The Vintage Showroom, which houses army fatigues, nylon bombers, Japanese embroidered tour jackets and assorted Americana from decades past. He acts as a clothes farm for high-end designers hunting out inspiration.
How he's kept it confidential is a miracle – some 50,000 pieces of vintage clothing span his Covent Garden shop and a private warehouse in Notting Hill. But operating in secret is what his clients require. He is in the vintage sourcing business, renting out garments to high-end fashion houses. These items of clothing ultimately inform the prevailing mood or theme of a label's next collection. In rare cases, lazy designers will blatantly copy a garment, microwaving an old idea – the cut of sleeve, the drape of neckline – and serving it up as their new signature dish. In most cases, vintage sourcers are merely textile libraries for designers looking to do some research.
"We have good relationships with designers," explains Gunn. "The customers that we see regularly come down to the shop two or three times a year. We don't just sell vintage. We also do a lot of visual research for people."
These designers come to sniff out unexpected items that have a unique selling point that they can channel into a design: a print, a cut, an embroidered pattern. The samples are just as likely to be used for fabric development or wash. "[Designers] usually buy it because they have to cut it or give it to a factory for a while, but some things they just take and shoot on a model to get a sense of proportions. They even cut a pattern from it."
At 24, David Casavant may be new to the vintage sourcing game, but his New York archive of vintage Raf Simons and Helmut Lang garments has fast become a go-to for Kanye West, Rihanna and rapper Travi$ Scott. They borrow from his back catalogue for performances or appearances. However, Casavant also loans out to a few major American menswear and denim brands that show on the fashion calendar.