In today’s fashion world, whether it be digital or IRL, everything is evolving at break-neck speed. Technologies continue to innovate and find new modes of connection, and businesses need to move faster than the speed of light. But while moving forward is key to business success, many brands are looking backwards…and with success. Nostalgia is, without a doubt, in.

The New York Times conversation around “What Nostalgia is Good For” explains it as a backlash against the fast-paced technology and the economic and political uncertainty that has left people feeling anxious about the future. Nostalgia gives our lives a sense of continuity and meaning as we get older. You know the feeling; that dusty Gameboy on your bookshelf and or an endlessly mounting collection of vinyl records remind you of your younger, more carefree years. Now, fashion brands are beginning to recognise the value of nostalgia as they begin to introduce the fond and familiar as a way of convincing customers to part with their hard-earned cash.

Calvin Klein Creative Director Raf Simon’s uses the brands iconic denim and underwear pieces to leverage nostalgia

As a psychographic phenomenon, nostalgia appeals to many demographics; both those generations who lived through the era referenced and those who bemoan having missed out on it. Take for example Calvin Klein, the designer who used seductive and controversial imagery, combined with his minimalist fashion collection, jeans, fragrances and underwear, to turn the label into one of the most recognizable and successful fashion brands in the world. From a teenage Brooke Shields with nothing between her and her Calvin’s to Kate Moss’ sensuous semi-nude series, to shockingly seductive photography of male models in his underwear, Klein’s advertising has broken barriers and remains engrained in the fashion vernacular. Raf Simons, who took the helm as Creative Director in 2016 has been responsible for the labels revival, which now counts influential names like Finn Wolfhard and the Millie Bobby Brown as fans.

Denim has been at the core of his brand reboot. From patches that pay homage to Brooke Shields 1980s campaign, to Andy Warhol prints and sharply cut trucker jackets and jeans in true blues, Simons has used denim as a vehicle to tell a modern day version of the storied American brand. And its paid off too. PVH Corp., which owns Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, reported an “incredible improvement” in its jeans businesses worldwide this yeah. In an article on Business of Fashion, Chief executive officer Emanuel Chirico attributed the revival to the popularity of ’90s style, and PVH is putting its marketing dollars behind it. This year, the company enlisted the bulk of the Kardashian clan as well as rap crew A$AP Mobb in its global ad campaign for Calvin Klein’s jean and underwear lines. Similary, Tommy Hilfiger, a brand who has been an active part of the zeitgeist — both before the turn of the Millennium and now, has been banking on the bold new looks of its sub-label Tommy Jeans to make it the rebellious option for today’s youth. It’s A/W 18 collection offers a diverse range of street style-ready apparel that includes 90s-inspired denim, collegiate logos and vintage prints that are a subtle reminder of the era-defining aesthetics Hilfiger has manifested over the years. Additionally, the brands alignment with influential labels like KITH through a highly coveted retail collaboration that has further cemented the brands cool cache amongst discerning young consumers.

NYC label KITH collaborate with Tommy Jeans for a collection inspired by Tommy Hilfiger’s 90s golden era moment

As lines between fashion, streetwear, couture and high-street become blurred, the fashion rules of the past are dropped and an ‘era-less’, magpie approach to dressing takes over. Stylists are looking to the original brands of their childhoods for inspiration. And they don’t get much more original than the cult Italian brand Fiorucci. The legend of Fiorucci has only grown in the years since its name disappeared from the fashion landscape. It was the Palace or Supreme of its day, a brand that made highly wearable jeans and t-shirts for the glitterati, a brand that used popular culture rather than cultural elitism to sell its dream, a brand that refused to take itself too seriously, yet still made an indelible impact on fashion. It was this enduring appeal that made the brand so attractive to Janie and Stephen Schaffer, who acquired the brand back in 2015. The pair have brought the label back to life by sticking to Elio Fiorucci’s personal philosophy and dream, that of establishing a meeting place for the local creative community – exactly what the brand’s founder did in 1967, with a bunch of flagship stores in Milan, London and New York. The labels new London flagship store in Soho is a modern day rendition of the labels iconic NYC disco-inspired store and its location sitting amongst Palace, Champion, Supreme, and high-end boutique Machine A ensure Fiorucci’s sense of colour and fun still stands out in the fashion landscape.

Model Georgia May Jagger recreates an iconic pose from Fiorucci’s famous 80s ad campaign

All this 80s logo-mania and retro-inspired denim that is enjoying a renewed spotlight in fashion, has paved the way for other cult classics to make their return. This year Jordache, the original American ‘designer denim’ label has relaunched its eponymous line of high-rise fits and sharp cuts as part of the brands 40th anniversary. Like Fiorucci, Jordache is pinning its hopes on a younger demographic of nostalgia-hungry consumers to buy into its revamped line of eighties-infused denim. The line has been headed up by denim expert Benjamin Talley Smith, who has drawn from their archives to create a modern and premium take on the classics. Items like the high rise slim that Jordache was always know for, are reworked in rigid cone denim with signature ‘Omega’ back pocket design, while modern details like Japanese logo Jacquard or a 3M reflective logo inject a fresh attitude on tradition.

American 80s cult classic label Jordache have relaunched for 2018

Much of the power and success of these nostalgic campaigns lies in how tailored their meanings are for a specific audience. Everyone has different memories associated with the brand from the past, and these independent and meaningful experiences are what make nostalgia hold such impact. Emotive Brand point out in their research that the Millennial and Gen-Z demographic, in particular, are longing for the familiar: the products and brands that remind them of growing up and that elicit feelings of safety, comfort, and happiness. There’s a yearning to bring back the “good old days”. This audience is also the most connected and the success of a nostalgic campaign has the most potential within this target group thanks to their connectivity to social media. If anything is going to go viral, Millennials and Gen-Z need to be part of it.

Social media platforms like Instagram have undoubtedly spurred on this yearning for the past with its unfettered access to curated #throwback content. Profiles like @grailed and @roundtwovintage captivate grail-hunting menswear enthusiasts and educated consumers with an appreciation for specific items and eras (and ruthlessly discerning taste). These channels have been largely responsible for changing the narrative around vintage clothing, helping to shake off the stigma of secondhand clothing that “someone no longer wants” to become more about the concept of rarity, exclusivity and even accessible luxury. Their impact has pushed up the value in these throwback items over the years. Demand has soared as consumers hunt for rare, authentic relics, and emerging labels tap this hype to create contemporary designs inspired by these grails.

After a sell-out capsule collection in 2017, Ralph Lauren bank on a second wave of re-releases from its iconic Stadium 1992 collection

Studies suggest that nostalgia inspires consumers to spend their money because it promises an immediate return in the form of these happy memories and comfort. This is why the trend for re-release product drop culture has grown increasingly popular in recent years, as brands begin to discover the value of connecting with their customers on a more in-depth, emotional level. The success of Ralph Lauren’s re-release of its iconic Stadium 1992 collection demonstrates the power of nostalgia, where people are literally buying into the past. When the label dropped the re-release collection of this 90s cult classic last autumn, it almost broke the internet. Thousands of diehard fans lined up for hours for the chance to grab these new limited-editions. The same happened earlier this year, when it dropped its Snow Beach collection, where pieces from the collection resold on consignment stores for over several hundred percent markups immediately.

Levi’s get in on the current hype for re-release culture with the return of their Engineered line for A/W 18

Legacy brands like Levi’s have been quick to catch onto the energy for this re-release model. For A/W 18 the brand will bring back its cult-classic line Levi’s Engineered and with that new iterations of its Levi’s Twisted Jean. Helmut Lang’s Re-Edition line proved a hit in capturing the current online buzz amongst “grail hunters”, while Gucci had one of the most impactful projects earlier this year with its partnership with Harlem Tailor Dapper Dan who designed over 200 skews inspired by his 80s archive. Gucci’s collaboration with Dapper Dan was so successful because it held so much emotional impact. Twenty-five years after luxury labels sued his Harlem boutique out of existence, things came full circle when it was announced that Gucci and Dapper Dan would be undertaking a joint venture in a new Harlem atelier, a space for him to work his sartorial magic with a free hand and raw materials supplied by Gucci. By adding this extra layer of emotional depth into their brand story, it made the nostalgia even more powerful, personal, and meaningful.

Gucci’s collaboration with Harlem Tailor Dapper Dan revived the 80s classics he designed for rappers, hustlers and sport stars

The strongest brands in the world are those that manage to walk the best line between archive and innovation. They use the past to create that warm feeling of nostalgia and simultaneously excite consumers to invest in the future of the brand. They take their audiences on a journey with them, and people delight in the brand as a result. As Raymond Loewy might say, “design for the future, but deliver the future gradually.”

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Denim trend consultant, owner of @samutaro

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