“If You Know Exactly What You’re Searching For, It’s Out There To Be Found”: 3 Vintage Collectors Share Their Mind-Blowing Collections With Vogue

Step by step: Jefferson Ihenacho surrounded by rare vintage footwear from the likes of Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood Jen Carey

Behind every great vintage collector stands a great wardrobe, bursting with stories of serendipity, dedication and once-in-a-lifetime discoveries. Three of the best open their doors – and address books – to Vogue.

Alexandra Carl, stylist & consultant

Emotional threads: Alexandra Carl wears a 2009 Chanel jacket and jeans by Ottolinger Polly Brown

Alexandra Carl is affectionately brushing the lapel of her mother Helle’s black Jean Paul Gaultier dress, a masterfully tailored design from the 1980s that she discovered in Paris while working as a journalist, who across her career interviewed the likes of Madonna, Elton John and Daniel Day-Lewis. It’s a fondness that has developed over decades: Copenhagen-born, London-based Carl grew up playing dress-up in her mother’s wardrobe, from sculptural Alaïa dresses to Thierry Mugler pumps hand-painted with golden swirls.

It’s a crisp morning in east London, and Vogue has been invited into the light-suffused town house Carl shares with her husband, Jacob, and young son, Theo, to discuss her latest project, Collecting Fashion: Nostalgia, Passion, Obsession. The Rizzoli-published pages document a joyful journey into the wardrobes of fashion’s most impressive archivists, from sneakerheads to aficionados of the Belgian avant-garde. “The book is about the pure emotional connection people have with clothing,” the 32-year-old stylist and consultant, who counts Nanushka, Max Mara, Victoria Beckham and Louis Vuitton as collaborators, explains.

Carl equates her own passion for playful and exquisitely crafted clothing – by the likes of Jonathan Anderson at Loewe, Nicolas Ghesquière during his tenure at Balenciaga and Phoebe Philo for Céline – with a long lineage of matriarchs. “My grandmother would turn clothing inside out and study how it was constructed,” she explains. “If she had something she loved, she’d cherish it and repair it.” Helle concurs, “I grew up surrounded by the attitude that you can make everything yourself.” Even Carl’s great-grandmother had a knack for make do and mend. In the aftermath of the Second World War, she created garments from old coats that were so impressive they were shot for the cover of the major Danish newspaper BT.

A word of warning for obsessives of preloved clothing also intent on streamlining their screen time? “I had to delete an app I had downloaded for global live auctions off my phone,” Carl says, laughing, referencing the online sales she scours in search of secondhand treasure. In addition to her collection of Céline outerwear – from a s/s ’17 check coat with cut-outs at the waist to a two-tone leather pre-fall ’18 trench – she’s sourced bargain Ghesquière-era Balenciaga eyewear at Vestiaire Collective and ’90s Prada heels simply in need of a resole at The RealReal. “I love pieces that have as much attention on the inside as the outside,” Carl explains. She’s also invested in Hermès bags, and the 2009 Chanel jacket embellished with militaristic faux-pearl frogging she’s wearing today with dark Ottolinger jeans, from the Parisian vintage specialist ReSee. For Carl, these aren’t impulse purchases. Just as Hamish Bowles (The World of Interiors editor and one of Carl’s book subjects) fell in love with a toreador-inspired ruby velvet Balenciaga bolero from 1946 at age 10, before finally acquiring the piece 30 years later at a boutique in LA, or as Michelle Elie in 1995 spent her first modelling paycheque on a Rei Kawakubo creation after years of wishful window shopping, so Carl returns to pieces that ignited sentiment on a past photoshoot or stirred emotion from a runway image.

In a time when a digital algorithm can define seasonal style, Carl was struck by the individuality of the archivists she met. Sporting late 1980s Martin Margiela wooden clogs or humorous clown playsuits by forgotten French designer Popy Moreni, these collectors forged frenzied and bank balance-draining paths to collect from designers who may not have been popular at the time.

Carl with her mother, Helle, in vintage Jean Paul Gaultier Polly Brown

We predict Carl might be reinstalling that live auctions app, as she’s currently on the hunt for myriad wardrobe gems. Think: a black spring/summer ’16 Céline coat, accented with delicate white lace; a romantic puff-sleeved jacket from Balenciaga’s cyborg-gladiator s/s ’08 show; and the squidged Hermès Birkin bags that Jean Paul Gaultier designed when he was creative director of the French maison from 2003 to 2010.

“I like awkward, ‘ugly’ accessories,” Carl enthuses, a pair of tangerine s/s ’15 Loewe shoes with bulbous heels, and a/w ’07 Balenciaga stilettos that look like they’ve been crafted in Lego, at her feet.

“Creativity can happen once you have the opportunity to unfold it,” says Helle, reclining with a cup of tea on a gem-hued sofa by Philippe Malouin in Carl’s living room. It’s a phrase that refers to the freedom of imagination, but also draws images of museum-worthy pieces being unwrapped from tissue or forgotten treasures being unfurled from garment bags. Carl may be fascinated by the archives of others, but it’s poignant that in years to come her own feeling-fuelled collection will incite wonder and exhilaration. “If a piece is something that you love, why wouldn’t you keep loving it?” she asks, with a smile. – Laura Hawkins

Jefferson Ihenacho, founder, One of a Kind Archive

Step by step: Jefferson Ihenacho surrounded by rare vintage footwear from the likes of Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood Jen Carey

A nondescript storefront towards the north end of Portobello Road in London conceals one of the fashion world’s favourite vintage troves. Enter (by appointment) and you’ll meet Jefferson Ihenacho, founder of One of a Kind Archive, whose client list includes Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner and the design teams of every major luxury house.

Ihenacho’s vast collection numbers around 5,000 pieces, approximately 4,000 of which are available for purchase. Each item is meticulously catalogued with the help of next-generation archivists – Viktor Gichev, and brothers Gregory and James Chester – and the showroom experience offers the chance to encounter masterpieces from fashion history that you rarely get to see up close, let alone touch.

Between these four walls: a 1967 canary yellow Paco Rabanne feathered minidress worn by Brigitte Bardot – unexpectedly whipped out of a modest white cardboard box – and an ultra-rare spring/summer 2001 Givenchy Haute Couture cocktail dress designed by Alexander McQueen, with the model’s name inscribed by hand on the garment label. Only, the dress never graced the runway. (The show was held behind closed doors after news broke that the designer had defected from LVMH to the Gucci Group.)

“It’s to die for,” Ihenacho says, elegantly removing his futuristic Balenciaga sunglasses. We lean in for a closer look at the beading, and it occurs to me that it’s not often you find yourself holding a squeaky dog toy in one hand (prized possession of Ralph, One of a Kind’s resident French bulldog) and a priceless McQueen design in the other. Across the room, Chester lifts a delicate 3D floral Prada shift (look 80, s/s 1992) from its protective garment bag. It’s the next item on our must-see list. “My taste has always been eclectic,” Ihenacho explains. “I’m one of those people who just loves to dress up for the fun of it.”

Ihenacho with Sienna Miller Jefferson Ihenacho
Jean Paul Gaultier pays a visit to One of a Kind Jefferson Ihenacho

Now 56, the master archivist got hooked on collecting in 1994 after selling Vivienne Westwood, Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons pieces from his own wardrobe at Portobello Market. Soon, word-of-mouth brought stylists, and then supermodels, to his stall. Among them, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, who wanted to be seen in clothes that no-one else had. In 1996, he opened his first store at 253 Portobello Road, where Moss would shop for the vintage slip dresses that became her signature.

Back in the vault, the conversation turns to the treasures that are currently out on loan. Ihenacho owns one of only five hand-embellished s/s 1996 Christian Lacroix Haute Couture butterfly corsets in existence, which Lacroix – a sleeping giant poised for a 2024 red carpet comeback according to the collector – commissioned the legendary Mr Pearl Atelier to make. There’s also the voluminous a/w 2003 blush-pink Dior coat designed by John Galliano that one former British Vogue cover star is holding onto. Ihenacho hopes she’ll want to keep it. “I had her in mind when I got that,” he says.

Victoria Beckham in the archive Jefferson Ihenacho
Naomi Campbell in the archive Jefferson Ihenacho

Three decades since he started out, is the hunt still as thrilling? “Discovering new pieces that you never thought were out there, which have stood the test of time, is mind-blowing. Nothing pleases me more than finding a piece that will be seen in a museum, or end up on exactly the right person,” Ihenacho says, pointing to the cherished design from Galliano’s 1984 Central Saint Martins graduate collection, which found its way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute by way of One of a Kind.

That said, unearthing long-lost works from history’s greatest fashion designers is not as easy as it once was. “You used to be able to go to markets where the traders didn’t know what they had. My advice for anyone starting a collection today is to research the 1990s designers that didn’t survive the Noughties. Go out there and look for things you like; observe how well they’ve been made,” Ihenacho says. “If you know exactly what you’re searching for, it’s out there to be found.” – Julia Hobbs

Ashley Scott, sculptor

Only collect: Ashley Scott wears a 1984 Planète des Saintes dress by Thierry Mugler, with a vintage belt, from the designer’s a/w ’91 collection David Luraschi

A surefire way to attract the attention of a muscle-rippled man munching on a protein bar? Wear a corseted royal blue suit with velvet details from Manfred Thierry Mugler’s a/w 1995 20th anniversary runway spectacular, of course. The sculpted snacker in question? Monsieur Mugler himself. “He winked at me,” recalls 37-year-old Berlin-based Ashley Scott gleefully, of her run-in with the French couturier in 2017. “He knew exactly who I was.”

Scott piqued Mugler’s attention not long before, after she’d spent years posting wishlists of his archival creations on Instagram. She bought the first in her now 800-piece collection in 2011, a Mugler Active mesh-window linen skirt-suit from eBay. The Chicago-born sculptor’s archive spans the ’80s to early ’00s, and includes Mugler’s surrealist, sculpturally shouldered and futuristic ready-to-wear and haute couture, jewellery, accessories and personal ephemera, from design sketches to hat boxes, Polaroid photos to coat hangers, all housed in a storage space next to her home-cum-studio. When we speak on Zoom, Scott dazzles in a black peaked-collar jacket that she owns in three colours from Mugler’s a/w 1989 Hiver Buick collection, her eyelids painted in a vibrant amethyst shade and her background framed by rare dresses. A recent acquisition? An a/w ’87 black velvet gown with a plunging pastel pink back, which blooms on the lower body with a bouquet of silk roses, crafted by Maison Lemarié. “I’ve been searching for that piece, complete with flowers, for years,” Scott enthuses.

Formative childhood clues that Scott would find a kindred sartorial spirit in Mugler: her great aunt Fancie a milliner, bedazzled her school reading glasses with red rhinestones. Plus her mother’s dedicated collection of Ebony magazines, where Scott first saw Black women modelling couture on its covers. “When I was young, I thought, ‘One day I will acquire my own collection,’” she says, smiling. But it was a YouTube video of Mugler’s aforementioned 20th anniversary show at Cirque d’Hiver in 1995 – the one which buzzed with a line-up of “sexy showgirls, robots and dominatrixes”, characterised by Jerry Hall, Veruschka and Carmen Dell’Orefice – that spearheaded Scott’s obsession. “I needed that confidence, that self-liberation,” she enthuses.

Scott sources Mugler through resale sites and dealers such as Shrimpton Couture, Paris boutiques, private sellers and personal friends of the designer, and her golden age of collecting fell between 2010 and 2017. But a certain Met Gala moment in 2019, which saw the couturier come out of two decades of retirement to create a wasp-waist dress that appeared to twinkle with water droplets for Kim Kardashian, has seen interest in his archive soar. Scott counts two leather Tron jackets from 1989 and 2001 as favourite finds, plus a bone-shaped bag from s/s ’88. She’s also gleeful about an ice blue dress with silver lamé pleats, from Mugler’s a/w ’84 Hiver des Anges collection, which Scott’s partner, Markus, sourced through a local eBay seller. “This lady had had numerous emails about the dress, and finally, my man called the seller, explaining how much his mother had also loved Mugler, watching Paris fashion shows on a German programme on TV called Neues vom Kleidermarkt.”

A silk Mugler jacket from a/w ’99 David Luraschi

“Mugler’s jackets give the perfect posture,” says Scott, who as a teenager was constantly told by her mother to sit up straight. In 1962, Mugler joined the Alsatian Ballet Du Rhin company at the age of 14, and in his long conversations with Scott, divulged that his obsession with how clothing contours the frame arose from his background in dance. “They sit like sculptures on the body,” she adds. Before his death at age 76 in January 2022, the couturier also advised Scott on the restoration of her acquisitions. “Having his guidance and direction was priceless,” she says. “He’d say, ‘The flower on your jacket is hanging two millimetres too low.’ Or, ‘The shoulder pads in your dress aren’t the originals,’” she says with a laugh. He also advised her on how to repair one of the most exceptional accessories in her archive: a lemon-yellow silicone wig from the s/s ’91 Diana Ross Superstar collection.

After an unfortunate run-in with a bowl of pasta, Scott has largely retired wearing the rarer gowns in her Mugler collection, but the designer’s sculpted and cinching jackets are part of her dramatic wardrobe rota. She also bought two ’90s-era Bubble Sac handbags, so that she could wear one and archive one. For Scott, there’s a profound impact in learning the histories of the pieces she acquires, with sellers seeking her out as a caring new home for the creations they wore on their wedding day or bought on a shopping spree at Bergdorf Goodman. What’s next on her wishlist? “More gowns,” she gushes. “I would love to get my hands on one with a heart-shaped back from a/w 1982.”

Just as Scott found an idol in Mugler, so in turn he found inspiration in her. “He said, ‘You’re my biggest ambassador and champion,’” Scott explains. “It was an amazing full circle moment after my years of research and archiving.” That young girl she remembers reading the pages of Ebony in her red rhinestone glasses foresaw it all along. – LH

Collecting Fashion: Nostalgia, Passion, Obsession by Alexandra Carl (Rizzoli, £60) is published on 2 April

Hair: Tom Carl. Make-up: Shelley Blaze. Production: Diana Eastman. Digital artwork: Touch Digital

This article was originally published on British Vogue.

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