Increasingly, today's fashion design uses vintage pieces to do research. Sport & Street interviews "Mr Vintage" Angelo Caroli, owner and founder of A.N.G.E.L.O. His is perhaps the most famous archive in the world, with over 100,000 garments and accessories for hiring, studying, buying, inspiration and much more.
Etymologically taken from the French term designating the yearly grape harvest or wine, "vintage" is now a ubiquitous phenomenon in fashion as well as design: from stalls to dedicated boutiques, to casual wear on the streets, even reaching the catwalks - Stone Island by Massimo Osti and Maison Martin Margiela are perfect examples - the presence of second hand garments as inspiration or as an object capable of living all over again is now unavoidable. What we did not know is that the spark-off is due to a man who since the seventies sensed the potential of vintage clothing. We are talking about Angelo Caroli, founder of ANGELO Vintage Palace in Lugo di Romagna.
When did you begin your career and, with it, your role as a promoter of vintage?
When I started, aged 17, I began by asking myself a question: "Why do we throw away things? They are important!" It was the seventies; the equivalent of the bloggers of today was then a radio DJ. Thinking I hadthings to say about fashion, I began to collaborate with Radio Music International. Led a half-hour broadcast that was successful. During an interview, I discovered the existence of a vintage shop of woman’s wear, so I became curious and wanted to find an equivalent shop for men. It was then that I met Mario Gulmanelli, my future partner. He worked at the Piazzola market in Bologna, one of the first Italian second hand markets. We started to go to Prato to buy clothes and items, I resold to my peers at school. I realized I had a future when I sold two shirts to my chemistry teacher.
Are you a born collector?
I started collecting first for myself, then for my collection, then for business. I initially acted on instinct, then I perfected and only later I reached the point of understanding why some garments are important or will soon become important. For example I ran into some crucial pieces by accident, as was the case for a pair of Levi's jeans (jeans were the first items in my collection) made during the Second World War, with the economies necessary in time of war, they were stressed, strange; it took me 10 years before I discovered how important that item was, but it truly was. It then happened that in the early nineties Levi’s own designers came to me two or three times a year from San Francisco. They consulted my archive because they did not have their own yet. It was only later that companies understood the importance of creating their own in-house archive. I also worked on building many of their archives: with Gucci, for example, to whom I sold several pieces for the museum. Others I kept, of course.
When did you realize that a passion could become destiny?
When, in the early eighties, I began to sell garments to Massimo Osti of Stone Island, one of the first designers who came to my shop. He used to send a person to buy things from my selection, finding them very important. His was among the first companies to create an archive, just by sending people around. He was looking for those military garments of the past on which he based his design research.
How do you find your garments?
Before I used to buy thrown away or used clothes from other traders, mainly in the USA, which were my myth in the seventies. Today I buy more than 50% of my garments in Italy, and over 50% of them I purchase from people who are selling their wardrobe, maybe fine clothes. They call me because they know that what I buy will not get lost, but is kept in an archive. Among the most recent cases is that of a noble family in Rome whose heirs sold the house and have collected the clothes of their two aunts, mother and granddaughter. Though some clothes were very spoiled, they also had garments from important brands that have made the history of Italian tailoring: Emilio Federico Schuberth, Sartoria Fabiani, Irene Galitzine. I enjoy, today, knowing the stories of the garments I trade: a nice anecdote comes from a lady who gave me a gown commissioned to Schuberth for the eighteenth birthday of her daughter, a wonderful fifties’ dress in pink silk, the skirt very wide with hand painted swallows and peonies; the mother did use a band of fabric of the same pink gown, with the same painting, to festoon the ceiling of her daughter’s bedroom. The clothes are part of a world.
Why do we resort to vintage to build today's collections? Are we perhaps less able or capable than in the past?
Today the designer spends less time than in the past creating a garment. Once the tailor or the company sought to have his or her maximum expression in the piece that had to be perfect, showing the best on the fabric, in its detail, in its resistance to time. It could not wear out, had to have extreme quality to defeat the competition. Now the marketing is more important, the garment is more ephemeral. What counts are first impressions, also because a garment is worn less. Also in today’s assembly line there is no longer just one season, but there are 10... Today we must speed up the process: for example if you want to make a sporty or military item and you have to create a pocket for a sports jacket, you certainly don’t have the time to do an in-depth research, as it was done for military pockets, designed to the tenth of a millimetre. So looking at the past can mean looking at how a problem had already been solved. It may be easier for the designer who does not draw, to use a vintage garment to sample directly. It is fast and saves money.
Does the appeal of the vintage not imply a certain creative laziness?
I disagree. Today, in 2015, we have to know the past and to be aware of it: if I know the past, I can do something new. If you do not know it, you may use a season to try to do something that was already there. The past serves as a springboard for the future.
Because every great idea can be put to a bad use, what negative use of vintage have you found?
The current use of the term "vintage". At first, the word has served to qualify the domain of second hand clothes, after it was used inappropriately so that any leftover stock, even after a year, is called vintage. So, a word originally fascinating was used badly enough to become a cliché that can detract from the original meaning.
In times of ecology, recycling, recovery of the needed resources, vintage is almost the automatic answer. What is the real future of vintage, in your opinion?
I see technology: making digital archives available. I would make my "library" accessible to the world of internet. For 10 years, I have been trying to do it, but with my own means, it remains very challenging. I hope that in the future it will be possible to connect many archives, so that this library will become ever larger.
Text by Alessia Vignali
In collaboration with the fashion magazines, Collezioni: www.collezioni.info