The core of the collection is a gift from Olsen’s mentor of many years, brand expert and cultural theorist Steven Mark Klein, who died last year. “He’s been very present in our minds over the course of these days,” notes the curator. Included in the holdings are books and magazines and rare commercial printed matter and ephemera like invitations, printed lookbooks, and show notes. The latter are the subject of the inaugural exhibition, curated by Olsen and her frequent collaborator Jeppe Ugelvig. (Full disclosure, part of my own collection will soon take up residence at the ILFR.)
Originally created for and by select members of the fashion community, the commercial printed matter housed in the new library was often of incredibly high quality and costly, and it continues to have an influence that is far greater than its distribution ever was. “What’s interesting for me is to see that fashion printed matter has essentially been incredibly important within visual culture,” says Olsen.
Just 21, Olsen came of age in an era when fashion was already mostly paperless. The days of plastic boxes filled with seasonal lookbooks are long gone; her mission is to see that that type of content is not forgotten. This curatorial work has already been happening piecemeal on digital platforms like Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram, where scans and screenshots of work on paper are swapped and shared, but usually not in full or with context.
Preservation is a separate impulse from nostalgia, a driving force in fashion these days. Olsen says she is engaged with “using the past in order to create a desired future,” and to that end many pieces in the collection are being digitized. The curator’s forward focus is represented in the community of emerging and experienced talents she’s building around the library. The glue that binds them is a shared—and present-tense—passion. “We’ve been talking a lot about cross-generationality in this project,” says Olsen. The glue that binds this community is “common references, common memories, common stories, and common people.”