Raf Simons and the Economics of Archive Fashion
A$AP Mob: 'RAF' Music Video, via YouTube.
The economic concept of supply and demand applies to every commodity in this capitalist world, even in niche markets and niche products.
E-Commerce platforms such as Grailed, eBay, Rakuten, and Yahoo Auctions have assisted with the demand component of the increasingly “popular niche” market of archive fashion garments. The increase of mainstream marketing from various industries such as music and sports have directly increased demand. A$AP Rocky even has a song called “Raf” that features a new-generation popular cast of hip-hop & pop artists, with a music video that contains visuals influenced by Raf Simons’ first runway show, A/W 1995, presented at the Daniele Ghiselli showroom in Milan. Kids who have no idea who Raf Simons is but listens to A$AP Rocky and Migos religiously now have a point of reference and an entry to a potential rabbit hole to research Raf Simons and the niche community of archive fashion. Mainstreaming something as niche as Raf Simons can lead to a significant increase of demand for his past collections.
Raf Simons Archive Editorial Curation, via in-the-name-of-raf.
But what about supply? The e-commerce platforms such as Grailed have provided a bigger scope and removed barriers of entry for collectors and upcoming enthusiasts, but they do not provide the supply component of the economic concept. The designers themselves & their manufacturing teams create the supply and those pieces from earlier archive collections are most likely non-existent in the free market or have a supply number of single digits. This is a major problem from an economic standpoint, and many enthusiasts in the community would agree. This imbalance between supply and demand is the reason why you see ridiculous pricing on a significant amount of archive fashion pieces, especially for pioneer designers such as Raf Simons. A quick case study on archive Raf Simons pieces will immediately show the imbalance of supply and demand as well as the exponential price inflation.
A quick Grailed search can show that the current Raf Simons A/W 2001 ‘Riot Riot Riot’ Bomber Jackets on the Grailed market have an average price of $39,125 across a select number of listings. Raf’s S/S 2003 ‘Consumed’ Penelope Tree Shark Hoodies have an average price of $2,752.50, with only but a few listings on Grailed. Hoodies and crewneck sweaters from A/W 2002 “Virginia Creeper” have their prices ranging from $1,000 to $4,000, depending on the size, condition, and printed graphics of that specific piece.
"...The commodification of archive fashion garments is toxic to the community... it removes all artistic and creative value from the piece and emphasizes its price tag above all else."
We can sit here all day and analyze the data and price points of every Raf Simons collection, but the reality is that price inflation & exploitation is happening to this niche market. This is the same price inflation that help hyped brands like Supreme and Off-White thrive due to limited quantity releases, release day hype, and secondary market sales. However, in those markets, resellers exist because there is still a significant amount of supply that can be moved from buyer to buyer in the secondary market. This is not the case for the archive fashion market, as there simply is not enough supply, causing extreme price inflation. The true winners of this current day situation are the owners of the garments because they have the power to change the supply in the market, which means they ultimately have the pricing power. No matter how much you hate the guy on Grailed who prices his Raf Simons pieces ridiculously high, you have no choice but to watch the listing sell because someone in this community, whether that individual is knowledgeable or not, will spend that money. It is truly a sellers’ market.
One of the biggest winners of this price inflation in a niche market is David Casavant. If you are not familiar with the notorious archivist and collector, a quick Google or Instagram search will immediately transport you to his elaborative collection of archive fashion garments by designers ranging from Raf Simons to Martin Margiela, Helmut Lang, and many more. Casavant refuses to sell anything. Instead, he offers rental services and his pieces have been worn by several celebrities such as Rihanna, Kanye West, and Travis Scott. This has allowed him to collect and hoard archive piece after archive piece, with Vogue valuing his collection at about $20 million. Yes, $20 million.
'David Casavant Shows Off His Raf Simons & Helmut Lang Archive', via YouTube.
The most intriguing aspect of this price inflation in this niche market is the economics of it all. A Raf piece, whether it is from 2001 or 2005, is no longer considered just a piece of clothing. The components of supply & demand and basic economics have turned it into an appreciating asset, meaning that it can be viewed as an investment purchase that will gain value and provide return on investment over time. This type of language is often associated with things like Tesla stock, a Basquiat or Warhol art piece, and Bitcoin… but now a Raf sweater? David Casavant and other archive fashion collectors and owners are no different than individuals who bought Apple or Google stock in the 2000s. If you were able to purchase a A/W 2002 ‘Nebraska’ Crewneck for less than $1,000, chances are that you can triple your money if you sell it now.
Many can and have argued that the commodification of these archive fashion garments is toxic to the community because it removes all artistic and creative value from the piece and emphasizes its price tag above all else. The designers of the collections never intended to see their pieces go for thousands and thousands of dollars when they initially designed them. Instead of researching the history and self-expression of the artists and designers that are connected to the collections, people will simply hype up the piece because it is worth thousands of dollars. There are other consequences of this price inflation as well, such as increased barriers of entry for new and upcoming collectors and enthusiasts who do not have the financial means to purchase these pieces. These consequences have subsequently led to a trending downward shift in demand as the community deals with increased barriers of entry, price gatekeeping, & an economic recession amidst a pandemic. As much as the price has inflated on these archive pieces, there is a chance that the price spikes are over and archive pieces have reached their highest price point possible.
Raf Simons: Archive Collection Curation, via Marquel Williams.
Ultimately, the economics of archive fashion is a gray area, and the price inflation of the market is a tough issue to tackle. There are a lack of solutions to lower the prices of these rare archive garments and they will most likely continue to rise in price, as the demand increases or remains stagnant while the supply trends in the opposite direction. Which means in the future, people will start saving money to buy a Poltergeist Parka or a Waves Crewneck as an asset for a high return on investment. They will make the choice between purchasing a Virginia Creeper Hoodie or a single stock of Amazon or Bitcoin. It will be a remarkably interesting time for fashion, economics, and investing.
Author: Art V.