From Helmut to Hedi: How to Collect Archival Menswear Like a Pro
For many, fashion is a lifelong love affair, and we at The RealReal know this only too well. While luxury is a relative term, for us it means iconic pieces that stand the test of time. It means the pinnacle of good design. It means unparalleled craftsmanship. Our experts dedicate their careers to studying brands, trends and techniques, transforming their passion into their livelihood. And it’s why they value and curate collections of the pieces they know are worth the investment.
Which brings us to Dominik Halás, our Men’s Category Expert. Dominik has been collecting, buying and reselling menswear for years, and now lends his expertise in our New York office. He has interned at Robert Geller, managed the David Casavant Archive and consulted for top design houses such as YEEZY, Tom Ford and Helmut Lang Re-Edition. He was even featured in photo project Exactitudes’ series of images for Helmut Lang Re-Edition earlier this year, alongside the likes of Kanye West, Solange Knowles and other fans of the brand.
In this series, we ask RealReal experts-cum-collectors about their very first find, what to keep versus sell and if they actually wear their treasures. Read on for Dominik’s expert advice on collecting archival menswear, and for a peek at some of his most coveted pieces.
Photo credit: Shuwei Liu. Dominik wears Helmut Lang A/W ’03 punk T-shirt, aviator pants and valet keychain, Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche by Hedi Slimane A/W ’00 boots and a GHSTS belt worn as a harness.
What do you collect, and what’s the story behind your first piece?
I mainly collect Hedi Slimane’s early pieces from Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche and Dior Homme, ‘90s and ‘00s Helmut Lang, ‘90s Yohji Yamamoto Pour Homme, Matsuda and Vexed Generation. I don’t remember what my first piece was, but it was most likely something designed by Hedi Slimane.
When did you first become interested in collecting?
I first started paying attention to what I was wearing around the age of 13, and shortly thereafter became particularly drawn to certain designers and collections. The very first one I started “collecting” was Hedi Slimane’s Fall/Winter 2003 collection for Dior Homme, entitled “Luster.” It was inspired by both the Berlin club scene and Napoleonic uniforms, and is arguably Slimane’s darkest collection.
I initially bought pieces to wear myself but slowly started justifying purchasing items that weren’t my size or style because I knew I would never see them again, and I wanted to build a complete image of what “Luster” was about. I eventually started renting out pieces from my collection to designers for design research, celebrities for performances, and stylists for editorial shoots, so my collecting became about finding pieces that reflected my own aesthetic, showcased really progressive or elegant fabrics and were desirable for rentals.
Photo Credit: Jesse Adwar for Twelv Magazine. Dominik wears a Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane S/S ’14 shirt, Yohji Yamamoto Pour Homme S/S ’95 trousers & a Robert Geller A/W ’15 belt.
How many pieces do you have in your collection?
I haven’t counted, but probably around 500.
What’s the thought process when choosing your next piece? How do you know when you really want to invest in something?
My decision to buy something always starts at the emotional level — is this beautiful and does it reflect my tastes and aesthetic? Next I consider the rarity of the piece — is it a sample? Is it likely I will never see it again? Is this something that will be really covetable to other collectors now and years down the road? I also think about whether it could rent well, if the fabric, design, and construction are something a design house or stylist would be intrigued by. Lastly, I think about whether I will wear it, or if it’s a women’s piece, will my girlfriend wear it?
I often buy pieces that I know I will keep forever, so to me the investment aspect of collecting is a very personal topic. I don’t invest in the traditional way of looking for a return on investment. For me, it’s an experience of discovery and being able to study a piece and understand what about it struck me, and how the designer was able to achieve that reaction from me. I will design one day, so I consider collecting a means of research and study for my development.
Out of your entire collection, do you have a favorite piece?
I hate being asked this question because each piece has something different about it that I enjoy. If I were forced to choose, I would probably say my Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche by Hedi Slimane diagonally cut leather gloves or semi-transparent cream silk blouson. To me, both of these items express the elegance of Slimane’s work at this time, and his attempt to elevate menswear to the level of sophistication and seduction usually reserved for women’s haute couture.
Photo Credit: Jesse Adwar for Twelv Magazine. Dominik wears a Helmut Lang A/W ’03 Cashmere Knit Sweater, Helmut Lang A/W ’03 Long Sleeve Bondage Shirt & Yohji Yamamoto Pour Homme A/W ’15 Triple Layer Pants.
What’s the rarest piece in your collection?
Several of my items are one-off runway samples, including a massive Dior Homme by Hedi Slimane Fall/Winter 2003 sterling silver cuban chain necklace, and a Helmut Lang Fall/Winter 2003 open knit cashmere sweater. Those are likely the rarest pieces I own, although for many of my items, I’ve only seen them once — and then bought them.
Do you wear your pieces regularly, display them or keep them tucked away?
I try to wear as much of what I have as possible, although I end up keeping the majority of my pieces stored away.
What’s the most challenging aspect of collecting?
Competition from other collectors and time. I buy a lot of my pieces on Japanese resale markets, which means I’m faced with the challenges of different time zones and language barriers. I ideally check all my markets throughout the day, but things always slip away. The market for collecting the kinds of pieces I’m after has expanded greatly over the last few years. The consequences of this have been both positive and negative — more owners of these pieces realize their value and put them on sale, but more collectors are being spawned and fighting for the same covetable items.
Photo Credit: Jesse Adwar for Twelv Magazine. Dominik wears a Yohji Yamamoto Pour Homme coat and trousers, Second/Layer T-shirt, Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche by Hedi Slimane A/W ’00 gloves, Robert Geller A/W ’16 belt & Barny Nakhle creepers.
Which piece holds the most elaborate “hunt” story?
Most of my purchases just come from luck and being at the right place at the right time, however sometimes patience and building relationships with sellers is also extremely important. I once saw a listing for a Helmut Lang item with an image from a lookbook that isn’t anywhere else online. I messaged the seller inquiring about the lookbook and was told that he had four in his possession but wasn’t ready to sell any of them. I stayed in touch and waited patiently for one year and convinced him to let me buy them.
Any special tips for keeping archival pieces like yours in great condition?
Storage is key, specifically garment bags and moth repellents. Knits should always be folded and jackets should be hung unbuttoned to maintain shape, according to the merchandising standards Hedi Slimane set at Saint Laurent.
How has the online resale market factored into your collecting?
The majority of my collecting has been from online resale markets since day one. The market has grown tremendously since I started, and the hype around some pieces has caused prices to skyrocket.
What advice would you give someone looking to consign pieces from their own collection?
There’s never been a better time for archival fashion — both interest and prices are at the highest they have ever been. I specialize in archival here at The RealReal and have successfully convinced some of my collector friends to consign their items by guaranteeing that I will personally tend to all of the pricing and research necessary to do them justice. I would recommend consignors research as much as they can for specific collections, creative directors and historic pricing trends.
What advice would you give someone looking to start their own collection?
I would urge anyone that’s looking to start their own collection to begin with asking themselves some fundamental questions to define their own tastes before they purchase anything. It’s vital to understand not just what kinds of pieces, designers or eras you like, but why you like them and feel they are important.
Collecting has become vulnerable to the phenomenon of hype, and I oftentimes feel that many new collectors start going after pieces or designers because they’ve seen other people collecting them, without understanding the broader context or importance of what they’re lusting after. There are so many designers from decades past whose pieces are undervalued and under-appreciated, just waiting for a new generation of collectors to discover them.
Ready to start collecting? Shop a curated selection of our best menswear.
Feature image photo credit: Phil Oh for Vogue.