Grey concrete walls plaster the interior of a small, understated store tucked in the corner of a basement in the shopping complex The Adelphi. Every now and then, an oblivious passer-by wanders past the glass windows of Milieu, an up-and-coming hive for archive clothing, known to young fashion lovers as a centre for inspiration and cultivation.
While there seems to be no fixed definition, archive fashion is the term commonly used to describe vintage designer clothing that is highly coveted due to its historical or cultural significance to the designer or brand. In recent years, the local archive scene has increased in popularity with the influence of pop culture and social media. Celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Bella Hadid have graced the red carpet in the most alluring of vintage designer looks. The prestige and rarity associated with these garments has impacted the masses and everyone wants in.
“Our takes on style are very different, so we can offer products to a variety of consumers.”
Understanding the rising demand locally for archive treasures, Milieu is helmed by archive fashion fanatics Alfred Bong, 22, and Leon Lim, 32, co-founders of the new store. The duo was introduced to one another during an archive event held early last year at the local multi-label fashion store, Spades. “We were thinking that since all of us are selling the same category of clothing and have aligned interests, why not come together and be the first physical archive store in Singapore?” shares Lim. Bong agrees, stating that the opportunity to work together to create a physical space for all things archive-related seemed like “a natural extension”.
Notably, there is a lack of local brick-and-mortar stores carrying archive clothing in Singapore due to the challenge of running a small business and the difficulty of acquiring a sizeable curation of these rare and expensive pieces. Milieu—a word typically used to describe one’s social environment—carries a wide array of pieces from various renowned brands, including Undercover, Raf Simons and Comme des Garçons. Certain lesser-known brands, such as Blackmeans and Yoshiyuki Konishi, can be seen on the racks as well.
“As I dug deeper, I realised that certain garments have a story that goes beyond the fabrics that you see.”
As for what makes a piece an archival item, Bong shares: “I think that it is any sort of fashion garment that has withstood the test of time due to its cut, construction or cultural significance that correlates with the context that they were shown in.”
The store’s curation is handled by both co-founders and features a mix of personal favourites they used to wear and interesting garments that have piqued their curiosity and fascination. “Our takes on style are very different, which is good when it comes down to the curation. This is so we can offer products to a variety of consumers,” explains Lim.
The co-founders’ introduction to archive fashion began when they were shopping for clothing to wear. For Lim, it was a pair of Dolce&Gabbana bondage pants from autumn/winter 2003. He explained that through the process of searching for variations of the piece online, he was able to find information on it such as the story behind the pair of pants and the source of inspiration from the designer. Bong’s foray into the world of archive fashion was similar, searching for clothes that fit him well and played on proportions. “As I dug deeper, I realised that certain garments have a story that goes beyond the fabrics that you see. The key reason I collect clothes is to find out the significance of each item with regard to the era it was produced and piece it all together to form a storyline of fashion’s progression and relationship with culture,” adds Bong.
“I see this physical space as an incubator for the rising archive scene in Singapore.”
Setting up a brick-and-mortar shop was tedious and time-consuming, given that both co-founders have full-time jobs as well. Budget and manpower were two of the challenges they faced, making it difficult to arrive at a consensus that was mutually beneficial. However, the benefits of owning a retail space have outweighed the drawbacks. Shares Bong: “We want to have a space where our clients can look at the physical product, feel it and try it. Rather than just shopping for clothes, we want to interact with our clients, tell a story and be part of theirs.”
Bong also elaborates on the sense of fulfilment one experiences when seeing and handling a garment one dearly wants, and wishes to provide similar opportunities for his customers. “Size and fit issues will also be eliminated through having a physical space, since people can try on the clothing and feel the fabric for themselves. More importantly, I see this physical space as an incubator for the rising archive scene in Singapore. I’m excited, not necessarily in a monetary sense, but rather for the fact that people are stopping to look and examine garments in this fast fashion obsessed world.” Evidently, inclusivity was also a key factor in driving the decision to start Milieu. Both co-founders are greatly appreciative of the genuine friendships and connections made through Milieu, listening to people from different walks of life talk about the common love for this niche category in fashion.
“We want to have a space where our clients can look, feel and try on the physical product.”
When asked what the future holds for Milieu, the co-founders allude to conscious consumption and deeper dissections of otherwise forgotten parts of fashion history. “It’s not about buying a lot, but buying well. We had the Internet forums and marketplaces as our archive milieu. By showcasing the brilliant moments from the past or simply just a deep examination of a certain season from a designer, we hope that the information people get from our store will form their archive milieu, to help them understand what they are purchasing.”
Photography: Jasper Yu
Photography assistant: Jaywen
Styling: Jasmine Ashvinkumar
Hair and makeup: Sha Shamsi using Gucci Beauty and Keune
Hair and makeup assistant: Laea Hidayah
Pre-order your copy of the January/February ‘Renewal’ issue of Vogue Singapore online now or pick it up on newsstands from 18 January 2023.