Representing the creative future

The creator of @another___kind, James Chester, on the significance of archives and nostalgia

The founder of fashion’s favourite Instagram account spoke to us about the growth of the archive and our obsession with looking back

@another_kind is an Instagram archive curated and managed by James Chester. Working for One Of a Kind on London’s Portobello Road, Chester set up the archive’s account, @oneofakind.archive, which he curates with his brother, Greg Chester, who is also running his own visual collection @oneofa__kind. His personal archive, @another___kind was started to document and provide a site for the study of a collection of objects and imagery. What began as a small accumulation has now grown into a full-blown virtual treasure trove of other five thousand images to date. The archive has amassed well over two hundred thousand followers.

 

With sources from The ‘Healing Crystals’ Facebook group to Peter Saul, @another___kind is an extraordinary collection of images that brings depth to the hyper-saturated experience of Instagram, providing a relaxing space within which hours can be spent exploring and discovering James’s seemingly endless body of images, sourced from all over the world (and internet), in a research process that feels like a true labour of love.

The power in Chester sharing this body of visual material comes in the endless impact they can have on the viewer, sparking inspirations, ideas and becoming an invaluable site of reference. The archivist frequently works with fashion houses and museums to enrich their collections and utilize his rich collection of garments, imagery, and knowledge.

We spoke to James Chester about his research process, balancing studies with work, and what we can learn about our current time through studying archives.

Image taken from the Healing Crystals Facebook group

What led you to create a digital archive?

I’ve always enjoyed researching, so the page initially started as a place I could collect all the references that I had accumulated on my devices over the years.

 

What does this job entail on a day-to-day basis?

I’m used to meeting up with clients face to face but obviously, since the pandemic, my day-to-day schedule has changed, and everything is now online. Whether it’s searching for new archive additions, developing the website, organising photo shoots, dealing with stylists and designers, or researching for personal clients – my job has never been 2-D which is why I love what I do, every day is different.

 

-How would you describe the online archives you run? These being @oneofakind.archive which focuses on fashion and @another___kind which seems broader. What dates do they cover?

@oneofakind.archive is a showcase of the physical fashion collection at One of a Kind which consists of over five thousand garments. I run the archive with my brother Greg Chester and owner Jeff Ihenacho who started the collection back in 1994. He really trusts our vision for the business and we collectively combine all our own collections into the archives. The collection ranges in dates and designers, we stock everything from antique to contemporary. Whilst developing an online presence and marketplace for the archive it became our mission to digitise the collection and research every piece. It was a great way to learn the history of fashion and market the collection to museums, collectors, and designers to highlight they weren’t just buying vintage but pieces of fashion history. @another___kind is my personal account where I showcase the things that inspire me alongside my own creative projects.

 

‘Afternoon Nap’ by Jung Yeondoo, 2004
Kathy Flicker (1962) ph. George Silk , Image taken by Greg Chester's account @oneofa___kind
Source unknown

“Balancing a job and your studies in London is never going to be easy when your student loan barely covers the rent. It is essential to start earning a living from the moment you arrive.” – James Chester

You have worked at One of a Kind’s archive on Portobello Road since the beginning of your studies in Graphic Design at CSM in 2011, how did you find balancing this role and the course?

Balancing a job and your studies in London is never going to be easy when your student loan barely covers the rent. It is essential to start earning a living from the moment you arrive. I probably spent more time at the archives than I should have but I treat the collection as my own personal library and the experiences and people I met there gave me an invaluable insight into the industry which I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

 

Where do you source objects and imagery for the online archives you run? 

Being constantly in the market environment since moving to London I’ve managed to collect a small library of vintage books, magazines, catalogues, and look books which are a great source of image content. It’s a lot of late nights scanning page after page and creating image banks. I have a bunch of hard-drives full and it’s constantly growing. If I see something I like or that even conveys a strange emotion or dislike I know it will come back to haunt me in the future, so I bank it. There’s always a reason something makes you stop on a page and feel something so it’s best to not let it go. I’m constantly trailing online through fashion forums, blogs, and archives. Youtube is great for obscure fashion documentaries, films, and interviews with designers. Since lockdown, I’ve become addicted to the BFI channel for rare art house films which are usually impossible to get hold of. For fashion, you’d usually find me at car boot sales, charity shops, and fashion markets looking for new additions to the archive, although it’s a lot different now. I also love to travel abroad for buying, it’s like real-life treasure hunting.

Chanel ski mask Fall 2001
Chanel Haute Couture S:S 1996

What do you search for when looking to acquire something to go into an archive collection? Do you have a museum-like acquisition policy? Or is it less restrictive?

It’s more to do with resurfacing epochs that reflect current-day styles and trends. Primarily the collection is a reflection of our personal taste and eye but we like to focus on pieces that are considered rich in cultural and contextual value, meaning they are usually runway pieces with their own catalogue of reference imagery – including photoshoots, campaigns, or films they featured in, red carpet moments or just one-off pieces that were never put into mainline production due to their delicate nature or level of craftsmanship. Our clients are always looking for these types of pieces to add to their collections or feature in shoots and exhibitions.

 

Were you surprised by the response to @another_kind, which has grown in numbers exponentially over the last few years?

Yes, I was surprised! I’m happy to see I can develop an audience purely based on my personal taste and connect with people and clients who share a similar outlook and appreciation for the same things.

Comme Des Garçons, Fall 2007, surrealist skirt with padded hand motifs
Prada organza jewelled vests, Fall 1999

Do you have a favourite piece from each of your collections?

We’re constantly finding new things so it changes regularly. We’ve been lucky enough to source some amazing pieces. A few of my favourites would be – a ‘Les Incroyables’ coat from John Galliano’s graduate collection – a jumper by David Hockney and Ritva from 1971 – Some Comme des Garçons SS 1997, Lumps and Bumps pieces – a 1920s Coco Chanel embroidered Flapper dress – a Vivienne Westwood fig leaf body stocking from ‘Voyage to Cythera’ A/W 1989 – the list is endless.

“I’ve always tried to give full credit info for the artists and owners of the images I find. It’s important in this day and age of ‘copy and paste’ culture, as corporations and huge fashion houses are very quick to consume ideas of smaller artists and designers for their own benefit.” – James Chester

Do you believe the internet and Instagram have allowed for the democratisation of archives?

I like the fact I can give my audience access to niche content and highlight imagery that has been hiding in dark corners. I’ve always tried to give full credit info for the artists and owners of the images I find. It’s important in this day and age of ‘copy and paste’ culture, as corporations and huge fashion houses are very quick to consume ideas of smaller artists and designers for their own benefit. I hope when they see the credit they will respect the history and be more inclined to reach out to the artist for collaboration or acknowledge them as inspiration instead of ripping them off completely. There is a huge difference between inspiration and imitation, which I feel is a very delicate balance to get right. It’s something you see continually happening as we live in a time of huge creative consciousness, we’re all looking at the same things and getting inspired by the same stuff. I hope my account can give people an alternative source of beauty and inspiration and shine a light on the work of smaller artists and designers.

‘Memory of Skin’ by Chiharu Shiota, 2001
Source unknown c.1928
‘Relic No.17 III - Wedding Gown 2’ by Adriana Marmorek, 2016

“I don’t know how healthy it is that we always measure something’s value or credibility based on how much nostalgia it evokes.” – James Chester

What can we learn from looking at archives? Can they enrich our understanding of our current time?

I think the faster we move into the future the more inclined we are to hold onto the past. When you analyse most decades there was always a longing for nostalgia injected into the fashion, films, architecture, and music of the time, I believe it’s part of human nature that makes us feel comfortable and familiar, the present moment is brutal and hard to accept (especially now) so we cushion it. Our tools make nostalgia easier to access now more than ever before. I do wonder what this does to our progression in creativity, new forms of expression, and ideas, looking back will only get you so far and I don’t know how healthy it is that we always measure something’s value or credibility based on how much nostalgia it evokes. Designers now have access to archives on Instagram, in the past, they would have to go to vintage markets, libraries, or museums to learn about the past, now they can do it without leaving the house. It’s reflective in the collections with ‘throwbacks’ popping up every season.

 

Tell me about ‘Mannequins’, your recent project with Carlijn Jacobs.

We have been working together on self-initiated projects for the past couple of years. It’s fun and refreshing to do shoots when you’re not so controlled by magazines and advertisers. When we first met we detailed a plan for a number of shots we’d like to do. One idea would be to create a series of images with no models, shot entirely on Mannequins. Funny enough when lockdown hit us, it felt like the most logical and covid friendly plan – so we just did it. We spent two days shooting archive looks on classic ‘Rootstein’ Mannequins, it really brought the clothes to life. This will be our first book together; it’s fascinating

Multifunctional Life Unit by Verner Panton,1966
Teddy bear couch via ebay
Photo-transformation with Polaroid print by Lucas Samaras, 1976
Performance by Taiyo Kimura, 1997

A part of your job is consulting. What kinds of institutions do you work with and what do you do with them? 

At the archives, we work closely with a number of institutions, fashion houses, stylists, and costume designers. Also, musical artists, personalities, and performers are in need of stand-out pieces for special events and photoshoots. One of a Kind has contributed to the archives and exhibitions at the MET (NYC), Victoria Gallery (Melbourne), and Barbican Centre (London). Gucci, Dior, and Alaia have bought pieces to add to their own archives. Fashion house design teams will present their ideas for a collection and we will hold appointments for them to present vintage options or reference points to use as inspiration. It’s an exciting part of the job as it’s always interesting to see where the initial idea ends up as part of the final collection. I also do personalised creative direction research for a number of clients and brands, they will have a brief for a shoot, product, or launch and I will develop image banks and pdfs tailored to their requests.

“The market has become oversaturated with the same collections of designers and time-periods, there are so many amazing ‘forgotten’ brands that have not surfaced on the vintage market yet and got the recognition they deserve.” – James Chester

Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking of starting an archive?

Find a time period or small group of designers that excites you and has yet to be archived – the market has become oversaturated with the same collections of designers and time-periods, there are so many amazing ‘forgotten’ brands that have not surfaced on the vintage market yet and got the recognition they deserve. It doesn’t necessarily have to be fashion, it could be furniture, magazines, or children’s toys, there’s so much out there, just a case of starting research and seeing what you can find.

Gionatan De Pas, Donato D’Urbino and Lomazzi, Milan Furniture Fair, 1970

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