In June 2020, Taylor Kan was a recent college grad, working remote for a consumer packaged goods company, and—like many of us in the throes of the pandemic—found himself stuck at home with little to do in his spare time. “I was on the internet too much,” Kan says. “I wanted more tangible things.” He’s speaking to me over video chat from his childhood bedroom in the suburbs of Toronto, surrounded by a giant Mapplethorpe print, a pair of white Tabi boots, and a stack of rare fashion tomes.
Kan is part of a new generation of vintage book dealers furnishing the coffee tables of industry insiders and fanatical enthusiasts with printed ephemera: rare tomes on designers like Raf Simons and Comme des Garçons; deep dives into style subcultures; and grail-worthy magazines, like the inaugural issue of the Berlin culture biannual 032c—which Kan’s online shop, Offbrand Library, is currently hawking for over $700.
The shop was borne out of the Instagram account @offbrand.library, where Kan—a bona fide fashion obsessive—began sharing scanned images of editorials from early issues of seminal style titles i-D and FRUiTS. “You see tons of editorials online, but it doesn’t translate the same on paper,” says Kan, who sourced most of his collection from eBay, Grailed, and Buyee, a Japanese proxy service. “So having the actual physical book was something that was really important.” At first, Kan had no intention of selling off his collection—“The idea was for it to be a resource and more of a library,” he says—but eager buyers came calling, and in June 2021, he formalized the business and quickly amassed a global cult of loyal collectors. To date, Offbrand has hit nearly $20,000 in total sales—not too shabby for a literal bedroom operation. But what exactly is behind the vintage print boom?
Part of it is collectors flexing their niche knowledge of fashion history. “It’s become like a signifier,” says Chris Black, the How Long Gone podcaster and noted magazine collector, who owns a framed copy of The Face’s November 1995 issue with Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher on the cover (which is currently on eBay for $50). “Like, if you have the full set of the Comme des Garçons’ magazine Six, it means you take this really seriously, and it looks great on your shelf and it’s endless Instagram fodder.”
For the creative class, fashion and art books serve as valuable resources that sharpen their perspectives and inform their work. Andy Jackson, a 27-year-old photographer in New York who has shot for GQ and Vanity Fair, often refers to his 100+ issue archive of Popeye, the legendary Japanese men’s fashion magazine, and photography books from Walter Pfeiffer and Seydou Keita “to connect the dots, to see how things may have indirectly influenced the culture that I find interesting that I didn’t know [about].”
Geoff Snack, the dealer and collector behind the online bookshop Wrong Answer, says he has sourced fashion books for a number of high-profile European designers. “For people in those positions,” Snack says, “those [visual] reference points can fuel a lookbook or a runway collection.” Snack also says the market for secondhand clothes has inspired “an increased literacy about visual material and education about archival fashion,” prompting further interest in vintage print materials.
The other big reason for the boom? Nostalgia. Cool, young people everywhere yearn to recapture a pre-Instagram era—especially the ‘90s and early ‘00s—defined by active subcultures and a seemingly more authentic expression of personal style. This probably explains our obsession with accounts like @90sartschool or @simplicitycity: They’re an invitation to dive down a rabbit hole that, if you’re curious enough, leads to the magazines, books, and lookbooks that de
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