'Printed matter is loaded with collectibility, stackability and longevity' wrote Elise By Olsen in her open love letter to print Printed Matter and the Written Word in Times of Trouble which was published during the pandemic. It's this 'collectability and stackability' that has paved the way for Olsen to open fashion's first library, dedicated to printed ephemera on the subject (the International Library of Fashion Research), all at the tender age of 23.
Based in Oslo, ILFR will house over 5,000 unique pieces of printed fashion ephemera that would have otherwise been discarded, a collection she inherited from an unlikely friend thrice her age. In 2014, Olsen found herself in conversation with then-68-year-old Steven Klein. The only thing between them was an entire continent and one digital screen. As she sat in Oslo, Klein was in New York with two metric tons of fashion publications stacked from floor to ceiling under his belt. Eight years later, they wound up in Oslo, making up the majority of ILFR's content thanks to the mysterious Klein shipping them across the Atlantic to Olsen.
Although the ILFR only opened on 29 November 2022, Olsen's library has been slowly mounting for some time. Of course, many collectors specialise in tracing fashion's history through print, but the institution's USP moves away from what people automatically think of when they hear that old fashioned term 'fashion print'. Although magazines are included, they don't make up the entire archive. Instead, thanks to her innate curiosity, some kind helpers and a very chic hoarder sat in New York (Klein) ILFR is an amalgamation of lookbooks, press releases, show invitations, brand magazines, posters, in-store sales materials, direct mail from 1975 to present and more. 'We have lots of incredibly rare and 'precious' artefacts and objects in the collection that I think are very important. However, I think it's the commercial printed matter that makes our collection unique, material that is created entirely with a promotional purpose, for sales or creating desire or appeal around a product or a universe', Olsen certified over email.
So, when did this all begin? 'Over ten years ago', Olsen tells us. Since then, I have dedicated myself to the printed medium.' Enthralled by everything that print encompasses, Olsen believes 'there's something very special about the sensibility, tactility, tangibility of a printed object – with the smell, touch and collectability of magazines, books and ephemera.' Noting its ticket to fashion's documented past, Olsen added that she sees the printed medium 'as an antidote to the fast-paced news and media cycle, as well as the accelerated fashion climate that is observed. There's a fantastic generosity in the printed format.'
Although we're yet to visit, there is a certain coldness in the space's futuristic aesthetic, making you focus on what lies stacked on the shelves rather than a distraction of cosmic interiors. Wallpaper describes it as something that 'feels futuristic: a cusp-of-the-millennium Hype Williams music-video set streamed through a splayed MacBook Air'; we think that's about right. Everything you could associate with a fictionalised space-filled future, from highly reflective metallic covers on columns to matte aluminium bookshelves sits within ILFR's walls. Void of colour, the only dash of pink, blue and yellow you'll see will be on the printed matter it holds, which is the aim of the game - especially when one is lucky enough to hold the key to what we hope will become fashion's most treasured library. 'I would argue that it's some of the printed matter of the highest quality and with the most importance within visual culture. It's also elusive material as these objects have been distributed to press, buyers and VIP customers, or even given away at store counters, and rarely kept and often disposed of. We are preserving this and regarding it as a strong part of contemporary fashion history'; blank shelves do it best.